By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: White Jacket; Or, The World on a Man-of-War
Author: Melville, Herman
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "White Jacket; Or, The World on a Man-of-War" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.


by Herman Melville





       *       *       *       *       *


Copyright, 1892

  “Conceive him now in a man-of-war;
       with his letters of mart, well armed,
   victualed, and appointed,
       and see how he acquits himself.”
                                   —FULLER’S “Good Sea-Captain.”

NOTE. In the year 1843 I shipped as “ordinary seaman” on board of a
United States frigate then lying in a harbor of the Pacific Ocean.
After remaining in this frigate for more than a year, I was discharged
from the service upon the vessel’s arrival home. My man-of-war
experiences and observations have been incorporated in the present

New York, March, 1850.



I.        THE JACKET.
          ABOARD SHIP.
          THE COMMODORE.



It was not a _very_ white jacket, but white enough, in all conscience,
as the sequel will show.

The way I came by it was this.

When our frigate lay in Callao, on the coast of Peru—her last harbour
in the Pacific—I found myself without a _grego_, or sailor’s surtout;
and as, toward the end of a three years’ cruise, no pea-jackets could
be had from the purser’s steward: and being bound for Cape Horn, some
sort of a substitute was indispensable; I employed myself, for several
days, in manufacturing an outlandish garment of my own devising, to
shelter me from the boisterous weather we were so soon to encounter.

It was nothing more than a white duck frock, or rather shirt: which,
laying on deck, I folded double at the bosom, and by then making a
continuation of the slit there, opened it lengthwise—much as you would
cut a leaf in the last new novel. The gash being made, a metamorphosis
took place, transcending any related by Ovid. For, presto! the shirt
was a coat!—a strange-looking coat, to be sure; of a Quakerish
amplitude about the skirts; with an infirm, tumble-down collar; and a
clumsy fullness about the wristbands; and white, yea, white as a
shroud. And my shroud it afterward came very near proving, as he who
reads further will find.

But, bless me, my friend, what sort of a summer jacket is this, in
which to weather Cape Horn? A very tasty, and beautiful white linen
garment it may have seemed; but then, people almost universally sport
their linen next to their skin.

Very true; and that thought very early occurred to me; for no idea had
I of scudding round Cape Horn in my shirt; for _that_ would have been
almost scudding under bare poles, indeed.

So, with many odds and ends of patches—old socks, old trowser-legs, and
the like—I bedarned and bequilted the inside of my jacket, till it
became, all over, stiff and padded, as King James’s cotton-stuffed and
dagger-proof doublet; and no buckram or steel hauberk stood up more

So far, very good; but pray, tell me, White-Jacket, how do you propose
keeping out the rain and the wet in this quilted _grego_ of yours? You
don’t call this wad of old patches a Mackintosh, do you?——you don’t
pretend to say that worsted is water-proof?

No, my dear friend; and that was the deuce of it. Waterproof it was
not, no more than a sponge. Indeed, with such recklessness had I
bequilted my jacket, that in a rain-storm I became a universal
absorber; swabbing bone-dry the very bulwarks I leaned against. Of a
damp day, my heartless shipmates even used to stand up against me, so
powerful was the capillary attraction between this luckless jacket of
mine and all drops of moisture. I dripped like a turkey a roasting; and
long after the rain storms were over, and the sun showed his face, I
still stalked a Scotch mist; and when it was fair weather with others,
alas! it was foul weather with me.

_Me?_ Ah me! Soaked and heavy, what a burden was that jacket to carry
about, especially when I was sent up aloft; dragging myself up step by
step, as if I were weighing the anchor. Small time then, to strip, and
wring it out in a rain, when no hanging back or delay was permitted.
No, no; up you go: fat or lean: Lambert or Edson: never mind how much
avoirdupois you might weigh. And thus, in my own proper person, did
many showers of rain reascend toward the skies, in accordance with the
natural laws.

But here be it known, that I had been terribly disappointed in carrying
out my original plan concerning this jacket. It had been my intention
to make it thoroughly impervious, by giving it a coating of paint, But
bitter fate ever overtakes us unfortunates. So much paint had been
stolen by the sailors, in daubing their overhaul trowsers and
tarpaulins, that by the time I—an honest man—had completed my
quiltings, the paint-pots were banned, and put under strict lock and

Said old Brush, the captain of the _paint-room_—“Look ye,
White-Jacket,” said he, “ye can’t have any paint.”

Such, then, was my jacket: a well-patched, padded, and porous one; and
in a dark night, gleaming white as the White Lady of Avenel!


“All hands up anchor! Man the capstan!”

“High die! my lads, we’re homeward bound!”

Homeward bound!—harmonious sound! Were you _ever_ homeward
bound?—No?—Quick! take the wings of the morning, or the sails of a
ship, and fly to the uttermost parts of the earth. There, tarry a year
or two; and then let the gruffest of boatswains, his lungs all
goose-skin, shout forth those magical words, and you’ll swear “the harp
of Orpheus were not more enchanting.”

All was ready; boats hoisted in, stun’ sail gear rove, messenger
passed, capstan-bars in their places, accommodation-ladder below; and
in glorious spirits, we sat down to dinner. In the ward-room, the
lieutenants were passing round their oldest port, and pledging their
friends; in the steerage, the _middies_ were busy raising loans to
liquidate the demands of their laundress, or else—in the navy
phrase—preparing to pay their creditors _with a flying fore-topsail_.
On the poop, the captain was looking to windward; and in his grand,
inaccessible cabin, the high and mighty commodore sat silent and
stately, as the statue of Jupiter in Dodona.

We were all arrayed in our best, and our bravest; like strips of blue
sky, lay the pure blue collars of our frocks upon our shoulders; and
our pumps were so springy and playful, that we danced up and down as we

It was on the gun-deck that our dinners were spread; all along between
the guns; and there, as we cross-legged sat, you would have thought a
hundred farm-yards and meadows were nigh. Such a cackling of ducks,
chickens, and ganders; such a lowing of oxen, and bleating of lambkins,
penned up here and there along the deck, to provide sea repasts for the
officers. More rural than naval were the sounds; continually reminding
each mother’s son of the old paternal homestead in the green old clime;
the old arching elms; the hill where we gambolled; and down by the
barley banks of the stream where we bathed.

“All hands up anchor!”

When that order was given, how we sprang to the bars, and heaved round
that capstan; every man a Goliath, every tendon a hawser!—round and
round—round, round it spun like a sphere, keeping time with our feet to
the time of the fifer, till the cable was straight up and down, and the
ship with her nose in the water.

“Heave and pall! unship your bars, and make sail!”

It was done: barmen, nipper-men, tierers, veerers, idlers and all,
scrambled up the ladder to the braces and halyards; while like monkeys
in Palm-trees, the sail-loosers ran out on those broad boughs, our
yards; and down fell the sails like white clouds from the
ether—topsails, top-gallants, and royals; and away we ran with the
halyards, till every sheet was distended.

“Once more to the bars!”

“Heave, my hearties, heave hard!”

With a jerk and a yerk, we broke ground; and up to our bows came
several thousand pounds of old iron, in the shape of our ponderous

Where was White-Jacket then?

White-Jacket was where he belonged. It was White-Jacket that loosed
that main-royal, so far up aloft there, it looks like a white
albatross’ wing. It was White-Jacket that was taken for an albatross
himself, as he flew out on the giddy yard-arm!


Having just designated the place where White-Jacket belonged, it must
needs be related how White-Jacket came to belong there.

Every one knows that in merchantmen the seamen are divided into
watches—starboard and larboard—taking their turn at the ship’s duty by
night. This plan is followed in all men-of-war. But in all men-of-war,
besides this division, there are others, rendered indispensable from
the great number of men, and the necessity of precision and discipline.
Not only are particular bands assigned to the three _tops_, but in
getting under weigh, or any other proceeding requiring all hands,
particular men of these bands are assigned to each yard of the tops.
Thus, when the order is given to loose the main-royal, White-Jacket
flies to obey it; and no one but him.

And not only are particular bands stationed on the three decks of the
ship at such times, but particular men of those bands are also assigned
to particular duties. Also, in tacking ship, reefing top-sails, or
“coming to,” every man of a frigate’s five-hundred-strong, knows his
own special place, and is infallibly found there. He sees nothing else,
attends to nothing else, and will stay there till grim death or an
epaulette orders him away. Yet there are times when, through the
negligence of the officers, some exceptions are found to this rule. A
rather serious circumstance growing out of such a case will be related
in some future chapter.

Were it not for these regulations a man-of-war’s crew would be nothing
but a mob, more ungovernable stripping the canvas in a gale than Lord
George Gordon’s tearing down the lofty house of Lord Mansfield.

But this is not all. Besides White-Jacket’s office as looser of the
main-royal, when all hands were called to make sail; and besides his
special offices, in tacking ship, coming to anchor, etc.; he
permanently belonged to the Starboard Watch, one of the two primary,
grand divisions of the ship’s company. And in this watch he was a
maintop-man; that is, was stationed in the main-top, with a number of
other seamen, always in readiness to execute any orders pertaining to
the main-mast, from above the main-yard. For, including the main-yard,
and below it to the deck, the main-mast belongs to another detachment.

Now the fore, main, and mizen-top-men of each watch—Starboard and
Larboard—are at sea respectively subdivided into Quarter Watches; which
regularly relieve each other in the tops to which they may belong;
while, collectively, they relieve the whole Larboard Watch of top-men.

Besides these topmen, who are always made up of active sailors, there
are Sheet-Anchor-men—old veterans all—whose place is on the forecastle;
the fore-yard, anchors, and all the sails on the bowsprit being under
their care.

They are an old weather-beaten set, culled from the most experienced
seamen on board. These are the fellows that sing you “_The Bay of
Biscay Oh!_” and “_Here a sheer hulk lies poor Torn Bowling!_” “_Cease,
rude Boreas, blustering railer!_” who, when ashore, at an eating-house,
call for a bowl of tar and a biscuit. These are the fellows who spin
interminable yarns about Decatur, Hull, and Bainbridge; and carry about
their persons bits of “Old Ironsides,” as Catholics do the wood of the
true cross. These are the fellows that some officers never pretend to
damn, however much they may anathematize others. These are the fellows
that it does your soul good to look at;—hearty old members of the Old
Guard; grim sea grenadiers, who, in tempest time, have lost many a
tarpaulin overboard. These are the fellows whose society some of the
youngster midshipmen much affect; from whom they learn their best
seamanship; and to whom they look up as veterans; if so be, that they
have any reverence in their souls, which is not the case with all

Then, there is the _After-guard_, stationed on the Quarterdeck; who,
under the Quarter-Masters and Quarter-Gunners, attend to the main-sail
and spanker, and help haul the main-brace, and other ropes in the stern
of the vessel.

The duties assigned to the After-Guard’s-Men being comparatively light
and easy, and but little seamanship being expected from them, they are
composed chiefly of landsmen; the least robust, least hardy, and least
sailor-like of the crew; and being stationed on the Quarter-deck, they
are generally selected with some eye to their personal appearance.
Hence, they are mostly slender young fellows, of a genteel figure and
gentlemanly address; not weighing much on a rope, but weighing
considerably in the estimation of all foreign ladies who may chance to
visit the ship. They lounge away the most part of their time, in
reading novels and romances; talking over their lover affairs ashore;
and comparing notes concerning the melancholy and sentimental career
which drove them—poor young gentlemen—into the hard-hearted navy.
Indeed, many of them show tokens of having moved in very respectable
society. They always maintain a tidy exterior; and express an
abhorrence of the tar-bucket, into which they are seldom or never
called to dip their digits. And pluming themselves upon the cut of
their trowsers, and the glossiness of their tarpaulins, from the rest
of the ship’s company, they acquire the name of “_sea-dandies_” and

Then, there are the _Waisters_, always stationed on the gun-deck. These
haul aft the fore and main-sheets, besides being subject to ignoble
duties; attending to the drainage and sewerage below hatches. These
fellows are all Jimmy Duxes—sorry chaps, who never put foot in ratlin,
or venture above the bulwarks. Inveterate “_sons of farmers_,” with the
hayseed yet in their hair, they are consigned to the congenial
superintendence of the chicken-coops, pig-pens, and potato-lockers.
These are generally placed amidships, on the gun-deck of a frigate,
between the fore and main hatches; and comprise so extensive an area,
that it much resembles the market place of a small town. The melodious
sounds thence issuing, continually draw tears from the eyes of the
Waisters; reminding them of their old paternal pig-pens and
potato-patches. They are the tag-rag and bob-tail of the crew; and he
who is good for nothing else is good enough for a _Waister_.

Three decks down—spar-deck, gun-deck, and berth-deck—and we come to a
parcel of Troglodytes or “_holders_,” who burrow, like rabbits in
warrens, among the water-tanks, casks, and cables. Like Cornwall
miners, wash off the soot from their skins, and they are all pale as
ghosts. Unless upon rare occasions, they seldom come on deck to sun
themselves. They may circumnavigate the world fifty times, and they see
about as much of it as Jonah did in the whale’s belly. They are a lazy,
lumpish, torpid set; and when going ashore after a long cruise, come
out into the day like terrapins from their caves, or bears in the
spring, from tree-trunks. No one ever knows the names of these fellows;
after a three years’ voyage, they still remain strangers to you. In
time of tempests, when all hands are called to save ship, they issue
forth into the gale, like the mysterious old men of Paris, during the
massacre of the Three Days of September: every one marvels who they
are, and whence they come; they disappear as mysteriously; and are seen
no more, until another general commotion.

Such are the principal divisions into which a man-of-war’s crew is
divided; but the inferior allotments of duties are endless, and would
require a German commentator to chronicle.

We say nothing here of Boatswain’s mates, Gunner’s mates, Carpenter’s
mates, Sail-maker’s mates, Armorer’s mates, Master-at-Arms, Ship’s
corporals, Cockswains, Quarter-masters, Quarter-gunners, Captains of
the Forecastle, Captains of the Fore-top, Captains of the Main-top,
Captains of the Mizen-top, Captains of the After-Guard, Captains of the
Main-Hold, Captains of the Fore-Hold, Captains of the Head, Coopers,
Painters, Tinkers, Commodore’s Steward, Captain’s Steward, Ward-Room
Steward, Steerage Steward, Commodore’s cook, Captain’s cook, Officers’
cook, Cooks of the range, Mess-cooks, hammock-boys, messenger boys,
cot-boys, loblolly-boys and numberless others, whose functions are
fixed and peculiar.

It is from this endless subdivision of duties in a man-of-war, that,
upon first entering one, a sailor has need of a good memory, and the
more of an arithmetician he is, the better.

White-Jacket, for one, was a long time rapt in calculations, concerning
the various “numbers” allotted him by the _First Luff_, otherwise known
as the First Lieutenant. In the first place, White-Jacket was given the
_number of his mess_; then, his _ship’s number_, or the number to which
he must answer when the watch-roll is called; then, the number of his
hammock; then, the number of the gun to which he was assigned; besides
a variety of other numbers; all of which would have taken Jedediah
Buxton himself some time to arrange in battalions, previous to adding
up. All these numbers, moreover, must be well remembered, or woe betide

Consider, now, a sailor altogether unused to the tumult of a
man-of-war, for the first time stepping on board, and given all these
numbers to recollect. Already, before hearing them, his head is half
stunned with the unaccustomed sounds ringing in his ears; which ears
seem to him like belfries full of tocsins. On the gun-deck, a thousand
scythed chariots seem passing; he hears the tread of armed marines; the
clash of cutlasses and curses. The Boatswain’s mates whistle round him,
like hawks screaming in a gale, and the strange noises under decks are
like volcanic rumblings in a mountain. He dodges sudden sounds, as a
raw recruit falling bombs.

Well-nigh useless to him, now, all previous circumnavigations of this
terraqueous globe; of no account his arctic, antarctic, or equinoctial
experiences; his gales off Beachy Head, or his dismastings off
Hatteras. He must begin anew; he knows nothing; Greek and Hebrew could
not help him, for the language he must learn has neither grammar nor

Mark him, as he advances along the files of old ocean-warriors; mark
his debased attitude, his deprecating gestures, his Sawney stare, like
a Scotchman in London; his—“_cry your merry, noble seignors!_” He is
wholly nonplussed, and confounded. And when, to crown all, the First
Lieutenant, whose business it is to welcome all new-corners, and assign
them their quarters: when this officer—none of the most bland or
amiable either—gives him number after number to
recollect—246—139—478—351—the poor fellow feels like decamping.

Study, then, your mathematics, and cultivate all your memories, oh ye!
who think of cruising in men-of-war.


The first night out of port was a clear, moonlight one; the frigate
gliding though the water, with all her batteries.

It was my Quarter Watch in the top; and there I reclined on the best
possible terms with my top-mates. Whatever the other seamen might have
been, these were a noble set of tars, and well worthy an introduction
to the reader.

First and foremost was Jack Chase, our noble First Captain of the Top.
He was a Briton, and a true-blue; tall and well-knit, with a clear open
eye, a fine broad brow, and an abounding nut-brown beard. No man ever
had a better heart or a bolder. He was loved by the seamen and admired
by the officers; and even when the Captain spoke to him, it was with a
slight air of respect. Jack was a frank and charming man.

No one could be better company in forecastle or saloon; no man told
such stories, sang such songs, or with greater alacrity sprang to his
duty. Indeed, there was only one thing wanting about him; and that was
a finger of his left hand, which finger he had lost at the great battle
of Navarino.

He had a high conceit of his profession as a seaman; and being deeply
versed in all things pertaining to a man-of-war, was universally
regarded as an oracle. The main-top, over which he presided, was a sort
of oracle of Delphi; to which many pilgrims ascended, to have their
perplexities or differences settled.

There was such an abounding air of good sense and good feeling about
the man, that he who could not love him, would thereby pronounce
himself a knave. I thanked my sweet stars, that kind fortune had placed
me near him, though under him, in the frigate; and from the outset Jack
and I were fast friends.

Wherever you may be now rolling over the blue billows, dear Jack! take
my best love along with you; and God bless you, wherever you go!

Jack was a gentleman. What though his hand was hard, so was not his
heart, too often the case with soft palms. His manners were easy and
free; none of the boisterousness, so common to tars; and he had a
polite, courteous way of saluting you, if it were only to borrow your
knife. Jack had read all the verses of Byron, and all the romances of
Scott. He talked of Rob Roy, Don Juan, and Pelham; Macbeth and Ulysses;
but, above all things, was an ardent admirer of Camoens. Parts of the
Lusiad, he could recite in the original. Where he had obtained his
wonderful accomplishments, it is not for me, his humble subordinate, to
say. Enough, that those accomplishments were so various; the languages
he could converse in, so numerous; that he more than furnished an
example of that saying of Charles the Fifth—_ he who speaks five
languages is as good as five men_. But Jack, he was better than a
hundred common mortals; Jack was a whole phalanx, an entire army; Jack
was a thousand strong; Jack would have done honour to the Queen of
England’s drawing-room; Jack must have been a by-blow of some British
Admiral of the Blue. A finer specimen of the island race of Englishmen
could not have been picked out of Westminster Abbey of a coronation

His whole demeanor was in strong contrast to that of one of the
Captains of the fore-top. This man, though a good seaman, furnished an
example of those insufferable Britons, who, while preferring other
countries to their own as places of residence; still, overflow with all
the pompousness of national and individual vanity combined. “When I was
on board the Audacious”—for a long time, was almost the invariable
exordium to the fore-top Captain’s most cursory remarks. It is often
the custom of men-of-war’s-men, when they deem anything to be going on
wrong aboard ship to refer to _last cruise_ when of course everything
was done _ship-shape and Bristol fashion_. And by referring to the
_Audacious_—an expressive name by the way—the fore-top Captain meant a
ship in the English navy, in which he had had the honour of serving. So
continual were his allusions to this craft with the amiable name, that
at last, the _Audacious_ was voted a bore by his shipmates. And one hot
afternoon, during a calm, when the fore-top Captain like many others,
was standing still and yawning on the spar-deck; Jack Chase, his own
countryman, came up to him, and pointing at his open mouth, politely
inquired, whether that was the way they caught _flies_ in Her Britannic
Majesty’s ship, the _Audacious?_ After that, we heard no more of the

Now, the tops of a frigate are quite spacious and cosy. They are railed
in behind so as to form a kind of balcony, very pleasant of a tropical
night. From twenty to thirty loungers may agreeably recline there,
cushioning themselves on old sails and jackets. We had rare times in
that top. We accounted ourselves the best seamen in the ship; and from
our airy perch, literally looked down upon the landlopers below,
sneaking about the deck, among the guns. In a large degree, we
nourished that feeling of “_esprit de corps_,” always pervading, more
or less, the various sections of a man-of-war’s crew. We main-top-men
were brothers, one and all, and we loaned ourselves to each other with
all the freedom in the world.

Nevertheless, I had not long been a member of this fraternity of fine
fellows, ere I discovered that Jack Chase, our captain was—like all
prime favorites and oracles among men—a little bit of a dictator; not
peremptorily, or annoyingly so, but amusingly intent on egotistically
mending our manners and improving our taste, so that we might reflect
credit upon our tutor.

He made us all wear our hats at a particular angle—instructed us in the
tie of our neck-handkerchiefs; and protested against our wearing vulgar
_dungeree_ trowsers; besides giving us lessons in seamanship; and
solemnly conjuring us, forever to eschew the company of any sailor we
suspected of having served in a whaler. Against all whalers, indeed, he
cherished the unmitigated detestation of a true man-of-war’s man. Poor
Tubbs can testify to that.

Tubbs was in the After-Guard; a long, lank Vineyarder, eternally
talking of line-tubs, Nantucket, sperm oil, stove boats, and Japan.
Nothing could silence him; and his comparisons were ever invidious.

Now, with all his soul, Jack abominated this Tubbs. He said he was
vulgar, an upstart—Devil take him, he’s been in a whaler. But like many
men, who have been where _you_ haven’t been; or seen what _you_ haven’t
seen; Tubbs, on account of his whaling experiences, absolutely affected
to look down upon Jack, even as Jack did upon him; and this it was that
so enraged our noble captain.

One night, with a peculiar meaning in his eye, he sent me down on deck
to invite Tubbs up aloft for a chat. Flattered by so marked an
honor—for we were somewhat fastidious, and did not extend such
invitations to every body—Tubb’s quickly mounted the rigging, looking
rather abashed at finding himself in the august presence of the
assembled Quarter-Watch of main-top-men. Jack’s courteous manner,
however, very soon relieved his embarrassment; but it is no use to be
courteous to _some_ men in this world. Tubbs belonged to that category.
No sooner did the bumpkin feel himself at ease, than he launched out,
as usual, into tremendous laudations of whalemen; declaring that
whalemen alone deserved the name of sailors. Jack stood it some time;
but when Tubbs came down upon men-of-war, and particularly upon
main-top-men, his sense of propriety was so outraged, that he launched
into Tubbs like a forty-two pounder.

“Why, you limb of Nantucket! you train-oil man! you sea-tallow
strainer! you bobber after carrion! do _you_ pretend to vilify a
man-of-war? Why, you lean rogue, you, a man-of-war is to whalemen, as a
metropolis to shire-towns, and sequestered hamlets. _Here’s_ the place
for life and commotion; _here’s_ the place to be gentlemanly and jolly.
And what did you know, you bumpkin! before you came on board this
_Andrew Miller?_ What knew you of gun-deck, or orlop, mustering round
the capstan, beating to quarters, and piping to dinner? Did you ever
roll to _grog_ on board your greasy ballyhoo of blazes? Did you ever
winter at Mahon? Did you ever ‘_lash and carry?_’ Why, what are even a
merchant-seaman’s sorry yarns of voyages to China after tea-caddies,
and voyages to the West Indies after sugar puncheons, and voyages to
the Shetlands after seal-skins—what are even these yarns, you Tubbs
you! to high life in a man-of-war? Why, you dead-eye! I have sailed
with lords and marquises for captains; and the King of the Two Sicilies
has passed me, as I here stood up at my gun. Bah! you are full of the
fore-peak and the forecastle; you are only familiar with Burtons and
Billy-tackles; your ambition never mounted above pig-killing! which, in
my poor opinion, is the proper phrase for whaling! Topmates! has not
this Tubbs here been but a misuser of good oak planks, and a vile
desecrator of the thrice holy sea? turning his ship, my hearties! into
a fat-kettle, and the ocean into a whale-pen? Begone! you graceless,
godless knave! pitch him over the top there, White-Jacket!”

But there was no necessity for my exertions. Poor Tubbs, astounded at
these fulminations, was already rapidly descending by the rigging.

This outburst on the part of my noble friend Jack made me shake all
over, spite of my padded surtout; and caused me to offer up devout
thanksgivings, that in no evil hour had I divulged the fact of having
myself served in a whaler; for having previously marked the prevailing
prejudice of men-of-war’s men to that much-maligned class of mariners,
I had wisely held my peace concerning stove boats on the coast of


Here, I must frankly tell a story about Jack, which as touching his
honour and integrity, I am sure, will not work against him, in any
charitable man’s estimation. On this present cruise of the frigate
Neversink, Jack had deserted; and after a certain interval, had been

But with what purpose had he deserted? To avoid naval discipline? To
riot in some abandoned sea-port? for love of some worthless signorita?
Not at all. He abandoned the frigate from far higher and nobler, nay,
glorious motives. Though bowing to naval discipline afloat; yet ashore,
he was a stickler for the Rights of Man, and the liberties of the
world. He went to draw a partisan blade in the civil commotions of
Peru; and befriend, heart and soul, what he deemed the cause of the

At the time, his disappearance excited the utmost astonishment among
the officers, who had little suspected him of any such conduct of

“What? Jack, my great man of the main-top, gone!” cried the captain;
“I’ll not believe it.”

“Jack Chase cut and run!” cried a sentimental middy. “It must have been
all for love, then; the signoritas have turned his head.”

“Jack Chase not to be found?” cried a growling old sheet-anchor-man,
one of your malicious prophets of past events: “I though so; I know’d
it; I could have sworn it—just the chap to make sail on the sly. I
always s’pected him.”

Months passed away, and nothing was heard of Jack; till at last, the
frigate came to anchor on the coast, alongside of a Peruvian sloop of

Bravely clad in the Peruvian uniform, and with a fine, mixed martial
and naval step, a tall, striking figure of a long-bearded officer was
descried, promenading the Quarter-deck of the stranger; and
superintending the salutes, which are exchanged between national
vessels on these occasions.

This fine officer touched his laced hat most courteously to our
Captain, who, after returning the compliment, stared at him, rather
impolitely, through his spy-glass.

“By Heaven!” he cried at last—“it is he—he can’t disguise his
walk—that’s the beard; I’d know him in Cochin China.—Man the first
cutter there! Lieutenant Blink, go on board that sloop of war, and
fetch me yon officer.”

All hands were aghast—What? when a piping-hot peace was between the
United States and Peru, to send an armed body on board a Peruvian sloop
of war, and seize one of its officers, in broad daylight?—Monstrous
infraction of the Law of Nations! What would Vattel say?

But Captain Claret must be obeyed. So off went the cutter, every man
armed to the teeth, the lieutenant-commanding having secret
instructions, and the midshipmen attending looking ominously wise,
though, in truth, they could not tell what was coming.

Gaining the sloop of war, the lieutenant was received with the
customary honours; but by this time the tall, bearded officer had
disappeared from the Quarter-deck. The Lieutenant now inquired for the
Peruvian Captain; and being shown into the cabin, made known to him,
that on board his vessel was a person belonging to the United States
Ship Neversink; and his orders were, to have that person delivered up

The foreign captain curled his mustache in astonishment and
indignation; he hinted something about beating to quarters, and
chastising this piece of Yankee insolence.

But resting one gloved hand upon the table, and playing with his
sword-knot, the Lieutenant, with a bland firmness, repeated his demand.
At last, the whole case being so plainly made out, and the person in
question being so accurately described, even to a mole on his cheek,
there remained nothing but immediate compliance.

So the fine-looking, bearded officer, who had so courteously doffed his
chapeau to our Captain, but disappeared upon the arrival of the
Lieutenant, was summoned into the cabin, before his superior, who
addressed him thus:—

“Don John, this gentleman declares, that of right you belong to the
frigate Neversink. Is it so?”

“It is even so, Don Sereno,” said Jack Chase, proudly folding his
gold-laced coat-sleeves across his chest—“and as there is no resisting
the frigate, I comply.—Lieutenant Blink, I am ready. Adieu! Don Sereno,
and Madre de Dios protect you? You have been a most gentlemanly friend
and captain to me. I hope you will yet thrash your beggarly foes.”

With that he turned; and entering the cutter, was pulled back to the
frigate, and stepped up to Captain Claret, where that gentleman stood
on the quarter-deck.

“Your servant, my fine Don,” said the Captain, ironically lifting his
chapeau, but regarding Jack at the same time with a look of intense

“Your most devoted and penitent Captain of the Main-top, sir; and one
who, in his very humility of contrition is yet proud to call Captain
Claret his commander,” said Jack, making a glorious bow, and then
tragically flinging overboard his Peruvian sword.

“Reinstate him at once,” shouted Captain Claret—“and now, sir, to your
duty; and discharge that well to the end of the cruise, and you will
hear no more of your having run away.”

So Jack went forward among crowds of admiring tars, who swore by his
nut-brown beard, which had amazingly lengthened and spread during his
absence. They divided his laced hat and coat among them; and on their
shoulders, carried him in triumph along the gun-deck.


Some account has been given of the various divisions into which our
crew was divided; so it may be well to say something of the officers;
who they are, and what are their functions.

Our ship, be it know, was the flag-ship; that is, we sported a
_broad-pennant_, or _bougee_, at the main, in token that we carried a
Commodore—the highest rank of officers recognised in the American navy.
The bougee is not to be confounded with the _long pennant_ or
_coach-whip_, a tapering serpentine streamer worn by all men-of-war.

Owing to certain vague, republican scruples, about creating great
officers of the navy, America has thus far had no admirals; though, as
her ships of war increase, they may become indispensable. This will
assuredly be the case, should she ever have occasion to employ large
fleets; when she must adopt something like the English plan, and
introduce three or four grades of flag-officers, above a
Commodore—Admirals, Vice-Admirals, and Rear-Admirals of Squadrons;
distinguished by the color of their flags,—red, white, and blue,
corresponding to the centre, van, and rear. These rank respectively
with Generals, Lieutenant-Generals, and Major-Generals in the army;
just as Commodore takes rank with a Brigadier-General. So that the same
prejudice which prevents the American Government from creating Admirals
should have precluded the creation of all army officers above a

An American Commodore, like an English Commodore, or the French _Chef
d’Escadre_, is but a senior Captain, temporarily commanding a small
number of ships, detached for any special purpose. He has no permanent
rank, recognised by Government, above his captaincy; though once
employed as a Commodore, usage and courtesy unite in continuing the

Our Commodore was a gallant old man, who had seen service in his time.
When a lieutenant, he served in the late war with England; and in the
gun-boat actions on the Lakes near New Orleans, just previous to the
grand land engagements, received a musket-ball in his shoulder; which,
with the two balls in his eyes, he carries about with him to this day.

Often, when I looked at the venerable old warrior, doubled up from the
effect of his wound, I thought what a curious, as well as painful
sensation, it must be, to have one’s shoulder a lead-mine; though,
sooth to say, so many of us civilised mortals convert our mouths into

On account of this wound in his shoulder, our Commodore had a
body-servant’s pay allowed him, in addition to his regular salary. I
cannot say a great deal, personally, of the Commodore; he never sought
my company at all, never extended any gentlemanly courtesies.

But though I cannot say much of him personally, I can mention something
of him in his general character, as a flag-officer. In the first place,
then, I have serious doubts, whether for the most part, he was not
dumb; for in my hearing, he seldom or never uttered a word. And not
only did he seem dumb himself, but his presence possessed the strange
power of making other people dumb for the time. His appearance on the
Quarter-deck seemed to give every officer the lock-jaw.

Another phenomenon about him was the strange manner in which everyone
shunned him. At the first sign of those epaulets of his on the weather
side of the poop, the officers there congregated invariably shrunk over
to leeward, and left him alone. Perhaps he had an evil eye; may be he
was the Wandering Jew afloat. The real reason probably was, that like
all high functionaries, he deemed it indispensable religiously to
sustain his dignity; one of the most troublesome things in the world,
and one calling for the greatest self-denial. And the constant watch,
and many-sided guardedness, which this sustaining of a Commodore’s
dignity requires, plainly enough shows that, apart from the common
dignity of manhood, Commodores, in general possess no real dignity at
all. True, it is expedient for crowned heads, generalissimos,
Lord-high-admirals, and Commodores, to carry themselves straight, and
beware of the spinal complaint; but it is not the less veritable, that
it is a piece of assumption, exceedingly uncomfortable to themselves,
and ridiculous to an enlightened generation.

Now, how many rare good fellows there were among us main-top-men, who,
invited into his cabin over a social bottle or two, would have rejoiced
our old Commodore’s heart, and caused that ancient wound of his to heal
up at once.

Come, come, Commodore don’t look so sour, old boy; step up aloft here
into the _top_, and we’ll spin you a sociable yarn.

Truly, I thought myself much happier in that white jacket of mine, than
our old Commodore in his dignified epaulets.

One thing, perhaps, that more than anything else helped to make our
Commodore so melancholy and forlorn, was the fact of his having so
little to do. For as the frigate had a captain; of course, so far as
_she_ was concerned, our Commodore was a supernumerary. What abundance
of leisure he must have had, during a three years’ cruise; how
indefinitely he might have been improving his mind!

But as everyone knows that idleness is the hardest work in the world,
so our Commodore was specially provided with a gentleman to assist him.
This gentleman was called the _Commodore’s secretary_. He was a
remarkably urbane and polished man; with a very graceful exterior, and
looked much like an Ambassador Extraordinary from Versailles. He messed
with the Lieutenants in the Ward-room, where he had a state-room,
elegantly furnished as the private cabinet of Pelham. His cot-boy used
to entertain the sailors with all manner of stories about the
silver-keyed flutes and flageolets, fine oil paintings, morocco bound
volumes, Chinese chess-men, gold shirt-buttons, enamelled pencil cases,
extraordinary fine French boots with soles no thicker than a sheet of
scented note-paper, embroidered vests, incense-burning sealing-wax,
alabaster statuettes of Venus and Adonis, tortoise-shell snuff-boxes,
inlaid toilet-cases, ivory-handled hair-brushes and mother-of-pearl
combs, and a hundred other luxurious appendages scattered about this
magnificent secretary’s state-room.

I was a long time in finding out what this secretary’s duties
comprised. But it seemed, he wrote the Commodore’s dispatches for
Washington, and also was his general amanuensis. Nor was this a very
light duty, at times; for some commodores, though they do not _say_ a
great deal on board ship, yet they have a vast deal to write. Very
often, the regimental orderly, stationed at our Commodore’s cabin-door,
would touch his hat to the First Lieutenant, and with a mysterious air
hand him a note. I always thought these notes must contain most
important matters of state; until one day, seeing a slip of wet, torn
paper in a scupper-hole, I read the following:

“Sir, you will give the people pickles to-day with their fresh meat.

    “To Lieutenant Bridewell.
                 “By command of the Commodore;
                            “Adolphus Dashman, Priv. Sec.”

This was a new revelation; for, from his almost immutable reserve, I
had supposed that the Commodore never meddled immediately with the
concerns of the ship, but left all that to the captain. But the longer
we live, the more we learn of commodores.

Turn we now to the second officer in rank, almost supreme, however, in
the internal affairs of his ship. Captain Claret was a large, portly
man, a Harry the Eighth afloat, bluff and hearty; and as kingly in his
cabin as Harry on his throne. For a ship is a bit of terra firma cut
off from the main; it is a state in itself; and the captain is its

It is no limited monarchy, where the sturdy Commons have a right to
petition, and snarl if they please; but almost a despotism like the
Grand Turk’s. The captain’s word is law; he never speaks but in the
imperative mood. When he stands on his Quarter-deck at sea, he
absolutely commands as far as eye can reach. Only the moon and stars
are beyond his jurisdiction. He is lord and master of the sun.

It is not twelve o’clock till he says so. For when the sailing-master,
whose duty it is to take the regular observation at noon, touches his
hat, and reports twelve o’clock to the officer of the deck; that
functionary orders a midshipman to repair to the captain’s cabin, and
humbly inform him of the respectful suggestion of the sailing-master.

“Twelve o’clock reported, sir,” says the middy.

“_Make_ it so,” replies the captain.

And the bell is struck eight by the messenger-boy, and twelve o’clock
it is.

As in the case of the Commodore, when the captain visits the deck, his
subordinate officers generally beat a retreat to the other side and, as
a general rule, would no more think of addressing him, except
concerning the ship, than a lackey would think of hailing the Czar of
Russia on his throne, and inviting him to tea. Perhaps no mortal man
has more reason to feel such an intense sense of his own personal
consequence, as the captain of a man-of-war at sea.

Next in rank comes the First or Senior Lieutenant, the chief executive
officer. I have no reason to love the particular gentleman who filled
that post aboard our frigate, for it was he who refused my petition for
as much black paint as would render water-proof that white-jacket of
mine. All my soakings and drenchings lie at his state-room door. I
hardly think I shall ever forgive him; every twinge of the rheumatism,
which I still occasionally feel, is directly referable to him. The
Immortals have a reputation for clemency; and _they_ may pardon him;
but he must not dun me to be merciful. But my personal feelings toward
the man shall not prevent me from here doing him justice. In most
things he was an excellent seaman; prompt, loud, and to the point; and
as such was well fitted for his station. The First Lieutenancy of a
frigate demands a good disciplinarian, and, every way, an energetic
man. By the captain he is held responsible for everything; by that
magnate, indeed, he is supposed to be omnipresent; down in the hold,
and up aloft, at one and the same time.

He presides at the head of the Ward-room officers’ table, who are so
called from their messing together in a part of the ship thus
designated. In a frigate it comprises the after part of the berth-deck.
Sometimes it goes by the name of the Gun-room, but oftener is called
the Ward-room. Within, this Ward-room much resembles a long, wide
corridor in a large hotel; numerous doors opening on both hands to the
private apartments of the officers. I never had a good interior look at
it but once; and then the Chaplain was seated at the table in the
centre, playing chess with the Lieutenant of Marines. It was mid-day,
but the place was lighted by lamps.

Besides the First Lieutenant, the Ward-room officers include the junior
lieutenants, in a frigate six or seven in number, the Sailing-master,
Purser, Chaplain, Surgeon, Marine officers, and Midshipmen’s
Schoolmaster, or “the Professor.” They generally form a very agreeable
club of good fellows; from their diversity of character, admirably
calculated to form an agreeable social whole. The Lieutenants discuss
sea-fights, and tell anecdotes of Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton; the
Marine officers talk of storming fortresses, and the siege of
Gibraltar; the Purser steadies this wild conversation by occasional
allusions to the rule of three; the Professor is always charged with a
scholarly reflection, or an apt line from the classics, generally Ovid;
the Surgeon’s stories of the amputation-table judiciously serve to
suggest the mortality of the whole party as men; while the good
chaplain stands ready at all times to give them pious counsel and

Of course these gentlemen all associate on a footing of perfect social

Next in order come the Warrant or Forward officers, consisting of the
Boatswain, Gunner, Carpenter, and Sailmaker. Though these worthies
sport long coats and wear the anchor-button; yet, in the estimation of
the Ward-room officers, they are not, technically speaking, rated
gentlemen. The First Lieutenant, Chaplain, or Surgeon, for example,
would never dream of inviting them to dinner, In sea parlance, “they
come in at the hawse holes;” they have hard hands; and the carpenter
and sail-maker practically understand the duties which they are called
upon to superintend. They mess by themselves. Invariably four in
number, they never have need to play whist with a dummy.

In this part of the category now come the “reefers,” otherwise
“middies” or midshipmen. These boys are sent to sea, for the purpose of
making commodores; and in order to become commodores, many of them deem
it indispensable forthwith to commence chewing tobacco, drinking brandy
and water, and swearing at the sailors. As they are only placed on
board a sea-going ship to go to school and learn the duty of a
Lieutenant; and until qualified to act as such, have few or no special
functions to attend to; they are little more, while midshipmen, than
supernumeraries on board. Hence, in a crowded frigate, they are so
everlastingly crossing the path of both men and officers, that in the
navy it has become a proverb, that a useless fellow is “_as much in the
way as a reefer_.”

In a gale of wind, when all hands are called and the deck swarms with
men, the little “middies” running about distracted and having nothing
particular to do, make it up in vociferous swearing; exploding all
about under foot like torpedoes. Some of them are terrible little boys,
cocking their cups at alarming angles, and looking fierce as young
roosters. They are generally great consumers of Macassar oil and the
Balm of Columbia; they thirst and rage after whiskers; and sometimes,
applying their ointments, lay themselves out in the sun, to promote the
fertility of their chins.

As the only way to learn to command, is to learn to obey, the usage of
a ship of war is such that the midshipmen are constantly being ordered
about by the Lieutenants; though, without having assigned them their
particular destinations, they are always going somewhere, and never
arriving. In some things, they almost have a harder time of it than the
seamen themselves. They are messengers and errand-boys to their

“Mr. Pert,” cries an officer of the deck, hailing a young gentleman
forward. Mr. Pert advances, touches his hat, and remains in an attitude
of deferential suspense. “Go and tell the boatswain I want him.” And
with this perilous errand, the middy hurries away, looking proud as a

The middies live by themselves in the steerage, where, nowadays, they
dine off a table, spread with a cloth. They have a castor at dinner;
they have some other little boys (selected from the ship’s company) to
wait upon them; they sometimes drink coffee out of china. But for all
these, their modern refinements, in some instances the affairs of their
club go sadly to rack and ruin. The china is broken; the japanned
coffee-pot dented like a pewter mug in an ale-house; the pronged forks
resemble tooth-picks (for which they are sometimes used); the
table-knives are hacked into hand-saws; and the cloth goes to the
sail-maker to be patched. Indeed, they are something like collegiate
freshmen and sophomores, living in the college buildings, especially so
far as the noise they make in their quarters is concerned. The steerage
buzzes, hums, and swarms like a hive; or like an infant-school of a hot
day, when the school-mistress falls asleep with a fly on her nose.

In frigates, the ward-room—the retreat of the Lieutenants—immediately
adjoining the steerage, is on the same deck with it. Frequently, when
the middies, waking early of a morning, as most youngsters do, would be
kicking up their heels in their hammocks, or running about with
double-reefed night-gowns, playing tag among the “clews;” the Senior
lieutenant would burst among them with a—“Young gentlemen, I am
astonished. You must stop this sky-larking. Mr. Pert, what are you
doing at the table there, without your pantaloons? To your hammock,
sir. Let me see no more of this. If you disturb the ward-room again,
young gentleman, you shall hear of it.” And so saying, this
hoary-headed Senior Lieutenant would retire to his cot in his
state-room, like the father of a numerous family after getting up in
his dressing-gown and slippers, to quiet a daybreak tumult in his
populous nursery.

Having now descended from Commodore to Middy, we come lastly to a set
of nondescripts, forming also a “mess” by themselves, apart from the
seamen. Into this mess, the usage of a man-of-war thrusts various
subordinates—including the master-at-arms, purser’s steward, ship’s
corporals, marine sergeants, and ship’s yeomen, forming the first
aristocracy above the sailors.

The master-at-arms is a sort of high constable and school-master,
wearing citizen’s clothes, and known by his official rattan. He it is
whom all sailors hate. His is the universal duty of a universal
informer and hunter-up of delinquents. On the berth-deck he reigns
supreme; spying out all grease-spots made by the various cooks of the
seamen’s messes, and driving the laggards up the hatches, when all
hands are called. It is indispensable that he should be a very Vidocq
in vigilance. But as it is a heartless, so is it a thankless office. Of
dark nights, most masters-of-arms keep themselves in readiness to dodge
forty-two pound balls, dropped down the hatchways near them.

The ship’s corporals are this worthy’s deputies and ushers.

The marine sergeants are generally tall fellows with unyielding spines
and stiff upper lips, and very exclusive in their tastes and

The ship’s yeoman is a gentleman who has a sort of counting-room in a
tar-cellar down in the fore-hold. More will be said of him anon.

Except the officers above enumerated, there are none who mess apart
from the seamen. The “_petty officers_,” so called; that is, the
Boatswain’s, Gunner’s, Carpenter’s, and Sail-maker’s mates, the
Captains of the Tops, of the Forecastle, and of the After-Guard, and of
the Fore and Main holds, and the Quarter-Masters, all mess in common
with the crew, and in the American navy are only distinguished from the
common seamen by their slightly additional pay. But in the English navy
they wear crowns and anchors worked on the sleeves of their jackets, by
way of badges of office. In the French navy they are known by strips of
worsted worn in the same place, like those designating the Sergeants
and Corporals in the army.

Thus it will be seen, that the dinner-table is the criterion of rank in
our man-of-war world. The Commodore dines alone, because he is the only
man of his rank in the ship. So too with the Captain; and the Ward-room
officers, warrant officers, midshipmen, the master-at-arms’ mess, and
the common seamen;—all of them, respectively, dine together, because
they are, respectively, on a footing of equality.


Not only is the dinner-table a criterion of rank on board a man-of-war,
but also the dinner hour. He who dines latest is the greatest man; and
he who dines earliest is accounted the least. In a flag-ship, the
Commodore generally dines about four or five o’clock; the Captain about
three; the Lieutenants about two; while _the people_ (by which phrase
the common seamen are specially designated in the nomenclature of the
quarter-deck) sit down to their salt beef exactly at noon.

Thus it will be seen, that while the two estates of sea-kings and
sea-lords dine at rather patrician hours—and thereby, in the long run,
impair their digestive functions—the sea-commoners, or _the people_,
keep up their constitutions, by keeping up the good old-fashioned,
Elizabethan, Franklin-warranted dinner hour of twelve.

Twelve o’clock! It is the natural centre, key-stone, and very heart of
the day. At that hour, the sun has arrived at the top of his hill; and
as he seems to hang poised there a while, before coming down on the
other side, it is but reasonable to suppose that he is then stopping to
dine; setting an eminent example to all mankind. The rest of the day is
called _afternoon_; the very sound of which fine old Saxon word conveys
a feeling of the lee bulwarks and a nap; a summer sea—soft breezes
creeping over it; dreamy dolphins gliding in the distance. _Afternoon!_
the word implies, that it is an after-piece, coming after the grand
drama of the day; something to be taken leisurely and lazily. But how
can this be, if you dine at five? For, after all, though Paradise Lost
be a noble poem, and we men-of-war’s men, no doubt, largely partake in
the immortality of the immortals yet, let us candidly confess it,
shipmates, that, upon the whole, our dinners are the most momentous
attains of these lives we lead beneath the moon. What were a day
without a dinner? a dinnerless day! such a day had better be a night.

Again: twelve o’clock is the natural hour for us men-of-war’s men to
dine, because at that hour the very time-pieces we have invented arrive
at their terminus; they can get no further than twelve; when
straightway they continue their old rounds again. Doubtless, Adam and
Eve dined at twelve; and the Patriarch Abraham in the midst of his
cattle; and old Job with his noon mowers and reapers, in that grand
plantation of Uz; and old Noah himself, in the Ark, must have gone to
dinner at precisely _eight bells_ (noon), with all his floating
families and farm-yards.

But though this antediluvian dinner hour is rejected by modern
Commodores and Captains, it still lingers among “_the people_” under
their command. Many sensible things banished from high life find an
asylum among the mob.

Some Commodores are very particular in seeing to it, that no man on
board the ship dare to dine after his (the Commodore’s,) own dessert is
cleared away.—Not even the Captain. It is said, on good authority, that
a Captain once ventured to dine at five, when the Commodore’s hour was
four. Next day, as the story goes, that Captain received a private
note, and in consequence of that note, dined for the future at
half-past three.

Though in respect of the dinner hour on board a man-of-war, _the
people_ have no reason to complain; yet they have just cause, almost
for mutiny, in the outrageous hours assigned for their breakfast and

Eight o’clock for breakfast; twelve for dinner; four for supper; and no
meals but these; no lunches and no cold snacks. Owing to this
arrangement (and partly to one watch going to their meals before the
other, at sea), all the meals of the twenty-four hours are crowded into
a space of less than eight! Sixteen mortal hours elapse between supper
and breakfast; including, to one watch, eight hours on deck! This is
barbarous; any physician will tell you so. Think of it! Before the
Commodore has dined, you have supped. And in high latitudes, in
summer-time, you have taken your last meal for the day, and five hours,
or more, daylight to spare!

Mr. Secretary of the Navy, in the name of _the people_, you should
interpose in this matter. Many a time have I, a maintop-man, found
myself actually faint of a tempestuous morning watch, when all my
energies were demanded—owing to this miserable, unphilosophical mode of
allotting the government meals at sea. We beg you, Mr. Secretary, not
to be swayed in this matter by the Honourable Board of Commodores, who
will no doubt tell you that eight, twelve, and four are the proper
hours for _the people_ to take their Meals; inasmuch, as at these hours
the watches are relieved. For, though this arrangement makes a neater
and cleaner thing of it for the officers, and looks very nice and
superfine on paper; yet it is plainly detrimental to health; and in
time of war is attended with still more serious consequences to the
whole nation at large. If the necessary researches were made, it would
perhaps be found that in those instances where men-of-war adopting the
above-mentioned hours for meals have encountered an enemy at night,
they have pretty generally been beaten; that is, in those cases where
the enemies’ meal times were reasonable; which is only to be accounted
for by the fact that _the people_ of the beaten vessels were fighting
on an empty stomach instead of a full one.


Having glanced at the grand divisions of a man-of-war, let us now
descend to specialities: and, particularly, to two of the junior
lieutenants; lords and noblemen; members of that House of Peers, the
gun-room. There were several young lieutenants on board; but from these
two—representing the extremes of character to be found in their
department—the nature of the other officers of their grade in the
Neversink must be derived.

One of these two quarter-deck lords went among the sailors by a name of
their own devising—Selvagee. Of course, it was intended to be
characteristic; and even so it was.

In frigates, and all large ships of war, when getting under weigh, a
large rope, called a _messenger_ used to carry the strain of the cable
to the capstan; so that the anchor may be weighed, without the muddy,
ponderous cable, itself going round the capstan. As the cable enters
the hawse-hole, therefore, something must be constantly used, to keep
this travelling chain attached to this travelling _messenger_;
something that may be rapidly wound round both, so as to bind them
together. The article used is called a _selvagee_. And what could be
better adapted to the purpose? It is a slender, tapering, unstranded
piece of rope prepared with much solicitude; peculiarly flexible; and
wreathes and serpentines round the cable and messenger like an
elegantly-modeled garter-snake round the twisted stalks of a vine.
Indeed, _Selvagee_ is the exact type and symbol of a tall, genteel,
limber, spiralising exquisite. So much for the derivation of the name
which the sailors applied to the Lieutenant.

From what sea-alcove, from what mermaid’s milliner’s shop, hast thou
emerged, Selvagee! with that dainty waist and languid cheek? What
heartless step-dame drove thee forth, to waste thy fragrance on the
salt sea-air?

Was it _you_, Selvagee! that, outward-bound, off Cape Horn, looked at
Hermit Island through an opera-glass? Was it _you_, who thought of
proposing to the Captain that, when the sails were furled in a gale, a
few drops of lavender should be dropped in their “bunts,” so that when
the canvas was set again, your nostrils might not be offended by its
musty smell? I do not _say_ it was you, Selvagee; I but deferentially

In plain prose, Selvagee was one of those officers whom the sight of a
trim-fitting naval coat had captivated in the days of his youth. He
fancied, that if a _sea-officer_ dressed well, and conversed genteelly,
he would abundantly uphold the honour of his flag, and immortalise the
tailor that made him. On that rock many young gentlemen split. For upon
a frigate’s quarter-deck, it is not enough to sport a coat fashioned by
a Stultz; it is not enough to be well braced with straps and
suspenders; it is not enough to have sweet reminiscences of Lauras and
Matildas. It is a right down life of hard wear and tear, and the man
who is not, in a good degree, fitted to become a common sailor will
never make an officer. Take that to heart, all ye naval aspirants.
Thrust your arms up to the elbow in pitch and see how you like it, ere
you solicit a warrant. Prepare for white squalls, living gales and
typhoons; read accounts of shipwrecks and horrible disasters; peruse
the Narratives of Byron and Bligh; familiarise yourselves with the
story of the English frigate Alceste and the French frigate Medusa.
Though you may go ashore, now and then, at Cadiz and Palermo; for every
day so spent among oranges and ladies, you will have whole months of
rains and gales.

And even thus did Selvagee prove it. But with all the intrepid
effeminacy of your true dandy, he still continued his Cologne-water
baths, and sported his lace-bordered handkerchiefs in the very teeth of
a tempest. Alas, Selvagee! there was no getting the lavender out of

But Selvagee was no fool. Theoretically he understood his profession;
but the mere theory of seamanship forms but the thousandth part of what
makes a seaman. You cannot save a ship by working out a problem in the
cabin; the deck is the field of action.

Well aware of his deficiency in some things, Selvagee never took the
trumpet—which is the badge of the deck officer for the time—without a
tremulous movement of the lip, and an earnest inquiring eye to the
windward. He encouraged those old Tritons, the Quarter-masters, to
discourse with him concerning the likelihood of a squall; and often
followed their advice as to taking in, or making sail. The smallest
favours in that way were thankfully received. Sometimes, when all the
North looked unusually lowering, by many conversational blandishments,
he would endeavour to prolong his predecessor’s stay on deck, after
that officer’s watch had expired. But in fine, steady weather, when the
Captain would emerge from his cabin, Selvagee might be seen, pacing the
poop with long, bold, indefatigable strides, and casting his eye up
aloft with the most ostentatious fidelity.

But vain these pretences; he could not deceive. Selvagee! you know very
well, that if it comes on to blow pretty hard, the First Lieutenant
will be sure to interfere with his paternal authority. Every man and
every boy in the frigate knows, Selvagee, that you are no Neptune.

How unenviable his situation! His brother officers do not insult him,
to be sure; but sometimes their looks are as daggers. The sailors do
not laugh at him outright; but of dark nights they jeer, when they
hearken to that mantuamaker’s voice ordering _a strong pull at the main
brace_, or _hands by the halyards!_ Sometimes, by way of being
terrific, and making the men jump, Selvagee raps out an oath; but the
soft bomb stuffed with confectioner’s kisses seems to burst like a
crushed rose-bud diffusing its odours. Selvagee! Selvagee! take a
main-top-man’s advice; and this cruise over, never more tempt the sea.

With this gentleman of cravats and curling irons, how strongly
contrasts the man who was born in a gale! For in some time of
tempest—off Cape Horn or Hatteras—_Mad Jack_ must have entered the
world—such things have been—not with a silver spoon, but with a
speaking-trumpet in his mouth; wrapped up in a caul, as in a
main-sail—for a charmed life against shipwrecks he bears—and crying,
_Luff! luff, you may!—steady!—port! World ho!—here I am!_

Mad Jack is in his saddle on the sea. _That_ is his home; he would not
care much, if another Flood came and overflowed the dry land; for what
would it do but float his good ship higher and higher and carry his
proud nation’s flag round the globe, over the very capitals of all
hostile states! Then would masts surmount spires; and all mankind, like
the Chinese boatmen in Canton River, live in flotillas and fleets, and
find their food in the sea.

Mad Jack was expressly created and labelled for a tar. Five feet nine
is his mark, in his socks; and not weighing over eleven stone before
dinner. Like so many ship’s shrouds, his muscles and tendons are all
set true, trim, and taut; he is braced up fore and aft, like a ship on
the wind. His broad chest is a bulkhead, that dams off the gale; and
his nose is an aquiline, that divides it in two, like a keel. His loud,
lusty lungs are two belfries, full of all manner of chimes; but you
only hear his deepest bray, in the height of some tempest—like the
great bell of St. Paul’s, which only sounds when the King or the Devil
is dead.

Look at him there, where he stands on the poop—one foot on the rail,
and one hand on a shroud—his head thrown back, and his trumpet like an
elephant’s trunk thrown up in the air. Is he going to shoot dead with
sounds, those fellows on the main-topsail-yard?

Mad Jack was a bit of a tyrant—they _say_ all good officers are—but the
sailors loved him all round; and would much rather stand fifty watches
with him, than one with a rose-water sailor.

But Mad Jack, alas! has one fearful failing. He drinks. And so do we
all. But Mad Jack, _He_ only drinks brandy. The vice was inveterate;
surely, like Ferdinand, Count Fathom, he must have been suckled at a
puncheon. Very often, this bad habit got him into very serious scrapes.
Twice was he put off duty by the Commodore; and once he came near being
broken for his frolics. So far as his efficiency as a sea-officer was
concerned, on shore at least, Jack might _bouse away_ as much as he
pleased; but afloat it will not do at all.

Now, if he only followed the wise example set by those ships of the
desert, the camels; and while in port, drank for the thirst past, the
thirst present, and the thirst to come—so that he might cross the ocean
sober; Mad Jack would get along pretty well. Still better, if he would
but eschew brandy altogether; and only drink of the limpid white-wine
of the rills and the brooks.


I MUST make some further mention of that white jacket of mine.

And here be it known—by way of introduction to what is to follow—that
to a common sailor, the living on board a man-of-war is like living in
a market; where you dress on the door-steps, and sleep in the cellar.
No privacy can you have; hardly one moment’s seclusion. It is almost a
physical impossibility, that you can ever be alone. You dine at a vast
_table d’hote_; sleep in commons, and make your toilet where and when
you can. There is no calling for a mutton chop and a pint of claret by
yourself; no selecting of chambers for the night; no hanging of
pantaloons over the back of a chair; no ringing your bell of a rainy
morning, to take your coffee in bed. It is something like life in a
large manufactory. The bell strikes to dinner, and hungry or not, you
must dine.

Your clothes are stowed in a large canvas bag, generally painted black,
which you can get out of the “rack” only once in the twenty-four hours;
and then, during a time of the utmost confusion; among five hundred
other bags, with five hundred other sailors diving into each, in the
midst of the twilight of the berth-deck. In some measure to obviate
this inconvenience, many sailors divide their wardrobes between their
hammocks and their bags; stowing a few frocks and trowsers in the
former; so that they can shift at night, if they wish, when the
hammocks are piped down. But they gain very little by this.

You have no place whatever but your bag or hammock, in which to put
anything in a man-of-war. If you lay anything down, and turn your back
for a moment, ten to one it is gone.

Now, in sketching the preliminary plan, and laying out the foundation
of that memorable white jacket of mine, I had had an earnest eye to all
these inconveniences, and re-solved to avoid them. I proposed, that not
only should my jacket keep me warm, but that it should also be so
constructed as to contain a shirt or two, a pair of trowsers, and
divers knick-knacks—sewing utensils, books, biscuits, and the like.
With this object, I had accordingly provided it with a great variety of
pockets, pantries, clothes-presses, and cupboards.

The principal apartments, two in number, were placed in the skirts,
with a wide, hospitable entrance from the inside; two more, of smaller
capacity, were planted in each breast, with folding-doors
communicating, so that in case of emergency, to accommodate any bulky
articles, the two pockets in each breast could be thrown into one.
There were, also, several unseen recesses behind the arras; insomuch,
that my jacket, like an old castle, was full of winding stairs, and
mysterious closets, crypts, and cabinets; and like a confidential
writing-desk, abounded in snug little out-of-the-way lairs and
hiding-places, for the storage of valuables.

Superadded to these, were four capacious pockets on the outside; one
pair to slip books into when suddenly startled from my studies to the
main-royal-yard; and the other pair, for permanent mittens, to thrust
my hands into of a cold night-watch. This last contrivance was regarded
as needless by one of my top-mates, who showed me a pattern for
sea-mittens, which he said was much better than mine.

It must be known, that sailors, even in the bleakest weather, only
cover their hands when unemployed; they never wear mittens aloft, since
aloft they literally carry their lives in their hands, and want nothing
between their grasp of the hemp, and the hemp itself.—Therefore, it is
desirable, that whatever things they cover their hands with, should be
capable of being slipped on and off in a moment. Nay, it is desirable,
that they should be of such a nature, that in a dark night, when you
are in a great hurry—say, going to the helm—they may be jumped into,
indiscriminately; and not be like a pair of right-and-left kids;
neither of which will admit any hand, but the particular one meant for

My top-mate’s contrivance was this—he ought to have got out a patent
for it—each of his mittens was provided with two thumbs, one on each
side; the convenience of which needs no comment. But though for clumsy
seamen, whose fingers are all thumbs, this description of mitten might
do very well, White-Jacket did not so much fancy it. For when your hand
was once in the bag of the mitten, the empty thumb-hole sometimes
dangled at your palm, confounding your ideas of where your real thumb
might be; or else, being carefully grasped in the hand, was continually
suggesting the insane notion, that you were all the while having hold
of some one else’s thumb.

No; I told my good top-mate to go away with his four thumbs, I would
have nothing to do with them; two thumbs were enough for any man.

For some time after completing my jacket, and getting the furniture and
household stores in it; I thought that nothing could exceed it for
convenience. Seldom now did I have occasion to go to my bag, and be
jostled by the crowd who were making their wardrobe in a heap. If I
wanted anything in the way of clothing, thread, needles, or literature,
the chances were that my invaluable jacket contained it. Yes: I fairly
hugged myself, and revelled in my jacket; till, alas! a long rain put
me out of conceit of it. I, and all my pockets and their contents, were
soaked through and through, and my pocket-edition of Shakespeare was
reduced to an omelet.

However, availing myself of a fine sunny day that followed, I emptied
myself out in the main-top, and spread all my goods and chattels to
dry. But spite of the bright sun, that day proved a black one. The
scoundrels on deck detected me in the act of discharging my saturated
cargo; they now knew that the white jacket was used for a storehouse.
The consequence was that, my goods being well dried and again stored
away in my pockets, the very next night, when it was my quarter-watch
on deck, and not in the top (where they were all honest men), I noticed
a parcel of fellows skulking about after me, wherever I went. To a man,
they were pickpockets, and bent upon pillaging me. In vain I kept
clapping my pocket like a nervous old gentlemen in a crowd; that same
night I found myself minus several valuable articles. So, in the end, I
masoned up my lockers and pantries; and save the two used for mittens,
the white jacket ever after was pocketless.


As the latter part of the preceding chapter may seem strange to those
landsmen, who have been habituated to indulge in high-raised, romantic
notions of the man-of-war’s man’s character; it may not be amiss, to
set down here certain facts on this head, which may serve to place the
thing in its true light.

From the wild life they lead, and various other causes (needless to
mention), sailors, as a class, entertain the most liberal notions
concerning morality and the Decalogue; or rather, they take their own
views of such matters, caring little for the theological or ethical
definitions of others concerning what may be criminal, or wrong.

Their ideas are much swayed by circumstances. They will covertly
abstract a thing from one, whom they dislike; and insist upon it, that,
in such a case, stealing is not robbing. Or, where the theft involves
something funny, as in the case of the white jacket, they only steal
for the sake of the joke; but this much is to be observed nevertheless,
i. e., that they never spoil the joke by returning the stolen article.

It is a good joke; for instance, and one often perpetrated on board
ship, to stand talking to a man in a dark night watch, and all the
while be cutting the buttons from his coat. But once off, those buttons
never grow on again. There is no spontaneous vegetation in buttons.

Perhaps it is a thing unavoidable, but the truth is that, among the
crew of a man-of-war, scores of desperadoes are too often found, who
stop not at the largest enormities. A species of highway robbery is not
unknown to them. A _gang_ will be informed that such a fellow has three
or four gold pieces in the money-bag, so-called, or purse, which many
tars wear round their necks, tucked out of sight. Upon this, they
deliberately lay their plans; and in due time, proceed to carry them
into execution. The man they have marked is perhaps strolling along the
benighted berth-deck to his mess-chest; when of a sudden, the foot-pads
dash out from their hiding-place, throw him down, and while two or
three gag him, and hold him fast, another cuts the bag from his neck,
and makes away with it, followed by his comrades. This was more than
once done in the Neversink.

At other times, hearing that a sailor has something valuable secreted
in his hammock, they will rip it open from underneath while he sleeps,
and reduce the conjecture to a certainty.

To enumerate all the minor pilferings on board a man-of-war would be
endless. With some highly commendable exceptions, they rob from one
another, and rob back again, till, in the matter of small things, a
community of goods seems almost established; and at last, as a whole,
they become relatively honest, by nearly every man becoming the
reverse. It is in vain that the officers, by threats of condign
punishment, endeavour to instil more virtuous principles into their
crew; so thick is the mob, that not one thief in a thousand is


The feeling of insecurity concerning one’s possessions in the
Neversink, which the things just narrated begat in the minds of honest
men, was curiously exemplified in the case of my poor friend Lemsford,
a gentlemanly young member of the After-Guard. I had very early made
the acquaintance of Lemsford. It is curious, how unerringly a man
pitches upon a spirit, any way akin to his own, even in the most
miscellaneous mob.

Lemsford was a poet; so thoroughly inspired with the divine afflatus,
that not even all the tar and tumult of a man-of-war could drive it out
of him.

As may readily be imagined, the business of writing verse is a very
different thing on the gun-deck of a frigate, from what the gentle and
sequestered Wordsworth found it at placid Rydal Mount in Westmoreland.
In a frigate, you cannot sit down and meander off your sonnets, when
the full heart prompts; but only, when more important duties permit:
such as bracing round the yards, or reefing top-sails fore and aft.
Nevertheless, every fragment of time at his command was religiously
devoted by Lemsford to the Nine. At the most unseasonable hours, you
would behold him, seated apart, in some corner among the guns—a
shot-box before him, pen in hand, and eyes “_in a fine frenzy

“What’s that ’ere born nat’ral about?”—“He’s got a fit, hain’t he?”
were exclamations often made by the less learned of his shipmates. Some
deemed him a conjurer; others a lunatic; and the knowing ones said,
that he must be a crazy Methodist. But well knowing by experience the
truth of the saying, that _poetry is its own exceeding great reward_,
Lemsford wrote on; dashing off whole epics, sonnets, ballads, and
acrostics, with a facility which, under the circumstances, amazed me.
Often he read over his effusions to me; and well worth the hearing they
were. He had wit, imagination, feeling, and humour in abundance; and
out of the very ridicule with which some persons regarded him, he made
rare metrical sport, which we two together enjoyed by ourselves; or
shared with certain select friends.

Still, the taunts and jeers so often levelled at my friend the poet,
would now and then rouse him into rage; and at such times the haughty
scorn he would hurl on his foes, was proof positive of his possession
of that one attribute, irritability, almost universally ascribed to the
votaries of Parnassus and the Nine.

My noble captain, Jack Chase, rather patronised Lemsford, and he would
stoutly take his part against scores of adversaries. Frequently,
inviting him up aloft into his top, he would beg him to recite some of
his verses; to which he would pay the most heedful attention, like
Maecenas listening to Virgil, with a book of Aeneid in his hand. Taking
the liberty of a well-wisher, he would sometimes gently criticise the
piece, suggesting a few immaterial alterations. And upon my word, noble
Jack, with his native-born good sense, taste, and humanity, was not ill
qualified to play the true part of a _Quarterly Review_;—which is, to
give quarter at last, however severe the critique.

Now Lemsford’s great care, anxiety, and endless source of tribulation
was the preservation of his manuscripts. He had a little box, about the
size of a small dressing-case, and secured with a lock, in which he
kept his papers and stationery. This box, of course, he could not keep
in his bag or hammock, for, in either case, he would only be able to
get at it once in the twenty-four hours. It was necessary to have it
accessible at all times. So when not using it, he was obliged to hide
it out of sight, where he could. And of all places in the world, a ship
of war, above her _hold_, least abounds in secret nooks. Almost every
inch is occupied; almost every inch is in plain sight; and almost every
inch is continually being visited and explored. Added to all this, was
the deadly hostility of the whole tribe of
ship-underlings—master-at-arms, ship’s corporals, and boatswain’s
mates,—both to the poet and his casket. They hated his box, as if it
had been Pandora’s, crammed to the very lid with hurricanes and gales.
They hunted out his hiding-places like pointers, and gave him no peace
night or day.

Still, the long twenty-four-pounders on the main-deck offered some
promise of a hiding-place to the box; and, accordingly, it was often
tucked away behind the carriages, among the side tackles; its black
colour blending with the ebon hue of the guns.

But Quoin, one of the quarter-gunners, had eyes like a ferret. Quoin
was a little old man-of-war’s man, hardly five feet high, with a
complexion like a gun-shot wound after it is healed. He was
indefatigable in attending to his duties; which consisted in taking
care of one division of the guns, embracing ten of the aforesaid
twenty-four-pounders. Ranged up against the ship’s side at regular
intervals, they resembled not a little a stud of sable chargers in
their stall. Among this iron stud little Quoin was continually running
in and out, currying them down, now and then, with an old rag, or
keeping the flies off with a brush. To Quoin, the honour and dignity of
the United States of America seemed indissolubly linked with the
keeping his guns unspotted and glossy. He himself was black as a
chimney-sweep with continually tending them, and rubbing them down with
black paint. He would sometimes get outside of the port-holes and peer
into their muzzles, as a monkey into a bottle. Or, like a dentist, he
seemed intent upon examining their teeth. Quite as often, he would be
brushing out their touch-holes with a little wisp of oakum, like a
Chinese barber in Canton, cleaning a patient’s ear.

Such was his solicitude, that it was a thousand pities he was not able
to dwarf himself still more, so as to creep in at the touch-hole, and
examining the whole interior of the tube, emerge at last from the
muzzle. Quoin swore by his guns, and slept by their side. Woe betide
the man whom he found leaning against them, or in any way soiling them.
He seemed seized with the crazy fancy, that his darling
twenty-four-pounders were fragile, and might break, like glass retorts.

Now, from this Quoin’s vigilance, how could my poor friend the poet
hope to escape with his box? Twenty times a week it was pounced upon,
with a “here’s that d——d pillbox again!” and a loud threat, to pitch it
overboard the next time, without a moment’s warning, or benefit of
clergy. Like many poets, Lemsford was nervous, and upon these occasions
he trembled like a leaf. Once, with an inconsolable countenance, he
came to me, saying that his casket was nowhere to be found; he had
sought for it in his hiding-place, and it was not there.

I asked him where he had hidden it?

“Among the guns,” he replied.

“Then depend upon it, Lemsford, that Quoin has been the death of it.”

Straight to Quoin went the poet. But Quoin knew nothing about it. For
ten mortal days the poet was not to be comforted; dividing his leisure
time between cursing Quoin and lamenting his loss. The world is undone,
he must have thought: no such calamity has befallen it since the
Deluge;—my verses are perished.

But though Quoin, as it afterward turned out, had indeed found the box,
it so happened that he had not destroyed it; which no doubt led
Lemsford to infer that a superintending Providence had interposed to
preserve to posterity his invaluable casket. It was found at last,
lying exposed near the galley.

Lemsford was not the only literary man on board the Neversink. There
were three or four persons who kept journals of the cruise. One of
these journalists embellished his work—which was written in a large
blank account-book—with various coloured illustrations of the harbours
and bays at which the frigate had touched; and also, with small crayon
sketches of comical incidents on board the frigate itself. He would
frequently read passages of his book to an admiring circle of the more
refined sailors, between the guns. They pronounced the whole
performance a miracle of art. As the author declared to them that it
was all to be printed and published so soon as the vessel reached home,
they vied with each other in procuring interesting items, to be
incorporated into additional chapters. But it having been rumoured
abroad that this journal was to be ominously entitled “_The Cruise of
the Neversink, or a Paixhan shot into Naval Abuses;_” and it having
also reached the ears of the Ward-room that the work contained
reflections somewhat derogatory to the dignity of the officers, the
volume was seized by the master-at-arms, armed with a warrant from the
Captain. A few days after, a large nail was driven straight through the
two covers, and clinched on the other side, and, thus everlastingly
sealed, the book was committed to the deep. The ground taken by the
authorities on this occasion was, perhaps, that the book was obnoxious
to a certain clause in the Articles of War, forbidding any person in
the Navy to bring any other person in the Navy into contempt, which the
suppressed volume undoubtedly did.


Quoin, the quarter-gunner, was the representative of a class on board
the Neversink, altogether too remarkable to be left astern, without
further notice, in the rapid wake of these chapters.

As has been seen, Quoin was full of unaccountable whimsies; he was,
withal, a very cross, bitter, ill-natured, inflammable old man. So,
too, were all the members of the gunner’s gang; including the two
gunner’s mates, and all the quarter-gunners. Every one of them had the
same dark brown complexion; all their faces looked like smoked hams.
They were continually grumbling and growling about the batteries;
running in and out among the guns; driving the sailors away from them;
and cursing and swearing as if all their conscience had been
powder-singed, and made callous, by their calling. Indeed they were a
most unpleasant set of men; especially Priming, the nasal-voiced
gunner’s mate, with the hare-lip; and Cylinder, his stuttering
coadjutor, with the clubbed foot. But you will always observe, that the
gunner’s gang of every man-of-war are invariably ill-tempered, ugly
featured, and quarrelsome. Once when I visited an English
line-of-battle ship, the gunner’s gang were fore and aft, polishing up
the batteries, which, according to the Admiral’s fancy, had been
painted white as snow. Fidgeting round the great thirty-two-pounders,
and making stinging remarks at the sailors and each other, they
reminded one of a swarm of black wasps, buzzing about rows of white
headstones in a church-yard.

Now, there can be little doubt, that their being so much among the guns
is the very thing that makes a gunner’s gang so cross and quarrelsome.
Indeed, this was once proved to the satisfaction of our whole company
of main-top-men. A fine top-mate of ours, a most merry and
companionable fellow, chanced to be promoted to a quarter-gunner’s
berth. A few days afterward, some of us main-top-men, his old comrades,
went to pay him a visit, while he was going his regular rounds through
the division of guns allotted to his care. But instead of greeting us
with his usual heartiness, and cracking his pleasant jokes, to our
amazement, he did little else but scowl; and at last, when we rallied
him upon his ill-temper, he seized a long black rammer from overhead,
and drove us on deck; threatening to report us, if we ever dared to be
familiar with him again.

My top-mates thought that this remarkable metamorphose was the effect
produced upon a weak, vain character suddenly elevated from the level
of a mere seaman to the dignified position of a _petty officer_. But
though, in similar cases, I had seen such effects produced upon some of
the crew; yet, in the present instance, I knew better than that;—it was
solely brought about by his consorting with with those villainous,
irritable, ill-tempered cannon; more especially from his being subject
to the orders of those deformed blunderbusses, Priming and Cylinder.

The truth seems to be, indeed, that all people should be very careful
in selecting their callings and vocations; very careful in seeing to
it, that they surround themselves by good-humoured, pleasant-looking
objects; and agreeable, temper-soothing sounds. Many an angelic
disposition has had its even edge turned, and hacked like a saw; and
many a sweet draught of piety has soured on the heart from people’s
choosing ill-natured employments, and omitting to gather round them
good-natured landscapes. Gardeners are almost always pleasant, affable
people to converse with; but beware of quarter-gunners, keepers of
arsenals, and lonely light-house men.

It would be advisable for any man, who from an unlucky choice of a
profession, which it is too late to change for another, should find his
temper souring, to endeavour to counteract that misfortune, by filling
his private chamber with amiable, pleasurable sights and sounds. In
summer time, an Aeolian harp can be placed in your window at a very
trifling expense; a conch-shell might stand on your mantel, to be taken
up and held to the ear, that you may be soothed by its continual
lulling sound, when you feel the blue fit stealing over you. For
sights, a gay-painted punch-bowl, or Dutch tankard—never mind about
filling it—might be recommended. It should be placed on a bracket in
the pier. Nor is an old-fashioned silver ladle, nor a chased
dinner-castor, nor a fine portly demijohn, nor anything, indeed, that
savors of eating and drinking, bad to drive off the spleen. But perhaps
the best of all is a shelf of merrily-bound books, containing comedies,
farces, songs, and humorous novels. You need never open them; only have
the titles in plain sight. For this purpose, Peregrine Pickle is a good
book; so is Gil Blas; so is Goldsmith.

But of all chamber furniture in the world, best calculated to cure a
had temper, and breed a pleasant one, is the sight of a lovely wife. If
you have children, however, that are teething, the nursery should be a
good way up stairs; at sea, it ought to be in the mizzen-top. Indeed,
teething children play the very deuce with a husband’s temper. I have
known three promising young husbands completely spoil on their wives’
hands, by reason of a teething child, whose worrisomeness happened to
be aggravated at the time by the summer-complaint. With a breaking
heart, and my handkerchief to my eyes, I followed those three hapless
young husbands, one after the other, to their premature graves.

Gossiping scenes breed gossips. Who so chatty as hotel-clerks, market
women, auctioneers, bar-keepers, apothecaries, newspaper-reporters,
monthly-nurses, and all those who live in bustling crowds, or are
present at scenes of chatty interest.

Solitude breeds taciturnity; _that_ every body knows; who so taciturn
as authors, taken as a race?

A forced, interior quietude, in the midst of great out-ward commotion,
breeds moody people. Who so moody as railroad-brakemen,
steam-boat-engineers, helmsmen, and tenders of power-looms in cotton
factories? For all these must hold their peace while employed, and let
the machinery do the chatting; they cannot even edge in a single

Now, this theory about the wondrous influence of habitual sights and
sounds upon the human temper, was suggested by my experiences on board
our frigate. And al-though I regard the example furnished by our
quarter-gunners—especially him who had once been our top-mate—as by far
the strongest argument in favour of the general theory; yet, the entire
ship abounded with illustrations of its truth. Who were more
liberal-hearted, lofty-minded, gayer, more jocund, elastic,
adventurous, given to fun and frolic, than the top-men of the fore,
main, and mizzen masts? The reason of their liberal-heartedness was,
that they were daily called upon to expatiate themselves all over the
rigging. The reason of their lofty-mindedness was, that they were high
lifted above the petty tumults, carping cares, and paltrinesses of the
decks below.

And I feel persuaded in my inmost soul, that it is to the fact of my
having been a main-top-man; and especially my particular post being on
the loftiest yard of the frigate, the main-royal-yard; that I am now
enabled to give such a free, broad, off-hand, bird’s-eye, and, more
than all, impartial account of our man-of-war world; withholding
nothing; inventing nothing; nor flattering, nor scandalising any; but
meting out to all—commodore and messenger-boy alike—their precise
descriptions and deserts.

The reason of the mirthfulness of these top-men was, that they always
looked out upon the blue, boundless, dimpled, laughing, sunny sea. Nor
do I hold, that it militates against this theory, that of a stormy day,
when the face of the ocean was black, and overcast, that some of them
would grow moody, and chose to sit apart. On the contrary, it only
proves the thing which I maintain. For even on shore, there are many
people naturally gay and light-hearted, who, whenever the autumnal wind
begins to bluster round the corners, and roar along the chimney-stacks,
straight becomes cross, petulant, and irritable. What is more mellow
than fine old ale? Yet thunder will sour the best nut-brown ever

The _Holders_ of our frigate, the Troglodytes, who lived down in the
tarry cellars and caves below the berth-deck, were, nearly all of them,
men of gloomy dispositions, taking sour views of things; one of them
was a blue-light Calvinist. Whereas, the old-sheet-anchor-men, who
spent their time in the bracing sea-air and broad-cast sunshine of the
forecastle, were free, generous-hearted, charitable, and full of
good-will to all hands; though some of them, to tell the truth, proved
sad exceptions; but exceptions only prove the rule.

The “steady-cooks” on the berth-deck, the “steady-sweepers,” and
“steady-spit-box-musterers,” in all divisions of the frigate, fore and
aft, were a narrow-minded set; with contracted souls; imputable, no
doubt, to their groveling duties. More especially was this evinced in
the case of those odious ditchers and night scavengers, the ignoble

The members of the band, some ten or twelve in number, who had nothing
to do but keep their instruments polished, and play a lively air now
and then, to stir the stagnant current in our poor old Commodore’s
torpid veins, were the most gleeful set of fellows you ever saw. They
were Portuguese, who had been shipped at the Cape De Verd islands, on
the passage out. They messed by themselves; forming a dinner-party, not
to be exceeded ire mirthfulness, by a club of young bridegrooms, three
months after marriage, completely satisfied with their bargains, after
testing them.

But what made them, now, so full of fun? What indeed but their merry,
martial, mellow calling. Who could he a churl, and play a flageolet?
who mean and spiritless, braying forth the souls of thousand heroes
from his brazen trump? But still more efficacious, perhaps, in
ministering to the light spirits of the band, was the consoling
thought, that should the ship ever go into action, they would be
exempted from the perils of battle. In ships of war, the members of the
“music,” as the band is called, are generally non-combatants; and
mostly ship, with the express understanding, that as soon as the vessel
comes within long gun-shot of an enemy, they shall have the privilege
of burrowing down in the cable-tiers, or sea coal-hole. Which shows
that they are inglorious, but uncommonly sensible fellows.

Look at the barons of the gun-room—Lieutenants, Purser, Marine
officers, Sailing-master—all of them gentlemen with stiff upper lips,
and aristocratic cut noses. Why was this? Will any one deny, that from
their living so long in high military life, served by a crowd of menial
stewards and cot-boys, and always accustomed to command right and left;
will any one deny, I say, that by reason of this, their very noses had
become thin, peaked, aquiline, and aristocratically cartilaginous? Even
old Cuticle, the Surgeon, had a Roman nose.

But I never could account how it came to be, that our grey headed First
Lieutenant was a little lop-sided; that is, one of his shoulders
disproportionately dropped. And when I observed, that nearly all the
First Lieutenants I saw in other men-of-war, besides many Second and
Third Lieutenants, were similarly lop-sided, I knew that there must be
some general law which induced the phenomenon; and I put myself to
studying it out, as an interesting problem. At last, I came to the
conclusion—to which I still adhere—that their so long wearing only one
epaulet (for to only one does their rank entitle them) was the
infallible clew to this mystery. And when any one reflects upon so
well-known a fact, that many sea Lieutenants grow decrepit from age,
without attaining a Captaincy and wearing _two_ epaulets, which would
strike the balance between their shoulders, the above reason assigned
will not appear unwarrantable.


The allusion to the poet Lemsford in a previous chapter, leads me to
speak of our mutual friends, Nord and Williams, who, with Lemsford
himself, Jack Chase, and my comrades of the main-top, comprised almost
the only persons with whom I unreservedly consorted while on board the
frigate. For I had not been long on board ere I found that it would not
do to be intimate with everybody. An indiscriminate intimacy with all
hands leads to sundry annoyances and scrapes, too often ending with a
dozen at the gang-way. Though I was above a year in the frigate, there
were scores of men who to the last remained perfect strangers to me,
whose very names I did not know, and whom I would hardly be able to
recognise now should I happen to meet them in the streets.

In the dog-watches at sea, during the early part of the evening, the
main-deck is generally filled with crowds of pedestrians, promenading
up and down past the guns, like people taking the air in Broadway. At
such times, it is curious to see the men nodding to each other’s
recognitions (they might not have seen each other for a week);
exchanging a pleasant word with a friend; making a hurried appointment
to meet him somewhere aloft on the morrow, or passing group after group
without deigning the slightest salutation. Indeed, I was not at all
singular in having but comparatively few acquaintances on board, though
certainly carrying my fastidiousness to an unusual extent.

My friend Nord was a somewhat remarkable character; and if mystery
includes romance, he certainly was a very romantic one. Before seeking
an introduction to him through Lemsford, I had often marked his tall,
spare, upright figure stalking like Don Quixote among the pigmies of
the Afterguard, to which he belonged. At first I found him exceedingly
reserved and taciturn; his saturnine brow wore a scowl; he was almost
repelling in his demeanour. In a word, he seemed desirous of hinting,
that his list of man-of war friends was already made up, complete, and
full; and there was no room for more. But observing that the only man
he ever consorted with was Lemsford, I had too much magnanimity, by
going off in a pique at his coldness, to let him lose forever the
chance of making so capital an acquaintance as myself. Besides, I saw
it in his eye, that the man had been a reader of good books; I would
have staked my life on it, that he seized the right meaning of
Montaigne. I saw that he was an earnest thinker; I more than suspected
that he had been bolted in the mill of adversity. For all these things,
my heart yearned toward him; I determined to know him.

At last I succeeded; it was during a profoundly quiet midnight watch,
when I perceived him walking alone in the waist, while most of the men
were dozing on the carronade-slides.

That night we scoured all the prairies of reading; dived into the
bosoms of authors, and tore out their hearts; and that night
White-Jacket learned more than he has ever done in any single night

The man was a marvel. He amazed me, as much as Coleridge did the
troopers among whom he enlisted. What could have induced such a man to
enter a man-of-war, all my sapience cannot fathom. And how he managed
to preserve his dignity, as he did, among such a rabble rout was
equally a mystery. For he was no sailor; as ignorant of a ship, indeed,
as a man from the sources of the Niger. Yet the officers respected him;
and the men were afraid of him. This much was observable, however, that
he faithfully discharged whatever special duties devolved upon him; and
was so fortunate as never to render himself liable to a reprimand.
Doubtless, he took the same view of the thing that another of the crew
did; and had early resolved, so to conduct himself as never to run the
risk of the scourge. And this it must have been—added to whatever
incommunicable grief which might have been his—that made this Nord such
a wandering recluse, even among our man-of-war mob. Nor could he have
long swung his hammock on board, ere he must have found that, to insure
his exemption from that thing which alone affrighted him, he must be
content for the most part to turn a man-hater, and socially expatriate
himself from many things, which might have rendered his situation more
tolerable. Still more, several events that took place must have
horrified him, at times, with the thought that, however he might
isolate and entomb himself, yet for all this, the improbability of his
being overtaken by what he most dreaded never advanced to the
infallibility of the impossible.

In my intercourse with Nord, he never made allusion to his past
career—a subject upon which most high-bred castaways in a man-of-war
are very diffuse; relating their adventures at the gaming-table; the
recklessness with which they have run through the amplest fortunes in a
single season; their alms-givings, and gratuities to porters and poor
relations; and above all, their youthful indiscretions, and the
broken-hearted ladies they have left behind. No such tales had Nord to
tell. Concerning the past, he was barred and locked up like the specie
vaults of the Bank of England. For anything that dropped from him, none
of us could be sure that he had ever existed till now. Altogether, he
was a remarkable man.

My other friend, Williams, was a thorough-going Yankee from Maine, who
had been both a peddler and a pedagogue in his day. He had all manner
of stories to tell about nice little country frolics, and would run
over an endless list of his sweethearts. He was honest, acute, witty,
full of mirth and good humour—a laughing philosopher. He was invaluable
as a pill against the spleen; and, with the view of extending the
advantages of his society to the saturnine Nord, I introduced them to
each other; but Nord cut him dead the very same evening, when we
sallied out from between the guns for a walk on the main-deck.


We were not many days out of port, when a rumour was set afloat that
dreadfully alarmed many tars. It was this: that, owing to some
unprecedented oversight in the Purser, or some equally unprecedented
remissness in the Naval-storekeeper at Callao, the frigate’s supply of
that delectable beverage, called “grog,” was well-nigh expended.

In the American Navy, the law allows one gill of spirits per day to
every seaman. In two portions, it is served out just previous to
breakfast and dinner. At the roll of the drum, the sailors assemble
round a large tub, or cask, filled with liquid; and, as their names are
called off by a midshipman, they step up and regale themselves from a
little tin measure called a “tot.” No high-liver helping himself to
Tokay off a well-polished sideboard, smacks his lips with more mighty
satisfaction than the sailor does over this _tot_. To many of them,
indeed, the thought of their daily _tots_ forms a perpetual perspective
of ravishing landscapes, indefinitely receding in the distance. It is
their great “prospect in life.” Take away their grog, and life
possesses no further charms for them. It is hardly to be doubted, that
the controlling inducement which keeps many men in the Navy, is the
unbounded confidence they have in the ability of the United States
government to supply them, regularly and unfailingly, with their daily
allowance of this beverage. I have known several forlorn individuals,
shipping as landsmen, who have confessed to me, that having contracted
a love for ardent spirits, which they could not renounce, and having by
their foolish courses been brought into the most abject
poverty—insomuch that they could no longer gratify their thirst
ashore—they incontinently entered the Navy; regarding it as the asylum
for all drunkards, who might there prolong their lives by regular hours
and exercise, and twice every day quench their thirst by moderate and
undeviating doses.

When I once remonstrated with an old toper of a top-man about this
daily dram-drinking; when I told him it was ruining him, and advised
him to _stop his grog_ and receive the money for it, in addition to his
wages as provided by law, he turned about on me, with an irresistibly
waggish look, and said, “Give up my grog? And why? Because it is
ruining me? No, no; I am a good Christian, White-Jacket, and love my
enemy too much to drop his acquaintance.”

It may be readily imagined, therefore, what consternation and dismay
pervaded the gun-deck at the first announcement of the tidings that the
grog was expended.

“The grog gone!” roared an old Sheet-anchor-man.

“Oh! Lord! what a pain in my stomach!” cried a Main-top-man.

“It’s worse than the cholera!” cried a man of the After-guard.

“I’d sooner the water-casks would give out!” said a Captain of the

“Are we ganders and geese, that we can live without grog?” asked a
Corporal of Marines.

“Ay, we must now drink with the ducks!” cried a Quarter-master.

“Not a tot left?” groaned a Waister.

“Not a toothful!” sighed a Holder, from the bottom of his boots.

Yes, the fatal intelligence proved true. The drum was no longer heard
rolling the men to the tub, and deep gloom and dejection fell like a
cloud. The ship was like a great city, when some terrible calamity has
overtaken it. The men stood apart, in groups, discussing their woes,
and mutually condoling. No longer, of still moonlight nights, was the
song heard from the giddy tops; and few and far between were the
stories that were told. It was during this interval, so dismal to many,
that to the amazement of all hands, ten men were reported by the
master-at-arms to be intoxicated. They were brought up to the mast, and
at their appearance the doubts of the most skeptical were dissipated;
but whence they had obtained their liquor no one could tell. It was
observed, however at the time, that the tarry knaves all smelled of
lavender, like so many dandies.

After their examination they were ordered into the “brig,” a jail-house
between two guns on the main-deck, where prisoners are kept. Here they
laid for some time, stretched out stark and stiff, with their arms
folded over their breasts, like so many effigies of the Black Prince on
his monument in Canterbury Cathedral.

Their first slumbers over, the marine sentry who stood guard over them
had as much as he could do to keep off the crowd, who were all
eagerness to find out how, in such a time of want, the prisoners had
managed to drink themselves into oblivion. In due time they were
liberated, and the secret simultaneously leaked out.

It seemed that an enterprising man of their number, who had suffered
severely from the common deprivation, had all at once been struck by a
brilliant idea. It had come to his knowledge that the purser’s steward
was supplied with a large quantity of _Eau-de-Cologne_, clandestinely
brought out in the ship, for the purpose of selling it on his own
account, to the people of the coast; but the supply proving larger than
the demand, and having no customers on board the frigate but Lieutenant
Selvagee, he was now carrying home more than a third of his original
stock. To make a short story of it, this functionary, being called upon
in secret, was readily prevailed upon to part with a dozen bottles,
with whose contents the intoxicated party had regaled themselves.

The news spread far and wide among the men, being only kept secret from
the officers and underlings, and that night the long, crane-necked
Cologne bottles jingled in out-of-the-way corners and by-places, and,
being emptied, were sent flying out of the ports. With brown sugar,
taken from the mess-chests, and hot water begged from the galley-cooks,
the men made all manner of punches, toddies, and cocktails, letting
fall therein a small drop of tar, like a bit of brown toast, by way of
imparting a flavour. Of course, the thing was managed with the utmost
secrecy; and as a whole dark night elapsed after their orgies, the
revellers were, in a good measure, secure from detection; and those who
indulged too freely had twelve long hours to get sober before daylight

Next day, fore and aft, the whole frigate smelled like a lady’s toilet;
the very tar-buckets were fragrant; and from the mouth of many a grim,
grizzled old quarter-gunner came the most fragrant of breaths. The
amazed Lieutenants went about snuffing up the gale; and, for once.
Selvagee had no further need to flourish his perfumed hand-kerchief. It
was as if we were sailing by some odoriferous shore, in the vernal
season of violets. Sabaean odours!

                      “For many a league,
      Cheered with grateful smell, old Ocean smiled.”

But, alas! all this perfume could not be wasted for nothing; and the
masters-at-arms and ship’s corporals, putting this and that together,
very soon burrowed into the secret. The purser’s steward was called to
account, and no more lavender punches and Cologne toddies were drank on
board the Neversink.


It was about the period of the Cologne-water excitement that my
self-conceit was not a little wounded, and my sense of delicacy
altogether shocked, by a polite hint received from the cook of the mess
to which I happened to belong. To understand the matter, it is needful
to enter into preliminaries.

The common seamen in a large frigate are divided into some thirty or
forty messes, put down on the purser’s books as _Mess_ No. 1, _Mess_
No. 2, _Mess_ No. 3, etc. The members of each mess club, their rations
of provisions, and breakfast, dine, and sup together in allotted
intervals between the guns on the main-deck. In undeviating rotation,
the members of each mess (excepting the petty-officers) take their turn
in performing the functions of cook and steward. And for the time
being, all the affairs of the club are subject to their inspection and

It is the cook’s business, also, to have an eye to the general
interests of his mess; to see that, when the aggregated allowances of
beef, bread, etc., are served out by one of the master’s mates, the
mess over which he presides receives its full share, without stint or
subtraction. Upon the berth-deck he has a chest, in which to keep his
pots, pans, spoons, and small stores of sugar, molasses, tea, and

But though entitled a cook, strictly speaking, the head of the mess is
no cook at all; for the cooking for the crew is all done by a high and
mighty functionary, officially called the “_ship’s cook_,” assisted by
several deputies. In our frigate, this personage was a dignified
coloured gentleman, whom the men dubbed “_Old Coffee;_” and his
assistants, negroes also, went by the poetical appellations of
“_Sunshine_,” “_Rose-water_,” and “_May-day_.”

Now the _ship’s cooking_ required very little science, though old
Coffee often assured us that he had graduated at the New York Astor
House, under the immediate eye of the celebrated Coleman and Stetson.
All he had to do was, in the first place, to keep bright and clean the
three huge coppers, or caldrons, in which many hundred pounds of beef
were daily boiled. To this end, Rose-water, Sunshine, and May-day every
morning sprang into their respective apartments, stripped to the waist,
and well provided with bits of soap-stone and sand. By exercising these
in a very vigorous manner, they threw themselves into a violent
perspiration, and put a fine polish upon the interior of the coppers.

Sunshine was the bard of the trio; and while all three would be busily
employed clattering their soap-stones against the metal, he would
exhilarate them with some remarkable St. Domingo melodies; one of which
was the following:

     “Oh! I los’ my shoe in an old canoe,
          Johnio! come Winum so!
      Oh! I los’ my boot in a pilot-boat,
          Johnio! come Winum so!
      Den rub-a-dub de copper, oh!
      Oh! copper rub-a-dub-a-oh!”

When I listened to these jolly Africans, thus making gleeful their toil
by their cheering songs, I could not help murmuring against that
immemorial rule of men-of-war, which forbids the sailors to sing out,
as in merchant-vessels, when pulling ropes, or occupied at any other
ship’s duty. Your only music, at such times, is the shrill pipe of the
boatswain’s mate, which is almost worse than no music at all. And if
the boatswain’s mate is not by, you must pull the ropes, like convicts,
in profound silence; or else endeavour to impart unity to the exertions
of all hands, by singing out mechanically, _one_, _two_, _three_, and
then pulling all together.

Now, when Sunshine, Rose-water, and May-day have so polished the ship’s
coppers, that a white kid glove might be drawn along the inside and
show no stain, they leap out of their holes, and the water is poured in
for the coffee. And the coffee being boiled, and decanted off in
bucketfuls, the cooks of the messes march up with their salt beef for
dinner, strung upon strings and tallied with labels; all of which are
plunged together into the self-same coppers, and there boiled. When,
upon the beef being fished out with a huge pitch-fork, the water for
the evening’s tea is poured in; which, consequently possesses a flavour
not unlike that of shank-soup.

From this it will be seen, that, so far as cooking is concerned, a
“_cook of the mess_” has very little to do; merely carrying his
provisions to and from the grand democratic cookery. Still, in some
things, his office involves many annoyances. Twice a week butter and
cheese are served out—so much to each man—and the mess-cook has the
sole charge of these delicacies. The great difficulty consists in so
catering for the mess, touching these luxuries, as to satisfy all. Some
guzzlers are for devouring the butter at a meal, and finishing off with
the cheese the same day; others contend for saving it up against
_Banyan Day_, when there is nothing but beef and bread; and others,
again, are for taking a very small bit of butter and cheese, by way of
dessert, to each and every meal through the week. All this gives rise
to endless disputes, debates, and altercations.

Sometimes, with his mess-cloth—a square of painted canvas—set out on
deck between the guns, garnished with pots, and pans, and _kids_, you
see the mess-cook seated on a matchtub at its head, his trowser legs
rolled up and arms bared, presiding over the convivial party.

“Now, men, you can’t have any butter to-day. I’m saving it up for
to-morrow. You don’t know the value of butter, men. You, Jim, take your
hoof off the cloth! Devil take me, if some of you chaps haven’t no more
manners than so many swines! Quick, men, quick; bear a hand, and
‘_scoff_’ (eat) away.—I’ve got my to-morrow’s _duff_ to make yet, and
some of you fellows keep _scoffing_ as if I had nothing to do but sit
still here on this here tub here, and look on. There, there, men,
you’ve all had enough: so sail away out of this, and let me clear up
the wreck.”

In this strain would one of the periodical cooks of mess No. 15 talk to
us. He was a tall, resolute fellow, who had once been a brakeman on a
railroad, and he kept us all pretty straight; from his fiat there was
no appeal.

But it was not thus when the turn came to others among us. Then it was
_look out for squalls_. The business of dining became a bore, and
digestion was seriously impaired by the unamiable discourse we had over
our _salt horse_.

I sometimes thought that the junks of lean pork—which were boiled in
their own bristles, and looked gaunt and grim, like pickled chins of
half-famished, unwashed Cossacks—had something to do with creating the
bristling bitterness at times prevailing in our mess. The men tore off
the tough hide from their pork, as if they were Indians scalping

Some cursed the cook for a rogue, who kept from us our butter and
cheese, in order to make away with it himself in an underhand manner;
selling it at a premium to other messes, and thus accumulating a
princely fortune at our expense. Others anthematised him for his
slovenliness, casting hypercritical glances into their pots and pans,
and scraping them with their knives. Then he would be railed at for his
miserable “duffs,” and other shortcoming preparations.

Marking all this from the beginning, I, White-Jacket, was sorely
troubled with the idea, that, in the course of time, my own turn would
come round to undergo the same objurgations. How to escape, I knew not.
However, when the dreaded period arrived, I received the keys of office
(the keys of the mess-chest) with a resigned temper, and offered up a
devout ejaculation for fortitude under the trial. I resolved, please
Heaven, to approve myself an unexceptionable caterer, and the most
impartial of stewards.

The first day there was “_duff_” to make—a business which devolved upon
the mess-cooks, though the boiling of it pertained to Old Coffee and
his deputies. I made up my mind to lay myself out on that _duff_; to
centre all my energies upon it; to put the very soul of art into it,
and achieve an unrivalled _duff_—a _duff_ that should put out of
conceit all other _duffs_, and for ever make my administration

From the proper functionary the flour was obtained, and the raisins;
the beef-fat, or “_slush_,” from Old Coffee; and the requisite supply
of water from the scuttle-butt. I then went among the various cooks, to
compare their receipts for making “duffs:” and having well weighed them
all, and gathered from each a choice item to make an original receipt
of my own, with due deliberation and solemnity I proceeded to business.
Placing the component parts in a tin pan, I kneaded them together for
an hour, entirely reckless as to pulmonary considerations, touching the
ruinous expenditure of breath; and having decanted the semi-liquid
dough into a canvas-bag, secured the muzzle, tied on the tally, and
delivered it to Rose-water, who dropped the precious bag into the
coppers, along with a score or two of others.

Eight bells had struck. The boatswain and his mates had piped the hands
to dinner; my mess-cloth was set out, and my messmates were assembled,
knife in hand, all ready to precipitate themselves upon the devoted
_duff_: Waiting at the grand cookery till my turn came, I received the
bag of pudding, and gallanting it into the mess, proceeded to loosen
the string.

It was an anxious, I may say, a fearful moment. My hands trembled;
every eye was upon me; my reputation and credit were at stake. Slowly I
undressed the _duff_, dandling it upon my knee, much as a nurse does a
baby about bed-time. The excitement increased, as I curled down the bag
from the pudding; it became intense, when at last I plumped it into the
pan, held up to receive it by an eager hand. Bim! it fell like a man
shot down in a riot. Distraction! It was harder than a sinner’s heart;
yea, tough as the cock that crowed on the morn that Peter told a lie.

“Gentlemen of the mess, for heaven’s sake! permit me one word. I have
done my duty by that duff—I have——”

But they beat down my excuses with a storm of criminations. One present
proposed that the fatal pudding should be tied round my neck, like a
mill-stone, and myself pushed overboard. No use, no use; I had failed;
ever after, that duff lay heavy at my stomach and my heart.

After this, I grew desperate; despised popularity; returned scorn for
scorn; till at length my week expired, and in the duff-bag I
transferred the keys of office to the next man on the roll.

Somehow, there had never been a very cordial feeling between this mess
and me; all along they had nourished a prejudice against my white
jacket. They must have harbored the silly fancy that in it I gave
myself airs, and wore it in order to look consequential; perhaps, as a
cloak to cover pilferings of tit-bits from the mess. But to out with
the plain truth, they themselves were not a very irreproachable set.
Considering the sequel I am coming to, this avowal may be deemed sheer
malice; but for all that, I cannot avoid speaking my mind.

After my week of office, the mess gradually changed their behaviour to
me; they cut me to the heart; they became cold and reserved; seldom or
never addressed me at meal-times without invidious allusions to my
_duff_, and also to my jacket, and its dripping in wet weather upon the
mess-cloth. However, I had no idea that anything serious, on their
part, was brewing; but alas! so it turned out.

We were assembled at supper one evening when I noticed certain winks
and silent hints tipped to the cook, who presided. He was a little,
oily fellow, who had once kept an oyster-cellar ashore; he bore me a
grudge. Looking down on the mess-cloth, he observed that some fellows
never knew when their room was better than their company. This being a
maxim of indiscriminate application, of course I silently assented to
it, as any other reasonable man would have done. But this remark was
followed up by another, to the effect that, not only did some fellows
never know when their room was better than their company, but they
persisted in staying when their company wasn’t wanted; and by so doing
disturbed the serenity of society at large. But this, also, was a
general observation that could not be gainsaid. A long and ominous
pause ensued; during which I perceived every eye upon me, and my white
jacket; while the cook went on to enlarge upon the disagreeableness of
a perpetually damp garment in the mess, especially when that garment
was white. This was coming nearer home.

Yes, they were going to black-ball me; but I resolved to sit it out a
little longer; never dreaming that my moralist would proceed to
extremities, while all hands were present. But bethinking him that by
going this roundabout way he would never get at his object, he went off
on another tack; apprising me, in substance, that he was instructed by
the whole mess, then and there assembled, to give me warning to seek
out another club, as they did not longer fancy the society either of
myself or my jacket.

I was shocked. Such a want of tact and delicacy! Common propriety
suggested that a point-blank intimation of that nature should be
conveyed in a private interview; or, still better, by note. I
immediately rose, tucked my jacket about me, bowed, and departed.

And now, to do myself justice, I must add that, the next day, I was
received with open arms by a glorious set of fellows—Mess No.
1!—numbering, among the rest, my noble Captain Jack Chase.

This mess was principally composed of the headmost men of the gun-deck;
and, out of a pardonable self-conceit, they called themselves the
“_Forty-two-pounder Club;_” meaning that they were, one and all,
fellows of large intellectual and corporeal calibre. Their mess-cloth
was well located. On their starboard hand was Mess No. 2, embracing
sundry rare jokers and high livers, who waxed gay and epicurean over
their salt fare, and were known as the “_Society for the Destruction of
Beef and Pork_.” On the larboard hand was Mess No. 31, made up entirely
of fore-top-men, a dashing, blaze-away set of men-of-war’s-men, who
called themselves the “_Cape Horn Snorters and Neversink Invincibles_.”
Opposite, was one of the marine messes, mustering the aristocracy of
the marine corps—the two corporals, the drummer and fifer, and some six
or eight rather gentlemanly privates, native-born Americans, who had
served in the Seminole campaigns of Florida; and they now enlivened
their salt fare with stories of wild ambushes in the Everglades; and
one of them related a surprising tale of his hand-to-hand encounter
with Osceola, the Indian chief, whom he fought one morning from
daybreak till breakfast time. This slashing private also boasted that
he could take a chip from between your teeth at twenty paces; he
offered to bet any amount on it; and as he could get no one to hold the
chip, his boast remained for ever good.

Besides many other attractions which the _Forty-two-pounder Club_
furnished, it had this one special advantage, that, owing to there
being so many _petty officers_ in it, all the members of the mess were
exempt from doing duty as cooks and stewards. A fellow called _a
steady-cook_, attended to that business during the entire cruise. He
was a long, lank, pallid varlet, going by the name of Shanks. In very
warm weather this Shanks would sit at the foot of the mess-cloth,
fanning himself with the front flap of his frock or shirt, which he
inelegantly wore over his trousers. Jack Chase, the President of the
Club, frequently remonstrated against this breach of good manners; but
the _steady-cook_ had somehow contracted the habit, and it proved

For a time, Jack Chase, out of a polite nervousness touching myself, as
a newly-elected member of the club, would frequently endeavour to
excuse to me the vulgarity of Shanks. One day he wound up his remarks
by the philosophic reflection—“But, White-Jacket, my dear fellow, what
can you expect of him? Our real misfortune is, that our noble club
should be obliged to dine with its cook.”

There were several of these _steady-cooks_ on board; men of no mark or
consideration whatever in the ship; lost to all noble promptings;
sighing for no worlds to conquer, and perfectly contented with mixing
their _duff’s_, and spreading their mess-cloths, and mustering their
pots and pans together three times every day for a three years’ cruise.
They were very seldom to be seen on the spar-deck, but kept below out
of sight.


To a quiet, contemplative character, averse to uproar, undue exercise
of his bodily members, and all kind of useless confusion, nothing can
be more distressing than a proceeding in all men-of-war called
“_general quarters_.” And well may it be so called, since it amounts to
a general drawing and quartering of all the parties concerned.

As the specific object for which a man-of-war is built and put into
commission is to fight and fire off cannon, it is, of course, deemed
indispensable that the crew should be duly instructed in the art and
mystery involved. Hence these “general quarters,” which is a mustering
of all hands to their stations at the guns on the several decks, and a
sort of sham-fight with an imaginary foe.

The summons is given by the ship’s drummer, who strikes a peculiar
beat—short, broken, rolling, shuffling—like the sound made by the march
into battle of iron-heeled grenadiers. It is a regular tune, with a
fine song composed to it; the words of the chorus, being most
artistically arranged, may give some idea of the air:

    “Hearts of oak are our ships, jolly tars are our men,
     We always are ready, steady, boys, steady,
     To fight and to conquer, again and again.”

In warm weather this pastime at the guns is exceedingly unpleasant, to
say the least, and throws a quiet man into a violent passion and
perspiration. For one, I ever abominated it.

I have a heart like Julius Caesar, and upon occasions would fight like
Caius Marcius Coriolanus. If my beloved and for ever glorious country
should be ever in jeopardy from invaders, let Congress put me on a
war-horse, in the van-guard, and _then_ see how I will acquit myself.
But to toil and sweat in a fictitious encounter; to squander the
precious breath of my precious body in a ridiculous fight of shams and
pretensions; to hurry about the decks, pretending to carry the killed
and wounded below; to be told that I must consider the ship blowing up,
in order to exercise myself in presence of mind, and prepare for a real
explosion; all this I despise, as beneath a true tar and man of valour.

These were my sentiments at the time, and these remain my sentiments
still; but as, while on board the frigate, my liberty of thought did
not extend to liberty of expression, I was obliged to keep these
sentiments to myself; though, indeed, I had some thoughts of addressing
a letter, marked _Private and Confidential_, to his Honour the
Commodore, on the subject.

My station at the batteries was at one of the thirty-two-pound
carronades, on the starboard side of the quarter-deck.[1]

 [1] For the benefit of a Quaker reader here and there, a word or two
 in explanation of a carronade may not be amiss. The carronade is a gun
 comparatively short and light for its calibre. A carronade throwing a
 thirty-two-pound shot weighs considerably less than a long-gun only
 throwing a twenty-four-pound shot. It further differs from a long-gun,
 in working with a joint and bolt underneath, instead of the short arms
 or _trunnions_ at the sides. Its _carriage_, likewise, is quite
 different from that of a long-gun, having a sort of sliding apparatus,
 something like an extension dining-table; the goose on it, however, is
 a tough one, and villainously stuffed with most indigestible
 dumplings. Point-blank, the range of a carronade does not exceed one
 hundred and fifty yards, much less than the range of a long-gun. When
 of large calibre, however, it throws within that limit, Paixhan shot,
 all manner of shells and combustibles, with great effect, being a very
 destructive engine at close quarters. This piece is now very generally
 found mounted in the batteries of the English and American navies. The
 quarter-deck armaments of most modern frigates wholly consist of
 carronades. The name is derived from the village of Carron, in
 Scotland, at whose celebrated founderies this iron Attila was first

I did not fancy this station at all; for it is well known on shipboard
that, in time of action, the quarter-deck is one of the most dangerous
posts of a man-of-war. The reason is, that the officers of the highest
rank are there stationed; and the enemy have an ungentlemanly way of
target-shooting at their buttons. If we should chance to engage a ship,
then, who could tell but some bungling small-arm marks-man in the
enemy’s tops might put a bullet through _me_ instead of the Commodore?
If they hit _him_, no doubt he would not feel it much, for he was used
to that sort of thing, and, indeed, had a bullet in him already.
Whereas, _I_ was altogether unaccustomed to having blue pills playing
round my head in such an indiscriminate way. Besides, ours was a
flag-ship; and every one knows what a peculiarly dangerous predicament
the quarter-deck of Nelson’s flag-ship was in at the battle of
Trafalgar; how the lofty tops of the enemy were full of soldiers,
peppering away at the English Admiral and his officers. Many a poor
sailor, at the guns of that quarter-deck, must have received a bullet
intended for some wearer of an epaulet.

By candidly confessing my feelings on this subject, I do by no means
invalidate my claims to being held a man of prodigious valour. I merely
state my invincible repugnance to being shot for somebody else. If I am
shot, be it with the express understanding in the shooter that I am the
identical person intended so to be served. That Thracian who, with his
compliments, sent an arrow into the King of Macedon, superscribed “_for
Philip’s right eye_,” set a fine example to all warriors. The hurried,
hasty, indiscriminate, reckless, abandoned manner in which both sailors
and soldiers nowadays fight is really painful to any serious-minded,
methodical old gentleman, especially if he chance to have systematized
his mind as an accountant. There is little or no skill and bravery
about it. Two parties, armed with lead and old iron, envelop themselves
in a cloud of smoke, and pitch their lead and old iron about in all
directions. If you happen to be in the way, you are hit; possibly,
killed; if not, you escape. In sea-actions, if by good or bad luck, as
the case may be, a round shot, fired at random through the smoke,
happens to send overboard your fore-mast, another to unship your
rudder, there you lie crippled, pretty much at the mercy of your foe:
who, accordingly, pronounces himself victor, though that honour
properly belongs to the Law of Gravitation operating on the enemy’s
balls in the smoke. Instead of tossing this old lead and iron into the
air, therefore, it would be much better amicably to toss up a copper
and let heads win.

The carronade at which I was stationed was known as “Gun No. 5,” on the
First Lieutenant’s quarter-bill. Among our gun’s crew, however, it was
known as _Black Bet_. This name was bestowed by the captain of the
gun—a fine negro—in honour of his sweetheart, a coloured lady of
Philadelphia. Of Black Bet I was rammer-and-sponger; and ram and sponge
I did, like a good fellow. I have no doubt that, had I and my gun been
at the battle of the Nile, we would mutually have immortalised
ourselves; the ramming-pole would have been hung up in Westminster
Abbey; and I, ennobled by the king, besides receiving the illustrious
honour of an autograph letter from his majesty through the perfumed
right hand of his private secretary.

But it was terrible work to help run in and out of the porthole that
amazing mass of metal, especially as the thing must be clone in a
trice. Then, at the summons of a horrid, rasping rattle, swayed by the
Captain in person, we were made to rush from our guns, seize pikes and
pistols, and repel an imaginary army of boarders, who, by a fiction of
the officers, were supposed to be assailing all sides of the ship at
once. After cutting and slashing at them a while, we jumped back to our
guns, and again went to jerking our elbows.

Meantime, a loud cry is heard of “Fire! fire! fire!” in the fore-top;
and a regular engine, worked by a set of Bowery-boy tars, is forthwith
set to playing streams of water aloft. And now it is “Fire! fire!
fire!” on the main-deck; and the entire ship is in as great a commotion
as if a whole city ward were in a blaze.

Are our officers of the Navy utterly unacquainted with the laws of good
health? Do they not know that this violent exercise, taking place just
after a hearty dinner, as it generally does, is eminently calculated to
breed the dyspepsia? There was no satisfaction in dining; the flavour
of every mouthful was destroyed by the thought that the next moment the
cannonading drum might be beating to quarters.

Such a sea-martinet was our Captain, that sometimes we were roused from
our hammocks at night; when a scene would ensue that it is not in the
power of pen and ink to describe. Five hundred men spring to their
feet, dress themselves, take up their bedding, and run to the nettings
and stow it; then he to their stations—each man jostling his
neighbour—some alow, some aloft; some this way, some that; and in less
than five minutes the frigate is ready for action, and still as the
grave; almost every man precisely where he would be were an enemy
actually about to be engaged. The Gunner, like a Cornwall miner in a
cave, is burrowing down in the magazine under the Ward-room, which is
lighted by battle-lanterns, placed behind glazed glass bull’s-eyes
inserted in the bulkhead. The Powder-monkeys, or boys, who fetch and
carry cartridges, are scampering to and fro among the guns; and the
_first and second loaders_ stand ready to receive their supplies.

These _Powder-monkeys_, as they are called, enact a curious part in
time of action. The entrance to the magazine on the berth-deck, where
they procure their food for the guns, is guarded by a woollen screen;
and a gunner’s mate, standing behind it, thrusts out the cartridges
through a small arm-hole in this screen. The enemy’s shot (perhaps red
hot) are flying in all directions; and to protect their cartridges, the
powder-monkeys hurriedly wrap them up in their jackets; and with all
haste scramble up the ladders to their respective guns, like
eating-house waiters hurrying along with hot cakes for breakfast.

At _general quarters_ the shot-boxes are uncovered; showing the
grape-shot—aptly so called, for they precisely resemble bunches of the
fruit; though, to receive a bunch of iron grapes in the abdomen would
be but a sorry dessert; and also showing the canister-shot—old iron of
various sorts, packed in a tin case, like a tea-caddy.

Imagine some midnight craft sailing down on her enemy thus; twenty-four
pounders levelled, matches lighted, and each captain of his gun at his

But if verily going into action, then would the Neversink have made
still further preparations; for however alike in some things, there is
always a vast difference—if you sound them—between a reality and a
sham. Not to speak of the pale sternness of the men at their guns at
such a juncture, and the choked thoughts at their hearts, the ship
itself would here and there present a far different appearance.
Something like that of an extensive mansion preparing for a grand
entertainment, when folding-doors are withdrawn, chambers converted
into drawing-rooms, and every inch of available space thrown into one
continuous whole. For previous to an action, every bulk-head in a
man-of-war is knocked down; great guns are run out of the Commodore’s
parlour windows; nothing separates the ward-room officers’ quarters
from those of the men, but an ensign used for a curtain. The sailors’
mess-chests are tumbled down into the hold; and the hospital cots—of
which all men-of-war carry a large supply—are dragged forth from the
sail-room, and piled near at hand to receive the wounded;
amputation-tables are ranged in the _cock-pit_ or in the _tiers_,
whereon to carve the bodies of the maimed. The yards are slung in
chains; fire-screens distributed here and there: hillocks of
cannon-balls piled between the guns; shot-plugs suspended within easy
reach from the beams; and solid masses of wads, big as Dutch cheeses,
braced to the cheeks of the gun-carriages.

No small difference, also, would be visible in the wardrobe of both
officers and men. The officers generally fight as dandies dance,
namely, in silk stockings; inasmuch as, in case of being wounded in the
leg, the silk-hose can be more easily drawn off by the Surgeon; cotton
sticks, and works into the wound. An economical captain, while taking
care to case his legs in silk, might yet see fit to save his best suit,
and fight in his old clothes. For, besides that an old garment might
much better be cut to pieces than a new one, it must be a mighty
disagreeable thing to die in a stiff, tight-breasted coat, not yet
worked easy under the arm-pits. At such times, a man should feel free,
unencumbered, and perfectly at his ease in point of straps and
suspenders. No ill-will concerning his tailor should intrude upon his
thoughts of eternity. Seneca understood this, when he chose to die
naked in a bath. And men-of-war’s men understand it, also; for most of
them, in battle, strip to the waist-bands; wearing nothing but a pair
of duck trowsers, and a handkerchief round their head.

A captain combining a heedful patriotism with economy would probably
“bend” his old topsails before going into battle, instead of exposing
his best canvas to be riddled to pieces; for it is generally the case
that the enemy’s shot flies high. Unless allowance is made for it in
pointing the tube, at long-gun distance, the slightest roll of the
ship, at the time of firing, would send a shot, meant for the hull,
high over the top-gallant yards.

But besides these differences between a sham-fight at _general
quarters_ and a real cannonading, the aspect of the ship, at the
beating of the retreat, would, in the latter case, be very dissimilar
to the neatness and uniformity in the former.

_Then_ our bulwarks might look like the walls of the houses in West
Broadway in New York, after being broken into and burned out by the
Negro Mob. Our stout masts and yards might be lying about decks, like
tree boughs after a tornado in a piece of woodland; our dangling ropes,
cut and sundered in all directions, would be bleeding tar at every
yard; and strew with jagged splinters from our wounded planks, the
gun-deck might resemble a carpenter’s shop. _Then_, when all was over,
and all hands would be piped to take down the hammocks from the exposed
nettings (where they play the part of the cotton bales at New Orleans),
we might find bits of broken shot, iron bolts and bullets in our
blankets. And, while smeared with blood like butchers, the surgeon and
his mates would be amputating arms and legs on the berth-deck, an
underling of the carpenter’s gang would be new-legging and arming the
broken chairs and tables in the Commodore’s cabin; while the rest of
his _squad_ would be _splicing_ and _fishing_ the shattered masts and
yards. The scupper-holes having discharged the last rivulet of blood,
the decks would be washed down; and the galley-cooks would be going
fore and aft, sprinkling them with hot vinegar, to take out the
shambles’ smell from the planks; which, unless some such means are
employed, often create a highly offensive effluvia for weeks after a

_Then_, upon mustering the men, and calling the quarter-bills by the
light of a battle-lantern, many a wounded seaman with his arm in a
sling, would answer for some poor shipmate who could never more make
answer for himself:

“Tom Brown?”

“Killed, sir.”

“Jack Jewel?”

“Killed, sir.”

“Joe Hardy?”

“Killed, sir.”

And opposite all these poor fellows’ names, down would go on the
quarter-bills the bloody marks of red ink—a murderer’s fluid, fitly
used on these occasions.


It was the morning succeeding one of these _general quarters_ that we
picked up a life-buoy, descried floating by.

It was a circular mass of cork, about eight inches thick and four feet
in diameter, covered with tarred canvas. All round its circumference
there trailed a number of knotted ropes’-ends, terminating in fanciful
Turks’ heads. These were the life-lines, for the drowning to clutch.
Inserted into the middle of the cork was an upright, carved pole,
somewhat shorter than a pike-staff. The whole buoy was embossed with
barnacles, and its sides festooned with sea-weeds. Dolphins were
sporting and flashing around it, and one white bird was hovering over
the top of the pole. Long ago, this thing must have been thrown
over-board to save some poor wretch, who must have been drowned; while
even the life-buoy itself had drifted away out of sight.

The forecastle-men fished it up from the bows, and the seamen thronged
round it.

“Bad luck! bad luck!” cried the Captain of the Head; “we’ll number one
less before long.”

The ship’s cooper strolled by; he, to whose department it belongs to
see that the ship’s life-buoys are kept in good order.

In men-of-war, night and day, week in and week out, two life-buoys are
kept depending from the stern; and two men, with hatchets in their
hands, pace up and down, ready at the first cry to cut the cord and
drop the buoys overboard. Every two hours they are regularly relieved,
like sentinels on guard. No similar precautions are adopted in the
merchant or whaling service.

Thus deeply solicitous to preserve human life are the regulations of
men-of-war; and seldom has there been a better illustration of this
solicitude than at the battle of Trafalgar, when, after “several
thousand” French seamen had been destroyed, according to Lord
Collingwood, and, by the official returns, sixteen hundred and ninety
Englishmen were killed or wounded, the Captains of the surviving ships
ordered the life-buoy sentries from their death-dealing guns to their
vigilant posts, as officers of the Humane Society.

“There, Bungs!” cried Scrimmage, a sheet-anchor-man,[2] “there’s a good
pattern for you; make us a brace of life-buoys like that; something
that will save a man, and not fill and sink under him, as those leaky
quarter-casks of yours will the first time there’s occasion to drop
’ern. I came near pitching off the bowsprit the other day; and, when I
scrambled inboard again, I went aft to get a squint at ’em. Why, Bungs,
they are all open between the staves. Shame on you! Suppose you
yourself should fall over-board, and find yourself going down with
buoys under you of your own making—what then?”

 [2] In addition to the _Bower-anchors_ carried on her bows, a frigate
 carries large anchors in her fore-chains, called _Sheet-anchors_.
 Hence, the old seamen stationed in that part of a man-of-war are
 called _sheet-anchor-man_.

“I never go aloft, and don’t intend to fall overboard,” replied Bungs.

“Don’t believe it!” cried the sheet-anchor-man; “you lopers that live
about the decks here are nearer the bottom of the sea than the light
hand that looses the main-royal. Mind your eye, Bungs—mind your eye!”

“I will,” retorted Bungs; “and you mind yours!”

Next day, just at dawn, I was startled from my hammock by the cry of
“_All hands about ship and shorten sail_!” Springing up the ladders, I
found that an unknown man had fallen overboard from the chains; and
darting a glance toward the poop, perceived, from their gestures, that
the life-sentries there had cut away the buoys.

It was blowing a fresh breeze; the frigate was going fast through the
water. But the one thousand arms of five hundred men soon tossed her
about on the other tack, and checked her further headway.

“Do you see him?” shouted the officer of the watch through his trumpet,
hailing the main-mast-head. “Man or _buoy_, do you see either?”

“See nothing, sir,” was the reply.

“Clear away the cutters!” was the next order. “Bugler! call away the
second, third, and fourth cutters’ crews. Hands by the tackles!”

In less than three minutes the three boats were down; More hands were
wanted in one of them, and, among others, I jumped in to make up the

“Now, men, give way! and each man look out along his oar, and look
sharp!” cried the officer of our boat. For a time, in perfect silence,
we slid up and down the great seething swells of the sea, but saw

“There, it’s no use,” cried the officer; “he’s gone, whoever he is.
Pull away, men—pull away! they’ll be recalling us soon.”

“Let him drown!” cried the strokesman; “he’s spoiled my watch below for

“Who the devil is he?” cried another.

“He’s one who’ll never have a coffin!” replied a third.

“No, no! they’ll never sing out, ‘_All hands bury the dead!_’ for him,
my hearties!” cried a fourth.

“Silence,” said the officer, “and look along your oars.” But the
sixteen oarsmen still continued their talk; and, after pulling about
for two or three hours, we spied the recall-signal at the frigate’s
fore-t’-gallant-mast-head, and returned on board, having seen no sign
even of the life-buoys.

The boats were hoisted up, the yards braced forward, and away we
bowled—one man less.

“Muster all hands!” was now the order; when, upon calling the roll, the
cooper was the only man missing.

“I told you so, men,” cried the Captain of the Head; “I said we would
lose a man before long.”

“Bungs, is it?” cried Scrimmage, the sheet-anchor-man; “I told him his
buoys wouldn’t save a drowning man; and now he has proved it!”


It was necessary to supply the lost cooper’s place; accordingly, word
was passed for all who belonged to that calling to muster at the
main-mast, in order that one of them might be selected. Thirteen men
obeyed the summons—a circumstance illustrative of the fact that many
good handicrafts-men are lost to their trades and the world by serving
in men-of-war. Indeed, from a frigate’s crew might he culled out men of
all callings and vocations, from a backslidden parson to a broken-down
comedian. The Navy is the asylum for the perverse, the home of the
unfortunate. Here the sons of adversity meet the children of calamity,
and here the children of calamity meet the offspring of sin. Bankrupt
brokers, boot-blacks, blacklegs, and blacksmiths here assemble
together; and cast-away tinkers, watch-makers, quill-drivers, cobblers,
doctors, farmers, and lawyers compare past experiences and talk of old
times. Wrecked on a desert shore, a man-of-war’s crew could quickly
found an Alexandria by themselves, and fill it with all the things
which go to make up a capital.

Frequently, at one and the same time, you see every trade in operation
on the gun-deck—coopering, carpentering, tailoring, tinkering,
blacksmithing, rope-making, preaching, gambling, and fortune-telling.

In truth, a man-of-war is a city afloat, with long avenues set out with
guns instead of trees, and numerous shady lanes, courts, and by-ways.
The quarter-deck is a grand square, park, or parade ground, with a
great Pittsfield elm, in the shape of the main-mast, at one end, and
fronted at the other by the palace of the Commodore’s cabin.

Or, rather, a man-of-war is a lofty, walled, and garrisoned town, like
Quebec, where the thoroughfares and mostly ramparts, and peaceable
citizens meet armed sentries at every corner.

Or it is like the lodging-houses in Paris, turned upside down; the
first floor, or deck, being rented by a lord; the second, by a select
club of gentlemen; the third, by crowds of artisans; and the fourth, by
a whole rabble of common people.

For even thus is it in a frigate, where the commander has a whole cabin
to himself and the spar-deck, the lieutenants their ward-room
underneath, and the mass of sailors swing their hammocks under all.

And with its long rows of port-hole casements, each revealing the
muzzle of a cannon, a man-of-war resembles a three-story house in a
suspicions part of the town, with a basement of indefinite depth, and
ugly-looking fellows gazing out at the windows.


Again must I call attention to my white jacket, which, about this time
came near being the death of me.

I am of a meditative humour, and at sea used often to mount aloft at
night, and seating myself on one of the upper yards, tuck my jacket
about me and give loose to reflection. In some ships in which. I have
done this, the sailors used to fancy that I must be studying
astronomy—which, indeed, to some extent, was the case—and that my
object in mounting aloft was to get a nearer view of the stars,
supposing me, of course, to be short-sighted. A very silly conceit of
theirs, some may say, but not so silly after all; for surely the
advantage of getting nearer an object by two hundred feet is not to be
underrated. Then, to study the stars upon the wide, boundless sea, is
divine as it was to the Chaldean Magi, who observed their revolutions
from the plains.

And it is a very fine feeling, and one that fuses us into the universe
of things, and mates us a part of the All, to think that, wherever we
ocean-wanderers rove, we have still the same glorious old stars to keep
us company; that they still shine onward and on, forever beautiful and
bright, and luring us, by every ray, to die and be glorified with them.

Ay, ay! we sailors sail not in vain, We expatriate ourselves to
nationalise with the universe; and in all our voyages round the world,
we are still accompanied by those old circumnavigators, the stars, who
are shipmates and fellow-sailors of ours—sailing in heaven’s blue, as
we on the azure main. Let genteel generations scoff at our hardened
hands, and finger-nails tipped with tar—did they ever clasp truer palms
than ours? Let them feel of our sturdy hearts beating like
sledge-hammers in those hot smithies, our bosoms; with their
amber-headed canes, let them feel of our generous pulses, and swear
that they go off like thirty-two-pounders.

Oh, give me again the rover’s life—the joy, the thrill, the whirl! Let
me feel thee again, old sea! let me leap into thy saddle once more. I
am sick of these terra firma toils and cares; sick of the dust and reek
of towns. Let me hear the clatter of hailstones on icebergs, and not
the dull tramp of these plodders, plodding their dull way from their
cradles to their graves. Let me snuff thee up, sea-breeze! and whinny
in thy spray. Forbid it, sea-gods! intercede for me with Neptune, O
sweet Amphitrite, that no dull clod may fall on my coffin! Be mine the
tomb that swallowed up Pharaoh and all his hosts; let me lie down with
Drake, where he sleeps in the sea.

But when White-Jacket speaks of the rover’s life, he means not life in
a man-of-war, which, with its martial formalities and thousand vices,
stabs to the heart the soul of all free-and-easy honourable rovers.

I have said that I was wont to mount up aloft and muse; and thus was it
with me the night following the loss of the cooper. Ere my watch in the
top had expired, high up on the main-royal-yard I reclined, the white
jacket folded around me like Sir John Moore in his frosted cloak.

Eight bells had struck, and my watchmates had hied to their hammocks,
and the other watch had gone to their stations, and the _top_ below me
was full of strangers, and still one hundred feet above even _them_ I
lay entranced; now dozing, now dreaming; now thinking of things past,
and anon of the life to come. Well-timed was the latter thought, for
the life to come was much nearer overtaking me than I then could
imagine. Perhaps I was half conscious at last of a tremulous voice
hailing the main-royal-yard from the _top_. But if so, the
consciousness glided away from me, and left me in Lethe. But when, like
lightning, the yard dropped under me, and instinctively I clung with
both hands to the “_tie_,” then I came to myself with a rush, and felt
something like a choking hand at my throat. For an instant I thought
the Gulf Stream in my head was whirling me away to eternity; but the
next moment I found myself standing; the yard had descended to the
_cup_; and shaking myself in my jacket, I felt that I was unharmed and

Who had done this? who had made this attempt on my life? thought I, as
I ran down the rigging.

“Here it comes!—Lord! Lord! here it comes! See, see! it is white as a

“Who’s coming?” I shouted, springing down into the top; “who’s white as
a hammock?”

“Bless my soul, Bill it’s only White-Jacket—that infernal White-Jacket

It seems they had spied a moving white spot there aloft, and,
sailor-like, had taken me for the ghost of the cooper; and after
hailing me, and bidding me descend, to test my corporeality, and
getting no answer, they had lowered the halyards in affright.

In a rage I tore off the jacket, and threw it on the deck.

“Jacket,” cried I, “you must change your complexion! you must hie to
the dyers and be dyed, that I may live. I have but one poor life,
White-Jacket, and that life I cannot spare. I cannot consent to die for
_you_, but be dyed you must for me. You can dye many times without
injury; but I cannot die without irreparable loss, and running the
eternal risk.”

So in the morning, jacket in hand, I repaired to the First Lieutenant,
and related the narrow escape I had had during the night. I enlarged
upon the general perils I ran in being taken for a ghost, and earnestly
besought him to relax his commands for once, and give me an order on
Brush, the captain of the paint-room, for some black paint, that my
jacket might be painted of that colour.

“Just look at it, sir,” I added, holding it lip; “did you ever see
anything whiter? Consider how it shines of a night, like a bit of the
Milky Way. A little paint, sir, you cannot refuse.”

“The ship has no paint to spare,” he said; “you must get along without

“Sir, every rain gives me a soaking; Cape Horn is at hand—six
brushes-full would make it waterproof; and no longer would I be in
peril of my life!”

“Can’t help it, sir; depart!”

I fear it will not be well with me in the end; for if my own sins are
to be forgiven only as I forgive that hard-hearted and unimpressible
First Lieutenant, then pardon there is none for me.

What! when but one dab of paint would make a man of a ghost, and it
Mackintosh of a herring-net—to refuse it I am full. I can say no more.


No more of my luckless jacket for a while; let me speak of my hammock,
and the tribulations I endured therefrom.

Give me plenty of room to swing it in; let me swing it between two
date-trees on an Arabian plain; or extend it diagonally from Moorish
pillar to pillar, in the open marble Court of the Lions in Granada’s
Alhambra: let me swing it on a high bluff of the Mississippi—one swing
in the pure ether for every swing over the green grass; or let me
oscillate in it beneath the cool dome of St. Peter’s; or drop me in it,
as in a balloon, from the zenith, with the whole firmament to rock and
expatiate in; and I would not exchange my coarse canvas hammock for the
grand state-bed, like a stately coach-and-four, in which they tuck in a
king when he passes a night at Blenheim Castle.

When you have the requisite room, you always have “spreaders” in your
hammock; that is, two horizontal sticks, one at each end, which serve
to keep the sides apart, and create a wide vacancy between, wherein you
can turn over and over—lay on this side or that; on your back, if you
please; stretch out your legs; in short, take your ease in your
hammock; for of all inns, your bed is the best.

But when, with five hundred other hammocks, yours is crowded and jammed
on all sides, on a frigate berth-deck; the third from above, when
“_spreaders_” are prohibited by an express edict from the Captain’s
cabin; and every man about you is jealously watchful of the rights and
privileges of his own proper hammock, as settled by law and usage;
_then_ your hammock is your Bastile and canvas jug; into which, or out
of which, it is very hard to get; and where sleep is but a mockery and
a name.

Eighteen inches a man is all they allow you; eighteen inches in width;
in _that_ you must swing. Dreadful! they give you more swing than that
at the gallows.

During warm nights in the Tropics, your hammock is as a stew-pan; where
you stew and stew, till you can almost hear yourself hiss. Vain are all
stratagems to widen your accommodations. Let them catch you insinuating
your boots or other articles in the head of your hammock, by way of a
“spreader.” Near and far, the whole rank and file of the row to which
you belong feel the encroachment in an instant, and are clamorous till
the guilty one is found out, and his pallet brought back to its

In platoons and squadrons, they all lie on a level; their hammock
_clews_ crossing and recrossing in all directions, so as to present one
vast field-bed, midway between the ceiling and the floor; which are
about five feet asunder.

One extremely warm night, during a calm, when it was so hot that only a
skeleton could keep cool (from the free current of air through its
bones), after being drenched in my own perspiration, I managed to wedge
myself out of my hammock; and with what little strength I had left,
lowered myself gently to the deck. Let me see now, thought I, whether
my ingenuity cannot devise some method whereby I can have room to
breathe and sleep at the same time. I have it. I will lower my hammock
underneath all these others; and then—upon that separate and
independent level, at least—I shall have the whole berth-deck to
myself. Accordingly, I lowered away my pallet to the desired
point—about three inches from the floor—and crawled into it again.

But, alas! this arrangement made such a sweeping semi-circle of my
hammock, that, while my head and feet were at par, the small of my back
was settling down indefinitely; I felt as if some gigantic archer had
hold of me for a bow.

But there was another plan left. I triced up my hammock with all my
strength, so as to bring it wholly _above_ the tiers of pallets around
me. This done, by a last effort, I hoisted myself into it; but, alas!
it was much worse than before. My luckless hammock was stiff and
straight as a board; and there I was—laid out in it, with my nose
against the ceiling, like a dead man’s against the lid of his coffin.

So at last I was fain to return to my old level, and moralise upon the
folly, in all arbitrary governments, of striving to get either _below_
or _above_ those whom legislation has placed upon an equality with

Speaking of hammocks, recalls a circumstance that happened one night in
the Neversink. It was three or four times repeated, with various but
not fatal results.

The watch below was fast asleep on the berth-deck, where perfect
silence was reigning, when a sudden shock and a groan roused up all
hands; and the hem of a pair of white trowsers vanished up one of the
ladders at the fore-hatchway.

We ran toward the groan, and found a man lying on the deck; one end of
his hammock having given way, pitching his head close to three
twenty-four pound cannon shot, which must have been purposely placed in
that position. When it was discovered that this man had long been
suspected of being an _informer_ among the crew, little surprise and
less pleasure were evinced at his narrow escape.


I cannot quit this matter of the hammocks without making mention of a
grievance among the sailors that ought to be redressed.

In a man-of-war at sea, the sailors have _watch and watch;_ that is,
through every twenty-four hours, they are on and off duty every four
hours. Now, the hammocks are piped down from the nettings (the open
space for stowing them, running round the top of the bulwarks) a little
after sunset, and piped up again when the forenoon watch is called, at
eight o’clock in the morning; so that during the daytime they are
inaccessible as pallets. This would be all well enough, did the sailors
have a complete night’s rest; but every other night at sea, one watch
have only four hours in their hammocks. Indeed, deducting the time
allowed for the other watch to turn out; for yourself to arrange your
hammock, get into it, and fairly get asleep; it maybe said that, every
other night, you have but three hours’ sleep in your hammock. Having
then been on deck for twice four hours, at eight o’clock in the morning
your _watch-below_ comes round, and you are not liable to duty until
noon. Under like circumstances, a merchant seaman goes to his _bunk_,
and has the benefit of a good long sleep. But in a man-of-war you can
do no such thing; your hammock is very neatly stowed in the nettings,
and there it must remain till nightfall.

But perhaps there is a corner for you somewhere along the batteries on
the gun-deck, where you may enjoy a snug nap. But as no one is allowed
to recline on the larboard side of the gun-deck (which is reserved as a
corridor for the officers when they go forward to their smoking-room at
the _bridle-port_), the starboard side only is left to the seaman. But
most of this side, also, is occupied by the carpenters, sail-makers,
barbers, and coopers. In short, so few are the corners where you can
snatch a nap during daytime in a frigate, that not one in ten of the
watch, who have been on deck eight hours, can get a wink of sleep till
the following night. Repeatedly, after by good fortune securing a
corner, I have been roused from it by some functionary commissioned to
keep it clear.

Off Cape Horn, what before had been very uncomfortable became a serious
hardship. Drenched through and through by the spray of the sea at
night. I have sometimes slept standing on the spar-deck—and shuddered
as I slept—for the want of sufficient sleep in my hammock.

During three days of the stormiest weather, we were given the privilege
of the _berth-deck_ (at other times strictly interdicted), where we
were permitted to spread our jackets, and take a nap in the morning
after the eight hours’ night exposure. But this privilege was but a
beggarly one, indeed. Not to speak of our jackets—used for
blankets—being soaking wet, the spray, coming down the hatchways, kept
the planks of the berth-deck itself constantly wet; whereas, had we
been permitted our hammocks, we might have swung dry over all this
deluge. But we endeavoured to make ourselves as warm and comfortable as
possible, chiefly by close stowing, so as to generate a little steam,
in the absence of any fire-side warmth. You have seen, perhaps, the way
in which they box up subjects intended to illustrate the winter
lectures of a professor of surgery. Just so we laid; heel and point,
face to back, dove-tailed into each other at every ham and knee. The
wet of our jackets, thus densely packed, would soon begin to distill.
But it was like pouring hot water on you to keep you from freezing. It
was like being “packed” between the soaked sheets in a Water-cure

Such a posture could not be preserved for any considerable period
without shifting side for side. Three or four times during the four
hours I would be startled from a wet doze by the hoarse cry of a fellow
who did the duty of a corporal at the after-end of my file. “_Sleepers
ahoy! stand by to slew round!_” and, with a double shuffle, we all
rolled in concert, and found ourselves facing the taffrail instead of
the bowsprit. But, however you turned, your nose was sure to stick to
one or other of the steaming backs on your two flanks. There was some
little relief in the change of odour consequent upon this.

But what is the reason that, after battling out eight stormy hours on
deck at, night, men-of-war’s-men are not allowed the poor boon of a dry
four hours’ nap during the day following? What is the reason? The
Commodore, Captain, and first Lieutenant, Chaplain, Purser, and scores
of others, have _all night in_, just as if they were staying at a hotel
on shore. And the junior Lieutenants not only have their cots to go to
at any time: but as only one of them is required to head the watch, and
there are so many of them among whom to divide that duty, they are only
on deck four hours to twelve hours below. In some eases the proportion
is still greater. Whereas, with _the people_ it is four hours in and
four hours off continually.

What is the reason, then, that the common seamen should fare so hard in
this matter? It would seem but a simple thing to let them get down
their hammocks during the day for a nap. But no; such a proceeding
would mar the uniformity of daily events in a man-of-war. It seems
indispensable to the picturesque effect of the spar-deck, that the
hammocks should invariably remain stowed in the nettings between
sunrise and sundown. But the chief reason is this—a reason which has
sanctioned many an abuse in this world—_precedents are against it;_
such a thing as sailors sleeping in their hammocks in the daytime,
after being eight hours exposed to a night-storm, was hardly ever heard
of in the navy. Though, to the immortal honour of some captains be it
said, the fact is upon navy record, that off Cape Horn, they _have_
vouchsafed the morning hammocks to their crew. Heaven bless such
tender-hearted officers; and may they and their descendants—ashore or
afloat—have sweet and pleasant slumbers while they live, and an
undreaming siesta when they die.

It is concerning such things as the subject of this chapter that
special enactments of Congress are demanded. Health and comfort—so far
as duly attainable under the circumstances—should be legally guaranteed
to the man-of-war’s-men; and not left to the discretion or caprice of
their commanders.


Besides the other tribulations connected with your hammock, you must
keep it snow-white and clean; who has not observed the long rows of
spotless hammocks exposed in a frigate’s nettings, where, through the
day, their outsides, at least, are kept airing?

Hence it comes that there are regular mornings appointed for the
scrubbing of hammocks; and such mornings are called
_scrub-hammock-mornings;_ and desperate is the scrubbing that ensues.

Before daylight the operation begins. All hands are called, and at it
they go. Every deck is spread with hammocks, fore and aft; and lucky
are you if you can get sufficient superfices to spread your own hammock
in. Down on their knees are five hundred men, scrubbing away with
brushes and brooms; jostling, and crowding, and quarrelling about using
each other’s suds; when all their Purser’s soap goes to create one
indiscriminate yeast.

Sometimes you discover that, in the dark, you have been all the while
scrubbing your next neighbour’s hammock instead of your own. But it is
too late to begin over again; for now the word is passed for every man
to advance with his hammock, that it may be tied to a net-like
frame-work of clothes-lines, and hoisted aloft to dry.

That done, without delay you get together your frocks and trowsers, and
on the already flooded deck embark in the laundry business. You have no
special bucket or basin to yourself—the ship being one vast wash-tub,
where all hands wash and rinse out, and rinse out and wash, till at
last the word is passed again, to make fast your clothes, that they,
also, may be elevated to dry.

Then on all three decks the operation of holy-stoning begins, so called
from the queer name bestowed upon the principal instruments employed.
These are ponderous flat stones with long ropes at each end, by which
the stones are slidden about, to and fro, over the wet and sanded
decks; a most wearisome, dog-like, galley-slave employment. For the
byways and corners about the masts and guns, smaller stones are used,
called _prayer-books;_ inasmuch as the devout operator has to down with
them on his knees.

Finally, a grand flooding takes place, and the decks are remorselessly
thrashed with dry swabs. After which an extraordinary implement—a sort
of leathern hoe called a “_squilgee_”—is used to scrape and squeeze the
last dribblings of water from the planks. Concerning this “squilgee,” I
think something of drawing up a memoir, and reading it before the
Academy of Arts and Sciences. It is a most curious affair.

By the time all these operations are concluded it is _eight bell’s_,
and all hands are piped to breakfast upon the damp and every-way
disagreeable decks.

Now, against this invariable daily flooding of the three decks of a
frigate, as a man-of-war’s-man, White-Jacket most earnestly protests.
In sunless weather it keeps the sailors’ quarters perpetually damp; so
much so, that you can scarce sit down without running the risk of
getting the lumbago. One rheumatic old sheet-anchor-man among us was
driven to the extremity of sewing a piece of tarred canvas on the seat
of his trowsers.

Let those neat and tidy officers who so love to see a ship kept spick
and span clean; who institute vigorous search after the man who chances
to drop the crumb of a biscuit on deck, when the ship is rolling in a
sea-way; let all such swing their hammocks with the sailors; and they
would soon get sick of this daily damping of the decks.

Is a ship a wooden platter, that is to be scrubbed out every morning
before breakfast, even if the thermometer be at zero, and every sailor
goes barefooted through the flood with the chilblains? And all the
while the ship carries a doctor, well aware of Boerhaave’s great maxim
“_keep the feet dry_.” He has plenty of pills to give you when you are
down with a fever, the consequence of these things; but enters no
protest at the outset—as it is his duty to do—against the cause that
induces the fever.

During the pleasant night watches, the promenading officers, mounted on
their high-heeled boots, pass dry-shod, like the Israelites, over the
decks; but by daybreak the roaring tide sets back, and the poor sailors
are almost overwhelmed in it, like the Egyptians in the Red Sea.

Oh! the chills, colds, and agues that are caught. No snug stove, grate,
or fireplace to go to; no, your only way to keep warm is to keep in a
blazing passion, and anathematise the custom that every morning makes a
wash-house of a man-of-war.

Look at it. Say you go on board a line-of-battle-ship: you see
everything scrupulously neat; you see all the decks clear and
unobstructed as the sidewalks of Wall Street of a Sunday morning; you
see no trace of a sailor’s dormitory; you marvel by what magic all this
is brought about. And well you may. For consider, that in this
unobstructed fabric nearly one thousand mortal men have to sleep, eat,
wash, dress, cook, and perform all the ordinary functions of humanity.
The same number of men ashore would expand themselves into a township.
Is it credible, then, that this extraordinary neatness, and especially
this _unobstructedness_ of a man-of-war, can be brought about, except
by the most rigorous edicts, and a very serious sacrifice, with respect
to the sailors, of the domestic comforts of life? To be sure, sailors
themselves do not often complain of these things; they are used to
them; but man can become used even to the hardest usage. And it is
because he is used to it, that sometimes he does not complain of it.

Of all men-of-war, the American ships are the most excessively neat,
and have the greatest reputation for it. And of all men-of-war the
general discipline of the American ships is the most arbitrary.

In the English navy, the men liberally mess on tables, which, between
meals, are triced up out of the way. The American sailors mess on deck,
and pick up their broken biscuit, or _midshipman’s nuts_, like fowls in
a barn-yard.

But if this unobstructedness in an American fighting-ship be, at all
hazards, so desirable, why not imitate the Turks? In the Turkish navy
they have no mess-chests; the sailors roll their mess things up in a
rug, and thrust them under a gun. Nor do they have any hammocks; they
sleep anywhere about the decks in their _gregoes_. Indeed, come to look
at it, what more does a man-of-war’s-man absolutely require to live in
than his own skin? That’s room enough; and room enough to turn in, if
he but knew how to shift his spine, end for end, like a ramrod, without
disturbing his next neighbour.

Among all men-of-war’s-men, it is a maxim that over-neat vessels are
Tartars to the crew: and perhaps it may be safely laid down that, when
you see such a ship, some sort of tyranny is not very far off.

In the Neversink, as in other national ships, the business of
_holy-stoning_ the decks was often prolonged, by way of punishment to
the men, particularly of a raw, cold morning. This is one of the
punishments which a lieutenant of the watch may easily inflict upon the
crew, without infringing the statute which places the power of
punishment solely in the hands of the Captain.

The abhorrence which men-of-war’s-men have for this protracted
_holy-stoning_ in cold, comfortless weather—with their bare feet
exposed to the splashing inundations—is shown in a strange story, rife
among them, curiously tinctured with their proverbial superstitions.

The First Lieutenant of an English sloop of war, a severe
disciplinarian, was uncommonly particular concerning the whiteness of
the quarter-deck. One bitter winter morning at sea, when the crew had
washed that part of the vessel, as usual, and put away their
holy-stones, this officer came on deck, and after inspecting it,
ordered the _holy-stones_ and _prayer-books_ up again. Once more
slipping off the shoes from their frosted feet, and rolling up their
trowsers, the crew kneeled down to their task; and in that suppliant
posture, silently invoked a curse upon their tyrant; praying, as he
went below, that he might never more come out of the ward-room alive.
The prayer seemed answered: for shortly after being visited with a
paralytic stroke at his breakfast-table, the First Lieutenant next
morning was carried out of the ward-room feet foremost, dead. As they
dropped him over the side—so goes the story—the marine sentry at the
gangway turned his back upon the corpse.

To the credit of the humane and sensible portion of the roll of
American navy-captains, be it added, that _they_ are not so particular
in keeping the decks spotless at all times, and in all weathers; nor do
they torment the men with scraping bright-wood and polishing
ring-bolts; but give all such gingerbread-work a hearty coat of black
paint, which looks more warlike, is a better preservative, and exempts
the sailors from a perpetual annoyance.


The Neversink had summered out her last Christmas on the Equator; she
was now destined to winter out the Fourth of July not very far from the
frigid latitudes of Cape Horn.

It is sometimes the custom in the American Navy to celebrate this
national holiday by doubling the allowance of spirits to the men; that
is, if the ship happen to be lying in harbour. The effects of this
patriotic plan may be easily imagined: the whole ship is converted into
a dram-shop; and the intoxicated sailors reel about, on all three
decks, singing, howling, and fighting. This is the time that, owing to
the relaxed discipline of the ship, old and almost forgotten quarrels
are revived, under the stimulus of drink; and, fencing themselves up
between the guns—so as to be sure of a clear space with at least three
walls—the combatants, two and two, fight out their hate, cribbed and
cabined like soldiers duelling in a sentry-box. In a word, scenes ensue
which would not for a single instant be tolerated by the officers upon
any other occasion. This is the time that the most venerable of
quarter-gunners and quarter-masters, together with the smallest
apprentice boys, and men never known to have been previously
intoxicated during the cruise—this is the time that they all roll
together in the same muddy trough of drunkenness.

In emulation of the potentates of the Middle Ages, some Captains
augment the din by authorising a grand jail-delivery of all the
prisoners who, on that auspicious Fourth of the month, may happen to be
confined in the ship’s prison—“_the brig_.”

But from scenes like these the Neversink was happily delivered. Besides
that she was now approaching a most perilous part of the ocean—which
would have made it madness to intoxicate the sailors—her complete
destitution of _grog_, even for ordinary consumption, was an obstacle
altogether insuperable, even had the Captain felt disposed to indulge
his man-of-war’s-men by the most copious libations.

For several days previous to the advent of the holiday, frequent
conferences were held on the gun-deck touching the melancholy prospects
before the ship.

“Too bad—too bad!” cried a top-man, “Think of it, shipmates—a Fourth of
July without grog!”

“I’ll hoist the Commodore’s pennant at half-mast that day,” sighed the

“And I’ll turn my best uniform jacket wrong side out, to keep company
with the pennant, old Ensign,” sympathetically responded an

“Ay, do!” cried a forecastle-man. “I could almost pipe my eye to think

“No grog on de day dat tried men’s souls!” blubbered Sunshine, the

“Who would be a _Jankee_ now?” roared a Hollander of the fore-top, more
Dutch than sour-crout.

“Is this the _riglar_ fruits of liberty?” touchingly inquired an Irish
waister of an old Spanish sheet-anchor-man.

You will generally observe that, of all Americans, your foreign-born
citizens are the most patriotic—especially toward the Fourth of July.

But how could Captain Claret, the father of his crew, behold the grief
of his ocean children with indifference? He could not. Three days
before the anniversary—it still continuing very pleasant weather for
these latitudes—it was publicly announced that free permission was
given to the sailors to get up any sort of theatricals they desired,
wherewith to honour the Fourth.

Now, some weeks prior to the Neversink’s sailing from home—nearly three
years before the time here spoken of—some of the seamen had clubbed
together, and made up a considerable purse, for the purpose of
purchasing a theatrical outfit having in view to diversify the monotony
of lying in foreign harbours for weeks together, by an occasional
display on the boards—though if ever there w-as a continual theatre in
the world, playing by night and by day, and without intervals between
the acts, a man-of-war is that theatre, and her planks are the _boards_

The sailors who originated this scheme had served in other American
frigates, where the privilege of having theatricals was allowed to the
crew. What was their chagrin, then, when, upon making an application to
the Captain, in a Peruvian harbour, for permission to present the
much-admired drama of “_The Ruffian Boy_,” under the Captain’s personal
patronage, that dignitary assured them that there were already enough
_ruffian boys_ on board, without conjuring up any more from the

The theatrical outfit, therefore, was stowed down in the bottom of the
sailors’ bags, who little anticipated _then_ that it would ever be
dragged out while Captain Claret had the sway.

But immediately upon the announcement that the embargo was removed,
vigorous preparations were at once commenced to celebrate the Fourth
with unwonted spirit. The half-deck was set apart for the theatre, and
the signal-quarter-master was commanded to loan his flags to decorate
it in the most patriotic style.

As the stage-struck portion of the crew had frequently during the
cruise rehearsed portions of various plays, to while away the tedium of
the night-watches, they needed no long time now to perfect themselves
in their parts.

Accordingly, on the very next morning after the indulgence had been
granted by the Captain, the following written placard, presenting a
broadside of staring capitals, was found tacked against the main-mast
on the gun-deck. It was as if a Drury-Lane bill had been posted upon
the London Monument.

                   CAPE HORN THEATRE. *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
                   _Grand Celebration of the Fourth of July_. DAY
                   OFF! JACK CHASE.  .  .  . PERCY ROYAL-MAST. STARS OF
                   THE FIRST MAGNITUDE. _For this time only_. THE TRUE
                   YANKEE SAILOR. The managers of the Cape Horn Theatre
                   beg leave to inform the inhabitants of the Pacific
                   and Southern Oceans that, on the afternoon of the
                   Fourth of July, 184—, they will have the honour to
                   present the admired drama of
                 THE OLD WAGON PAID OFF! Commodore Bougee  .  .  .  .
                 _Tom Brown, of the Fore-top_. Captain Spy-glass .  . 
                 .  . _Ned Brace, of the After-Guard_. Commodore’s
                 Cockswain.  .  . _Joe Bunk, of the Launch_. Old Luff .
                  .  .  .  .  .  . _Quarter-master Coffin._ Mayor .  . 
                 .  .  .  .  .  . _Seafull, of the Forecastle_. PERCY
                 ROYAL-MAST  .  .  .  .  JACK CHASE. Mrs. Lovelorn  . 
                 .  .  .  . _Long-locks, of the After-Guard_. Toddy
                 Moll  .  .  .  .  .  . _Frank Jones_. Gin and Sugar
                 Sall.  .  .  . _Dick Dash_.
   Sailors, Mariners, Bar-keepers, Crimps, Aldermen, Police-officer’s,
   Soldiers, Landsmen generally. *   *   *   *   *   *   *   * Long
   live the Commodore!     ::     Admission Free. *   *   *   *   *   *
     *   * To conclude with the much-admired song by Dibdin, altered to
   suit all American Tars, entitled
                  THE TRUE YANKEE SAILOR. True Yankee Sailor (in
                  costume), Patrick Flinegan, Captain of the Head.
   Performance to commence with “Hail Columbia,” by the Brass Band.
   Ensign rises at three bells, P.M. No sailor permitted to enter in
   his shirt-sleeves. Good order is expected to be maintained. The
   Master-at-arms and Ship’s Corporals to be in attendance to keep the

At the earnest entreaties of the seamen, Lemsford, the gun-deck poet,
had been prevailed upon to draw up this bill. And upon this one
occasion his literary abilities were far from being underrated, even by
the least intellectual person on board. Nor must it be omitted that,
before the bill was placarded, Captain Claret, enacting the part of
censor and grand chamberlain ran over a manuscript copy of “_The Old
Wagon Paid Off_,” to see whether it contained anything calculated to
breed disaffection against lawful authority among the crew. He objected
to some parts, but in the end let them all pass.

The morning of The Fourth—most anxiously awaited—dawned clear and fair.
The breeze was steady; the air bracing cold; and one and all the
sailors anticipated a gleeful afternoon. And thus was falsified the
prophecies of certain old growlers averse to theatricals, who had
predicted a gale of wind that would squash all the arrangements of the

As the men whose regular turns, at the time of the performance, would
come round to be stationed in the tops, and at the various halyards and
running ropes about the spar-deck, could not be permitted to partake in
the celebration, there accordingly ensued, during the morning, many
amusing scenes of tars who were anxious to procure substitutes at their
posts. Through the day, many anxious glances were cast to windward; but
the weather still promised fair.

At last _the people_ were piped to dinner; two bells struck; and soon
after, all who could be spared from their stations hurried to the
half-deck. The capstan bars were placed on shot-boxes, as at prayers on
Sundays, furnishing seats for the audience, while a low stage, rigged
by the carpenter’s gang, was built at one end of the open space. The
curtain was composed of a large ensign, and the bulwarks round about
were draperied with the flags of all nations. The ten or twelve members
of the brass band were ranged in a row at the foot of the stage, their
polished instruments in their hands, while the consequential Captain of
the Band himself was elevated upon a gun carriage.

At three bells precisely a group of ward-room officers emerged from the
after-hatchway, and seated themselves upon camp-stools, in a central
position, with the stars and stripes for a canopy. _That_ was the royal
box. The sailors looked round for the Commodore but neither Commodore
nor Captain honored _the people_ with their presence.

At the call of a bugle the band struck up _Hail Columbia_, the whole
audience keeping time, as at Drury Lane, when _God Save The King_ is
played after a great national victory.

At the discharge of a marine’s musket the curtain rose, and four
sailors, in the picturesque garb of Maltese mariners, staggered on the
stage in a feigned state of intoxication. The truthfulness of the
representation was much heightened by the roll of the ship.

“The Commodore,” “Old Luff,” “The Mayor,” and “Gin and Sugar Sall,”
were played to admiration, and received great applause. But at the
first appearance of that universal favourite, Jack Chase, in the
chivalric character of _Percy Royal-Mast_, the whole audience
simultaneously rose to their feet, and greeted hire with three hearty
cheers, that almost took the main-top-sail aback.

Matchless Jack, _in full fig_, bowed again and again, with true
quarter-deck grace and self possession; and when five or six untwisted
strands of rope and bunches of oakum were thrown to him, as substitutes
for bouquets, he took them one by one, and gallantly hung them from the
buttons of his jacket.

“Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!—go on! go on!—stop hollering—hurrah!—go
on!—stop hollering—hurrah!” was now heard on all sides, till at last,
seeing no end to the enthusiasm of his ardent admirers, Matchless Jack
stepped forward, and, with his lips moving in pantomime, plunged into
the thick of the part. Silence soon followed, but was fifty times
broken by uncontrollable bursts of applause. At length, when that
heart-thrilling scene came on, where Percy Royal-Mast rescues fifteen
oppressed sailors from the watch-house, in the teeth of a posse of
constables, the audience leaped to their feet, overturned the capstan
bars, and to a man hurled their hats on the stage in a delirium of
delight. Ah Jack, that was a ten-stroke indeed!

The commotion was now terrific; all discipline seemed gone for ever;
the Lieutenants ran in among the men, the Captain darted from his
cabin, and the Commodore nervously questioned the armed sentry at his
door as to what the deuce _the people_ were about. In the midst of all
this, the trumpet of the officer-of-the-deck, commanding the
top-gallant sails to be taken in, was almost completely drowned. A
black squall was coming down on the weather-bow, and the boat-swain’s
mates bellowed themselves hoarse at the main-hatchway. There is no
knowing what would have ensued, had not the bass drum suddenly been
heard, calling all hands to quarters, a summons not to be withstood.
The sailors pricked their ears at it, as horses at the sound of a
cracking whip, and confusedly stumbled up the ladders to their
stations. The next moment all was silent but the wind, howling like a
thousand devils in the cordage.

“Stand by to reef all three top-sails!—settle away the halyards!—haul
out—so: make fast!—aloft, top-men! and reef away!”

Thus, in storm and tempest terminated that day’s theatricals. But the
sailors never recovered from the disappointment of not having the
“_True Yankee Sailor_” sung by the Irish Captain of the Head.

And here White-jacket must moralize a bit. The unwonted spectacle of
the row of gun-room officers mingling with “the people” in applauding a
mere seaman like Jack Chase, filled me at the time with the most
pleasurable emotions. It is a sweet thing, thought I, to see these
officers confess a human brotherhood with us, after all; a sweet thing
to mark their cordial appreciation of the manly merits of my matchless
Jack. Ah! they are noble fellows all round, and I do not know but I
have wronged them sometimes in my thoughts.

Nor was it without similar pleasurable feelings that I witnessed the
temporary rupture of the ship’s stern discipline, consequent upon the
tumult of the theatricals. I thought to myself, this now is as it
should be. It is good to shake off, now and then, this iron yoke round
our necks. And after having once permitted us sailors to be a little
noisy, in a harmless way—somewhat merrily turbulent—the officers
cannot, with any good grace, be so excessively stern and unyielding as
before. I began to think a man-of-war a man-of-peace-and-good-will,
after all. But, alas! disappointment came.

Next morning the same old scene was enacted at the gang-way. And
beholding the row of uncompromising-looking-officers there assembled
with the Captain, to witness punishment—the same officers who had been
so cheerfully disposed over night—an old sailor touched my shoulder and
said, “See, White-Jacket, all round they have _shipped their
quarter-deck faces again_. But this is the way.”

I afterward learned that this was an old man-of-war’s-man’s phrase,
expressive of the facility with which a sea-officer falls back upon all
the severity of his dignity, after a temporary suspension of it.


And now, through drizzling fogs and vapours, and under damp,
double-reefed top-sails, our wet-decked frigate drew nearer and nearer
to the squally Cape.

Who has not heard of it? Cape Horn, Cape Horn—a _horn_ indeed, that has
tossed many a good ship. Was the descent of Orpheus, Ulysses, or Dante
into Hell, one whit more hardy and sublime than the first navigator’s
weathering of that terrible Cape?

Turned on her heel by a fierce West Wind, many an outward-bound ship
has been driven across the Southern Ocean to the Cape of Good
Hope—_that_ way to seek a passage to the Pacific. And that stormy Cape,
I doubt not, has sent many a fine craft to the bottom, and told no
tales. At those ends of the earth are no chronicles. What signify the
broken spars and shrouds that, day after day, are driven before the
prows of more fortunate vessels? or the tall masts, imbedded in
icebergs, that are found floating by? They but hint the old story—of
ships that have sailed from their ports, and never more have been heard

Impracticable Cape! You may approach it from this direction or that—in
any way you please—from the East or from the West; with the wind
astern, or abeam, or on the quarter; and still Cape Horn is Cape Horn.
Cape Horn it is that takes the conceit out of fresh-water sailors, and
steeps in a still salter brine the saltest. Woe betide the tyro; the
fool-hardy, Heaven preserve!

Your Mediterranean captain, who with a cargo of oranges has hitherto
made merry runs across the Atlantic, without so much as furling a
t’-gallant-sail, oftentimes, off Cape Horn, receives a lesson which he
carries to the grave; though the grave—as is too often the case—follows
so hard on the lesson that no benefit comes from the experience.

Other strangers who draw nigh to this Patagonia termination of our
Continent, with their souls full of its shipwrecks and
disasters—top-sails cautiously reefed, and everything guardedly
snug—these strangers at first unexpectedly encountering a tolerably
smooth sea, rashly conclude that the Cape, after all, is but a bugbear;
they have been imposed upon by fables, and founderings and sinkings
hereabouts are all cock-and-bull stories.

“Out reefs, my hearties; fore and aft set t’-gallant-sails! stand by to
give her the fore-top-mast stun’-sail!”

But, Captain Rash, those sails of yours were much safer in the
sail-maker’s loft. For now, while the heedless craft is bounding over
the billows, a black cloud rises out of the sea; the sun drops down
from the sky; a horrible mist far and wide spreads over the water.

“Hands by the halyards! Let go! Clew up!”

Too late.

For ere the ropes’ ends can be the east off from the pins, the tornado
is blowing down to the bottom of their throats. The masts are willows,
the sails ribbons, the cordage wool; the whole ship is brewed into the
yeast of the gale.

An now, if, when the first green sea breaks over him, Captain Rash is
not swept overboard, he has his hands full be sure. In all probability
his three masts have gone by the board, and, ravelled into list, his
sails are floating in the air. Or, perhaps, the ship _broaches to_, or
is _brought by the lee_. In either ease, Heaven help the sailors, their
wives and their little ones; and heaven help the underwriters.

Familiarity with danger makes a brave man braver, but less daring. Thus
with seamen: he who goes the oftenest round Cape Horn goes the most
circumspectly. A veteran mariner is never deceived by the treacherous
breezes which sometimes waft him pleasantly toward the latitude of the
Cape. No sooner does he come within a certain distance of it—previously
fixed in his own mind—than all hands are turned to setting the ship in
storm-trim; and never mind how light the breeze, down come his
t’-gallant-yards. He “bends” his strongest storm-sails, and lashes
every-thing on deck securely. The ship is then ready for the worst; and
if, in reeling round the headland, she receives a broadside, it
generally goes well with her. If ill, all hands go to the bottom with
quiet consciences.

Among sea-captains, there are some who seem to regard the genius of the
Cape as a wilful, capricious jade, that must be courted and coaxed into
complaisance. First, they come along under easy sails; do not steer
boldly for the headland, but tack this way and that—sidling up to it,
Now they woo the Jezebel with a t’-gallant-studding-sail; anon, they
deprecate her wrath with double-reefed-topsails. When, at length, her
unappeasable fury is fairly aroused, and all round the dismantled ship
the storm howls and howls for days together, they still persevere in
their efforts. First, they try unconditional submission; furling every
rag and _heaving to_: laying like a log, for the tempest to toss
wheresoever it pleases.

This failing, they set a _spencer_ or _try-sail_, and shift on the
other tack. Equally vain! The gale sings as hoarsely as before. At
last, the wind comes round fair; they drop the fore-sail; square the
yards, and scud before it; their implacable foe chasing them with
tornadoes, as if to show her insensibility to the last.

Other ships, without encountering these terrible gales, spend week
after week endeavouring to turn this boisterous world-corner against a
continual head-wind. Tacking hither and thither, in the language of
sailors they _polish_ the Cape by beating about its edges so long.

Le Mair and Schouten, two Dutchmen, were the first navigators who
weathered Cape Horn. Previous to this, passages had been made to the
Pacific by the Straits of Magellan; nor, indeed, at that period, was it
known to a certainty that there was any other route, or that the land
now called Terra del Fuego was an island. A few leagues southward from
Terra del Fuego is a cluster of small islands, the Diegoes; between
which and the former island are the Straits of Le Mair, so called in
honour of their discoverer, who first sailed through them into the
Pacific. Le Mair and Schouten, in their small, clumsy vessels,
encountered a series of tremendous gales, the prelude to the long train
of similar hardships which most of their followers have experienced. It
is a significant fact, that Schouten’s vessel, the _Horne_, which gave
its name to the Cape, was almost lost in weathering it.

The next navigator round the Cape was Sir Francis Drake, who, on
Raleigh’s Expedition, beholding for the first time, from the Isthmus of
Darien, the “goodlie South Sea,” like a true-born Englishman, vowed,
please God, to sail an English ship thereon; which the gallant sailor
did, to the sore discomfiture of the Spaniards on the coasts of Chili
and Peru.

But perhaps the greatest hardships on record, in making this celebrated
passage, were those experienced by Lord Anson’s squadron in 1736. Three
remarkable and most interesting narratives record their disasters and
sufferings. The first, jointly written by the carpenter and gunner of
the Wager; the second by young Byron, a midshipman in the same ship;
the third, by the chaplain of the Centurion. White-Jacket has them all;
and they are fine reading of a boisterous March night, with the
casement rattling in your ear, and the chimney-stacks blowing down upon
the pavement, bubbling with rain-drops.

But if you want the best idea of Cape Horn, get my friend Dana’s
unmatchable “Two Years Before the Mast.” But you can read, and so you
must have read it. His chapters describing Cape Horn must have been
written with an icicle.

At the present day the horrors of the Cape have somewhat abated. This
is owing to a growing familiarity with it; but, more than all, to the
improved condition of ships in all respects, and the means now
generally in use of preserving the health of the crews in times of
severe and prolonged exposure.


Colder and colder; we are drawing nigh to the Cape. Now gregoes, pea
jackets, monkey jackets reefing jackets, storm jackets, oil jackets,
paint jackets, round jackets short jackets, long jackets, and all
manner of jackets, are the order of the day, not excepting the immortal
white jacket, which begins to be sturdily buttoned up to the throat,
and pulled down vigorously at the skirts, to bring them well over the

But, alas! those skirts were lamentably scanty; and though, with its
quiltings, the jacket was stuffed out about the breasts like a
Christmas turkey, and of a dry cold day kept the wearer warm enough in
that vicinity, yet about the loins it was shorter than ballet-dancer’s
skirts; so that while my chest was in the temperate zone close
adjoining the torrid, my hapless thighs were in Nova Zembla, hardly an
icicle’s toss from the Pole.

Then, again, the repeated soakings and dryings it had undergone, had by
this time made it shrink woefully all over, especially in the arms, so
that the wristbands had gradually crawled up near to the elbows; and it
required an energetic thrust to push the arm through, in drawing the
jacket on.

I endeavoured to amend these misfortunes by sewing a sort of canvas
ruffle round the skirts, by way of a continuation or supplement to the
original work, and by doing the same with the wristbands.

This is the time for oil-skin suits, dread-naughts, tarred trowsers and
overalls, sea-boots, comforters, mittens, woollen socks, Guernsey
frocks, Havre shirts, buffalo-robe shirts, and moose-skin drawers.
Every man’s jacket is his wigwam, and every man’s hat his caboose.

Perfect license is now permitted to the men respecting their clothing.
Whatever they can rake and scrape together they put on—swaddling
themselves in old sails, and drawing old socks over their heads for
night-caps. This is the time for smiting your chest with your hand, and
talking loud to keep up the circulation.

Colder, and colder, and colder, till at last we spoke a fleet of
icebergs bound North. After that, it was one incessant “_cold snap_,”
that almost snapped off our fingers and toes. Cold! It was cold as
_Blue Flujin_, where sailors say fire freezes.

And now coming up with the latitude of the Cape, we stood southward to
give it a wide berth, and while so doing were becalmed; ay, becalmed
off Cape Horn, which is worse, far worse, than being becalmed on the

Here we lay forty-eight hours, during which the cold was intense. I
wondered at the liquid sea, which refused to freeze in such a
temperature. The clear, cold sky overhead looked like a steel-blue
cymbal, that might ring, could you smite it. Our breath came and went
like puffs’ of smoke from pipe-bowls. At first there was a long gauky
swell, that obliged us to furl most of the sails, and even send down
t’-gallant-yards, for fear of pitching them overboard.

Out of sight of land, at this extremity of both the inhabitable and
uninhabitable world, our peopled frigate, echoing with the voices of
men, the bleating of lambs, the cackling of fowls, the gruntings of
pigs, seemed like Noah’s old ark itself, becalmed at the climax of the

There was nothing to be done but patiently to await the pleasure of the
elements, and “whistle for a wind,” the usual practice of seamen in a
calm. No fire was allowed, except for the indispensable purpose of
cooking, and heating bottles of water to toast Selvagee’s feet. He who
possessed the largest stock of vitality, stood the best chance to
escape freezing. It was horrifying. In such weather any man could have
undergone amputation with great ease, and helped take up the arteries

Indeed, this state of affairs had not lasted quite twenty-four hours,
when the extreme frigidity of the air, united to our increased tendency
to inactivity, would very soon have rendered some of us subjects for
the surgeon and his mates, had not a humane proceeding of the Captain
suddenly impelled us to vigorous exercise.

And here be it said, that the appearance of the Boat-swain, with his
silver whistle to his mouth, at the main hatchway of the gun-deck, is
always regarded by the crew with the utmost curiosity, for this
betokens that some general order is about to be promulgated through the
ship. What now? is the question that runs on from man to man. A short
preliminary whistle is then given by “Old Yarn,” as they call him,
which whistle serves to collect round him, from their various stations,
his four mates. Then Yarn, or Pipes, as leader of the orchestra, begins
a peculiar call, in which his assistants join. This over, the order,
whatever it may be, is loudly sung out and prolonged, till the remotest
corner echoes again. The Boatswain and his mates are the town-criers of
a man-of-war.

The calm had commenced in the afternoon: and the following morning the
ship’s company were electrified by a general order, thus set forth and
declared: “_D’ye hear there, for and aft! all hands skylark!_”

This mandate, nowadays never used except upon very rare occasions,
produced the same effect upon the men that Exhilarating Gas would have
done, or an extra allowance of “grog.” For a time, the wonted
discipline of the ship was broken through, and perfect license allowed.
It was a Babel here, a Bedlam there, and a Pandemonium everywhere. The
Theatricals were nothing compared with it. Then the faint-hearted and
timorous crawled to their hiding-places, and the lusty and bold shouted
forth their glee.

Gangs of men, in all sorts of outlandish habiliments, wild as those
worn at some crazy carnival, rushed to and fro, seizing upon whomsoever
they pleased—warrant-officers and dangerous pugilists excepted—pulling
and hauling the luckless tars about, till fairly baited into a genial
warmth. Some were made fast to and hoisted aloft with a will: others,
mounted upon oars, were ridden fore and aft on a rail, to the
boisterous mirth of the spectators, any one of whom might be the next
victim. Swings were rigged from the tops, or the masts; and the most
reluctant wights being purposely selected, spite of all struggles, were
swung from East to West, in vast arcs of circles, till almost
breathless. Hornpipes, fandangoes, Donnybrook-jigs, reels, and
quadrilles, were danced under the very nose of the most mighty captain,
and upon the very quarter-deck and poop. Sparring and wrestling, too,
were all the vogue; _Kentucky bites_ were given, and the _Indian hug_
exchanged. The din frightened the sea-fowl, that flew by with
accelerated wing.

It is worth mentioning that several casualties occurred, of which,
however, I will relate but one. While the “sky-larking” was at its
height, one of the fore-top-men—an ugly-tempered devil of a Portuguese,
looking on—swore that he would be the death of any man who laid violent
hands upon his inviolable person. This threat being overheard, a band
of desperadoes, coming up from behind, tripped him up in an instant,
and in the twinkling of an eye the Portuguese was straddling an oar,
borne aloft by an uproarious multitude, who rushed him along the deck
at a railroad gallop. The living mass of arms all round and beneath him
was so dense, that every time he inclined one side he was instantly
pushed upright, but only to fall over again, to receive another push
from the contrary direction. Presently, disengaging his hands from
those who held them, the enraged seaman drew from his bosom an iron
belaying-pin, and recklessly laid about him to right and left. Most of
his persecutors fled; but some eight or ten still stood their ground,
and, while bearing him aloft, endeavoured to wrest the weapon from his
hands. In this attempt, one man was struck on the head, and dropped
insensible. He was taken up for dead, and carried below to Cuticle, the
surgeon, while the Portuguese was put under guard. But the wound did
not prove very serious; and in a few days the man was walking about the
deck, with his head well bandaged.

This occurrence put an end to the “skylarking,” further head-breaking
being strictly prohibited. In due time the Portuguese paid the penalty
of his rashness at the gangway; while once again the officers _shipped
their quarter-deck faces_.


Ere the calm had yet left us, a sail had been discerned from the
fore-top-mast-head, at a great distance, probably three leagues or
more. At first it was a mere speck, altogether out of sight from the
deck. By the force of attraction, or something else equally
inscrutable, two ships in a calm, and equally affected by the currents,
will always approximate, more or less. Though there was not a breath of
wind, it was not a great while before the strange sail was descried
from our bulwarks; gradually, it drew still nearer.

What was she, and whence? There is no object which so excites interest
and conjecture, and, at the same time, baffles both, as a sail, seen as
a mere speck on these remote seas off Cape Horn. A breeze! a breeze!
for lo! the stranger is now perceptibly nearing the frigate; the
officer’s spy-glass pronounces her a full-rigged ship, with all sail
set, and coming right down to us, though in our own vicinity the calm
still reigns.

She is bringing the wind with her. Hurrah! Ay, there it is! Behold how
mincingly it creeps over the sea, just ruffling and crisping it.

Our top-men were at once sent aloft to loose the sails, and presently
they faintly began to distend. As yet we hardly had steerage-way.
Toward sunset the stranger bore down before the wind, a complete
pyramid of canvas. Never before, I venture to say, was Cape Horn so
audaciously insulted. Stun’-sails alow and aloft; royals, moon-sails,
and everything else. She glided under our stern, within hailing
distance, and the signal-quarter-master ran up our ensign to the gaff.

“Ship ahoy!” cried the Lieutenant of the Watch, through his trumpet.

“Halloa!” bawled an old fellow in a green jacket, clap-ping one hand to
his mouth, while he held on with the other to the mizzen-shrouds.

“What ship’s that?”

“The Sultan, Indiaman, from New York, and bound to Callao and Canton,
sixty days out, all well. What frigate’s that?”

“The United States ship Neversink, homeward bound.” “Hurrah! hurrah!
hurrah!” yelled our enthusiastic countryman, transported with

By this time the Sultan had swept past, but the Lieutenant of the Watch
could not withhold a parting admonition.

“D’ye hear? You’d better take in some of your flying-kites there. Look
out for Cape Horn!”

But the friendly advice was lost in the now increasing wind. With a
suddenness by no means unusual in these latitudes, the light breeze
soon became a succession of sharp squalls, and our sail-proud
braggadacio of an India-man was observed to let everything go by the
run, his t’-gallant stun’-sails and flying-jib taking quick leave of
the spars; the flying-jib was swept into the air, rolled together for a
few minutes, and tossed about in the squalls like a foot-ball. But the
wind played no such pranks with the more prudently managed canvas of
the Neversink, though before many hours it was stirring times with us.

About midnight, when the starboard watch, to which, I belonged, was
below, the boatswain’s whistle was heard, followed by the shrill cry of
“_All hands take in sail_! jump, men, and save ship!”

Springing from our hammocks, we found the frigate leaning over to it so
steeply, that it was with difficulty we could climb the ladders leading
to the upper deck.

Here the scene was awful. The vessel seemed to be sailing on her side.
The main-deck guns had several days previous been run in and housed,
and the port-holes closed, but the lee carronades on the quarter-deck
and forecastle were plunging through the sea, which undulated over them
in milk-white billows of foam. With every lurch to leeward the
yard-arm-ends seemed to dip in the sea, while forward the spray dashed
over the bows in cataracts, and drenched the men who were on the
fore-yard. By this time the deck was alive with the whole strength of
the ship’s company, five hundred men, officers and all, mostly clinging
to the weather bulwarks. The occasional phosphorescence of the yeasting
sea cast a glare upon their uplifted faces, as a night fire in a
populous city lights up the panic-stricken crowd.

In a sudden gale, or when a large quantity of sail is suddenly to be
furled, it is the custom for the First Lieutenant to take the trumpet
from whoever happens then to be officer of the deck. But Mad Jack had
the trumpet that watch; nor did the First Lieutenant now seek to wrest
it from his hands. Every eye was upon him, as if we had chosen him from
among us all, to decide this battle with the elements, by single combat
with the spirit of the Cape; for Mad Jack was the saving genius of the
ship, and so proved himself that night. I owe this right hand, that is
this moment flying over my sheet, and all my present being to Mad Jack.
The ship’s bows were now butting, battering, ramming, and thundering
over and upon the head seas, and with a horrible wallowing sound our
whole hull was rolling in the trough of the foam. The gale came athwart
the deck, and every sail seemed bursting with its wild breath.

All the quarter-masters, and several of the forecastle-men, were
swarming round the double-wheel on the quarter-deck. Some jumping up
and down, with their hands upon the spokes; for the whole helm and
galvanised keel were fiercely feverish, with the life imparted to them
by the tempest.

“Hard _up_ the helm!” shouted Captain Claret, bursting from his cabin
like a ghost in his night-dress.

“Damn you!” raged Mad Jack to the quarter-masters; “hard down—hard
_down_, I say, and be damned to you!”

Contrary orders! but Mad Jack’s were obeyed. His object was to throw
the ship into the wind, so as the better to admit of close-reefing the
top-sails. But though the halyards were let go, it was impossible to
clew down the yards, owing to the enormous horizontal strain on the
canvas. It now blew a hurricane. The spray flew over the ship in
floods. The gigantic masts seemed about to snap under the world-wide
strain of the three entire top-sails.

“Clew down! clew down!” shouted Mad Jack, husky with excitement, and in
a frenzy, beating his trumpet against one of the shrouds. But, owing to
the slant of the ship, the thing could not be done. It was obvious that
before many minutes something must go—either sails, rigging, or sticks;
perhaps the hull itself, and all hands.

Presently a voice from the top exclaimed that there was a rent in the
main-top-sail. And instantly we heard a report like two or three
muskets discharged together; the vast sail was rent up and down like
the Vail of the Temple. This saved the main-mast; for the yard was now
clewed down with comparative ease, and the top-men laid out to stow the
shattered canvas. Soon, the two remaining top-sails were also clewed
down and close reefed.

Above all the roar of the tempest and the shouts of the crew, was heard
the dismal tolling of the ship’s bell—almost as large as that of a
village church—which the violent rolling of the ship was occasioning.
Imagination cannot conceive the horror of such a sound in a
night-tempest at sea.

“Stop that ghost!” roared Mad Jack; “away, one of you, and wrench off
the clapper!”

But no sooner was this ghost gagged, than a still more appalling sound
was heard, the rolling to and fro of the heavy shot, which, on the
gun-deck, had broken loose from the gun-racks, and converted that part
of the ship into an immense bowling-alley. Some hands were sent down to
secure them; but it was as much as their lives were worth. Several were
maimed; and the midshipmen who were ordered to see the duty performed
reported it impossible, until the storm abated.

The most terrific job of all was to furl the main-sail, which, at the
commencement of the squalls, had been clewed up, coaxed and quieted as
much as possible with the bunt-lines and slab-lines. Mad Jack waited
some time for a lull, ere he gave an order so perilous to be executed.
For to furl this enormous sail, in such a gale, required at least fifty
men on the yard; whose weight, superadded to that of the ponderous
stick itself, still further jeopardised their lives. But there was no
prospect of a cessation of the gale, and the order was at last given.

At this time a hurricane of slanting sleet and hail was descending upon
us; the rigging was coated with a thin glare of ice, formed within the

“Aloft, main-yard-men! and all you main-top-men! and furl the
main-sail!” cried Mad Jack.

I dashed down my hat, slipped out of my quilted jacket in an instant,
kicked the shoes from my feet, and, with a crowd of others, sprang for
the rigging. Above the bulwarks (which in a frigate are so high as to
afford much protection to those on deck) the gale was horrible. The
sheer force of the wind flattened us to the rigging as we ascended, and
every hand seemed congealing to the icy shrouds by which we held.

“Up—up, my brave hearties!” shouted Mad Jack; and up we got, some way
or other, all of us, and groped our way out on the yard-arms.

“Hold on, every mother’s son!” cried an old quarter-gunner at my side.
He was bawling at the top of his compass; but in the gale, he seemed to
be whispering; and I only heard him from his being right to windward of

But his hint was unnecessary; I dug my nails into the _jack-stays_, and
swore that nothing but death should part me and them until I was able
to turn round and look to windward. As yet, this was impossible; I
could scarcely hear the man to leeward at my elbow; the wind seemed to
snatch the words from his mouth and fly away with them to the South

All this while the sail itself was flying about, sometimes catching
over our heads, and threatening to tear us from the yard in spite of
all our hugging. For about three quarters of an hour we thus hung
suspended right over the rampant billows, which curled their very
crests under the feet of some four or five of us clinging to the
lee-yard-arm, as if to float us from our place.

Presently, the word passed along the yard from wind-ward, that we were
ordered to come down and leave the sail to blow, since it could not be
furled. A midshipman, it seemed, had been sent up by the officer of the
deck to give the order, as no trumpet could be heard where we were.

Those on the weather yard-arm managed to crawl upon the spar and
scramble down the rigging; but with us, upon the extreme leeward side,
this feat was out of the question; it was, literary, like climbing a
precipice to get to wind-ward in order to reach the shrouds: besides,
the entire yard was now encased in ice, and our hands and feet were so
numb that we dared not trust our lives to them. Nevertheless, by
assisting each other, we contrived to throw ourselves prostrate along
the yard, and embrace it with our arms and legs. In this position, the
stun’-sail-booms greatly assisted in securing our hold. Strange as it
may appear, I do not suppose that, at this moment, the slightest
sensation of fear was felt by one man on that yard. We clung to it with
might and main; but this was instinct. The truth is, that, in
circumstances like these, the sense of fear is annihilated in the
unutterable sights that fill all the eye, and the sounds that fill all
the ear. You become identified with the tempest; your insignificance is
lost in the riot of the stormy universe around.

Below us, our noble frigate seemed thrice its real length—a vast black
wedge, opposing its widest end to the combined fury of the sea and

At length the first fury of the gale began to abate, and we at once
fell to pounding our hands, as a preliminary operation to going to
work; for a gang of men had now ascended to help secure what was left
of the sail; we somehow packed it away, at last, and came down.

About noon the next day, the gale so moderated that we shook two reefs
out of the top-sails, set new courses, and stood due east, with the
wind astern.

Thus, all the fine weather we encountered after first weighing anchor
on the pleasant Spanish coast, was but the prelude to this one terrific
night; more especially, that treacherous calm immediately preceding it.
But how could we reach our long-promised homes without encountering
Cape Horn? by what possibility avoid it? And though some ships have
weathered it without these perils, yet by far the greater part must
encounter them. Lucky it is that it comes about midway in the
homeward-bound passage, so that the sailors have time to prepare for
it, and time to recover from it after it is astern.

But, sailor or landsman, there is some sort of a Cape Horn for all.
Boys! beware of it; prepare for it in time. Gray-beards! thank God it
is passed. And ye lucky livers, to whom, by some rare fatality, your
Cape Horns are placid as Lake Lemans, flatter not yourselves that good
luck is judgment and discretion; for all the yolk in your eggs, you
might have foundered and gone down, had the Spirit of the Cape said the


In time of peril, like the needle to the loadstone, obedience,
irrespective of rank, generally flies to him who is best fitted to
command. The truth of this seemed evinced in the case of Mad Jack,
during the gale, and especially at that perilous moment when he
countermanded the Captain’s order at the helm. But every seaman knew,
at the time, that the Captain’s order was an unwise one in the extreme;
perhaps worse than unwise.

These two orders given, by the Captain and his Lieutenant, exactly
contrasted their characters. By putting the helm _hard up_, the Captain
was for _scudding_; that is, for flying away from the gale. Whereas,
Mad Jack was for running the ship into its teeth. It is needless to say
that, in almost all cases of similar hard squalls and gales, the latter
step, though attended with more appalling appearances is, in reality,
the safer of the two, and the most generally adopted.

Scudding makes you a slave to the blast, which drives you headlong
before it; but _running up into the wind’s eye_ enables you, in a
degree, to hold it at bay. Scudding exposes to the gale your stern, the
weakest part of your hull; the contrary course presents to it your
bows, your strongest part. As with ships, so with men; he who turns his
back to his foe gives him an advantage. Whereas, our ribbed chests,
like the ribbed bows of a frigate, are as bulkheads to dam off an

That night, off the pitch of the Cape, Captain Claret was hurried forth
from his disguises, and, at a manhood-testing conjuncture, appeared in
his true colours. A thing which every man in the ship had long
suspected that night was proved true. Hitherto, in going about the
ship, and casting his glances among the men, the peculiarly lustreless
repose of the Captain’s eye—his slow, even, unnecessarily methodical
step, and the forced firmness of his whole demeanour—though, to a
casual observer, expressive of the consciousness of command and a
desire to strike subjection among the crew—all this, to some minds, had
only been deemed indications of the fact that Captain Claret, while
carefully shunning positive excesses, continually kept himself in an
uncertain equilibrio between soberness and its reverse; which
equilibrio might be destroyed by the first sharp vicissitude of events.

And though this is only a surmise, nevertheless, as having some
knowledge of brandy and mankind, White-Jacket will venture to state
that, had Captain Claret been an out-and-out temperance man, he would
never have given that most imprudent order to _hard up_ the helm. He
would either have held his peace, and stayed in his cabin, like his
gracious majesty the Commodore, or else have anticipated Mad Jack’s
order, and thundered forth “Hard down the helm!”

To show how little real sway at times have the severest restrictive
laws, and how spontaneous is the instinct of discretion in some minds,
it must here be added, that though Mad Jack, under a hot impulse, had
countermanded an order of his superior officer before his very face,
yet that severe Article of War, to which he thus rendered himself
obnoxious, was never enforced against him. Nor, so far as any of the
crew ever knew, did the Captain even venture to reprimand him for his

It has been said that Mad Jack himself was a lover of strong drink. So
he was. But here we only see the virtue of being placed in a station
constantly demanding a cool head and steady nerves, and the misfortune
of filling a post that does _not_ at all times demand these qualities.
So exact and methodical in most things was the discipline of the
frigate, that, to a certain extent, Captain Claret was exempted from
personal interposition in many of its current events, and thereby,
perhaps, was he lulled into security, under the enticing lee of his

But as for Mad Jack, he must stand his regular watches, and pace the
quarter-deck at night, and keep a sharp eye to windward. Hence, at sea,
Mad Jack tried to make a point of keeping sober, though in very fine
weather he was sometimes betrayed into a glass too many. But with Cape
Horn before him, he took the temperance pledge outright, till that
perilous promontory should be far astern.

The leading incident of the gale irresistibly invites the question, Are
there incompetent officers in the American navy?—that is, incompetent
to the due performance of whatever duties may devolve upon them. But in
that gallant marine, which, during the late war, gained so much of what
is called _glory_, can there possibly be to-day incompetent officers?

As in the camp ashore, so on the quarter-deck at sea—the trumpets of
one victory drown the muffled drums of a thousand defeats. And, in
degree, this holds true of those events of war which are neuter in
their character, neither making renown nor disgrace. Besides, as a long
array of ciphers, led by but one solitary numeral, swell, by mere force
of aggregation, into an immense arithmetical sum, even so, in some
brilliant actions, do a crowd of officers, each inefficient in himself,
aggregate renown when banded together, and led by a numeral Nelson or a
Wellington. And the renown of such heroes, by outliving themselves,
descends as a heritage to their subordinate survivors. One large brain
and one large heart have virtue sufficient to magnetise a whole fleet
or an army. And if all the men who, since the beginning of the world,
have mainly contributed to the warlike successes or reverses of
nations, were now mustered together, we should be amazed to behold but
a handful of heroes. For there is no heroism in merely running in and
out a gun at a port-hole, enveloped in smoke or vapour, or in firing
off muskets in platoons at the word of command. This kind of merely
manual valour is often born of trepidation at the heart. There may be
men, individually craven, who, united, may display even temerity. Yet
it would be false to deny that, in some in-stances, the lowest privates
have acquitted themselves with even more gallantry than their
commodores. True heroism is not in the hand, but in the heart and the

But are there incompetent officers in the gallant American navy? For an
American, the question is of no grateful cast. White Jacket must again
evade it, by referring to an historical fact in the history of a
kindred marine, which, from its long standing and magnitude, furnishes
many more examples of all kinds than our own. And this is the only
reason why it is ever referred to in this narrative. I thank God I am
free from all national invidiousness.

It is indirectly on record in the books of the English Admiralty, that
in the year 1808—after the death of Lord Nelson—when Lord Collingwood
commanded on the Mediterranean station, and his broken health induced
him to solicit a furlough, that out of a list of upward of one hundred
admirals, not a single officer was found who was deemed qualified to
relieve the applicant with credit to the country. This fact Collingwood
sealed with his life; for, hopeless of being recalled, he shortly after
died, worn out, at his post. Now, if this was the case in so renowned a
marine as England’s, what must be inferred with respect to our own? But
herein no special disgrace is involved. For the truth is, that to be an
accomplished and skillful naval generalissimo needs natural
capabilities of an uncommon order. Still more, it may safely be
asserted, that, worthily to command even a frigate, requires a degree
of natural heroism, talent, judgment, and integrity, that is denied to
mediocrity. Yet these qualifications are not only required, but
demanded; and no one has a right to be a naval captain unless he
possesses them.

Regarding Lieutenants, there are not a few Selvagees and Paper Jacks in
the American navy. Many Commodores know that they have seldom taken a
line-of-battle ship to sea, without feeling more or less nervousness
when some of the Lieutenants have the deck at night.

According to the last Navy Register (1849), there are now 68 Captains
in the American navy, collectively drawing about $300,000 annually from
the public treasury; also, 297 Commanders, drawing about $200,000; and
377 Lieutenants, drawing about half a million; and 451 Midshipmen
(including Passed-midshipmen), also drawing nearly half a million.
Considering the known facts, that some of these officers are seldom or
never sent to sea, owing to the Navy Department being well aware of
their inefficiency; that others are detailed for pen-and-ink work at
observatories, and solvers of logarithms in the Coast Survey; while the
really meritorious officers, who are accomplished practical seamen, are
known to be sent from ship to ship, with but small interval of a
furlough; considering all this, it is not too much to say, that no
small portion of the million and a half of money above mentioned is
annually paid to national pensioners in disguise, who live on the navy
without serving it.

Nothing like this can be even insinuated against the “_forward
officers_”—Boatswains, Gunners, etc.; nor against the _petty
officers_—Captains of the Tops, etc.; nor against the able seamen in
the navy. For if any of _these_ are found wanting, they are forthwith
disrated or discharged.

True, all experience teaches that, whenever there is a great national
establishment, employing large numbers of officials, the public must be
reconciled to support many incompetent men; for such is the favouritism
and nepotism always prevailing in the purlieus of these establishments,
that some incompetent persons are always admitted, to the exclusion of
many of the worthy.

Nevertheless, in a country like ours, boasting of the political
equality of all social conditions, it is a great reproach that such a
thing as a common seaman rising to the rank of a commissioned officer
in our navy, is nowadays almost unheard-of. Yet, in former times, when
officers have so risen to rank, they have generally proved of signal
usefulness in the service, and sometimes have reflected solid honour
upon the country. Instances in point might be mentioned.

Is it not well to have our institutions of a piece? Any American
landsman may hope to become President of the Union—commodore of our
squadron of states. And every American sailor should be placed in such
a position, that he might freely aspire to command a squadron of


Right before the wind! Ay, blow, blow, ye breezes; so long as ye stay
fair, and we are homeward bound, what care the jolly crew?

It is worth mentioning here that, in nineteen cases out of twenty, a
passage from the Pacific round the Cape is almost sure to be much
shorter, and attended with less hardship, than a passage undertaken
from the Atlantic. The reason is, that the gales are mostly from the
westward, also the currents.

But, after all, going before the wind in a frigate, in such a tempest,
has its annoyances and drawbacks, as well as many other blessings. The
disproportionate weight of metal upon the spar and gun decks induces a
violent rolling, unknown to merchant ships. We rolled and rolled on our
way, like the world in its orbit, shipping green seas on both sides,
until the old frigate dipped and went into it like a diving-bell.

The hatchways of some armed vessels are but poorly secured in bad
weather. This was peculiarly the ease with those of the Neversink. They
were merely spread over with an old tarpaulin, cracked and rent in
every direction.

In fair weather, the ship’s company messed on the gun-deck; but as this
was now flooded almost continually, we were obliged to take our meals
upon the berth-deck, the next one below. One day, the messes of the
starboard-watch were seated here at dinner; forming little groups,
twelve or fifteen men in each, reclining about the beef-kids and their
pots and pans; when all of a sudden the ship was seized with such a
paroxysm of rolling that, in a single instant, everything on the
berth-deck—pots, kids, sailors, pieces of beef, bread-bags,
clothes-bags, and barges—were tossed indiscriminately from side to
side. It was impossible to stay one’s self; there was nothing but the
bare deck to cling to, which was slippery with the contents of the
kids, and heaving under us as if there were a volcano in the frigate’s
hold. While we were yet sliding in uproarious crowds—all seated—the
windows of the deck opened, and floods of brine descended,
simultaneously with a violent lee-roll. The shower was hailed by the
reckless tars with a hurricane of yells; although, for an instant, I
really imagined we were about being swamped in the sea, such volumes of
water came cascading down.

A day or two after, we had made sufficient Easting to stand to the
northward, which we did, with the wind astern; thus fairly turning the
corner without abating our rate of progress. Though we had seen no land
since leaving Callao, Cape Horn was said to be somewhere to the west of
us; and though there was no positive evidence of the fact, the weather
encountered might be accounted pretty good presumptive proof.

The land near Cape Horn, however, is well worth seeing, especially
Staten Land. Upon one occasion, the ship in which I then happened to be
sailing drew near this place from the northward, with a fair, free
wind, blowing steadily, through a bright translucent clay, whose air
was almost musical with the clear, glittering cold. On our starboard
beam, like a pile of glaciers in Switzerland, lay this Staten Land,
gleaming in snow-white barrenness and solitude. Unnumbered white
albatross were skimming the sea near by, and clouds of smaller white
wings fell through the air like snow-flakes. High, towering in their
own turbaned snows, the far-inland pinnacles loomed up, like the border
of some other world. Flashing walls and crystal battlements, like the
diamond watch-towers along heaven’s furthest frontier.

After leaving the latitude of the Cape, we had several storms of snow;
one night a considerable quantity laid upon the decks, and some of the
sailors enjoyed the juvenile diversion of snow-balling. Woe unto the
“middy” who that night went forward of the booms. Such a target for
snow-balls! The throwers could never be known. By some curious sleight
in hurling the missiles, they seemed to be thrown on board by some
hoydenish sea-nymphs outside the frigate.

At daybreak Midshipman Pert went below to the surgeon with an alarming
wound, gallantly received in discharging his perilous duty on the
forecastle. The officer of the deck had sent him on an errand, to tell
the boatswain that he was wanted in the captain’s cabin. While in the
very act of performing the exploit of delivering the message, Mr. Pert
was struck on the nose with a snow-ball of wondrous compactness. Upon
being informed of the disaster, the rogues expressed the liveliest
sympathy. Pert was no favourite.

After one of these storms, it was a curious sight to see the men
relieving the uppermost deck of its load of snow. It became the duty of
the captain of each gun to keep his own station clean; accordingly,
with an old broom, or “squilgee,” he proceeded to business, often
quarrelling with his next-door neighbours about their scraping their
snow on his premises. It was like Broadway in winter, the morning after
a storm, when rival shop-boys are at work cleaning the sidewalk.

Now and then, by way of variety, we had a fall of hailstones, so big
that sometimes we found ourselves dodging them.

The Commodore had a Polynesian servant on board, whose services he had
engaged at the Society Islands. Unlike his countrymen, Wooloo was of a
sedate, earnest, and philosophic temperament. Having never been outside
of the tropics before, he found many phenomena off Cape Horn, which
absorbed his attention, and set him, like other philosophers, to feign
theories corresponding to the marvels he beheld. At the first snow,
when he saw the deck covered all over with a white powder, as it were,
he expanded his eyes into stewpans; but upon examining the strange
substance, he decided that this must be a species of super-fine flower,
such as was compounded into his master’s “_duffs_,” and other dainties.
In vain did an experienced natural philosopher belonging to the
fore-top maintain before his face, that in this hypothesis Wooloo was
mistaken. Wooloo’s opinion remained unchanged for some time.

As for the hailstones, they transported him; he went about with a
bucket, making collections, and receiving contributions, for the
purpose of carrying them home to his sweethearts for glass beads; but
having put his bucket away, and returning to it again, and finding
nothing but a little water, he accused the by-standers of stealing his
precious stones.

This suggests another story concerning him. The first time he was given
a piece of “duff” to eat, he was observed to pick out very carefully
every raisin, and throw it away, with a gesture indicative of the
highest disgust. It turned out that he had taken the raisins for bugs.

In our man-of-war, this semi-savage, wandering about the gun-deck in
his barbaric robe, seemed a being from some other sphere. His tastes
were our abominations: ours his. Our creed he rejected: his we. We
thought him a loon: he fancied us fools. Had the case been reversed;
had we been Polynesians and he an American, our mutual opinion of each
other would still have remained the same. A fact proving that neither
was wrong, but both right.


Though leaving the Cape behind us, the severe cold still continued, and
one of its worst consequences was the almost incurable drowsiness
induced thereby during the long night-watches. All along the decks,
huddled between the guns, stretched out on the carronade slides, and in
every accessible nook and corner, you would see the sailors wrapped in
their monkey jackets, in a state of half-conscious torpidity, lying
still and freezing alive, without the power to rise and shake

“Up—up, you lazy dogs!” our good-natured Third Lieutenant, a Virginian,
would cry, rapping them with his speaking trumpet. “Get up, and stir

But in vain. They would rise for an instant, and as soon as his back
was turned, down they would drop, as if shot through the heart.

Often I have lain thus when the fact, that if I laid much longer I
would actually freeze to death, would come over me with such
overpowering force as to break the icy spell, and starting to my feet,
I would endeavour to go through the combined manual and pedal exercise
to restore the circulation. The first fling of my benumbed arm
generally struck me in the face, instead of smiting my chest, its true
destination. But in these cases one’s muscles have their own way.

In exercising my other extremities, I was obliged to hold on to
something, and leap with both feet; for my limbs seemed as destitute of
joints as a pair of canvas pants spread to dry, and frozen stiff.

When an order was given to haul the braces—which required the strength
of the entire watch, some two hundred men—a spectator would have
supposed that all hands had received a stroke of the palsy. Roused from
their state of enchantment, they came halting and limping across the
decks, falling against each other, and, for a few moments, almost
unable to handle the ropes. The slightest exertion seemed intolerable;
and frequently a body of eighty or a hundred men summoned to brace the
main-yard, would hang over the rope for several minutes, waiting for
some active fellow to pick it up and put it into their hands. Even
then, it was some time before they were able to do anything. They made
all the motions usual in hauling a rope, but it was a long time before
the yard budged an inch. It was to no purpose that the officers swore
at them, or sent the midshipmen among them to find out who those
“_horse-marines_” and “_sogers_” were. The sailors were so enveloped in
monkey jackets, that in the dark night there was no telling one from
the other.

“Here, _you_, sir!” cries little Mr. Pert eagerly catching hold of the
skirts of an old sea-dog, and trying to turn him round, so as to peer
under his tarpaulin. “Who are _you_, sir? What’s your name?”

“Find out, Milk-and-Water,” was the impertinent rejoinder.

“Blast you! you old rascal; I’ll have you licked for that! Tell me his
name, some of you!” turning round to the bystanders.

“Gammon!” cries a voice at a distance.

“Hang me, but I know _you_, sir! and here’s at you!” and, so saying,
Mr. Pert drops the impenetrable unknown, and makes into the crowd after
the bodiless voice. But the attempt to find an owner for that voice is
quite as idle as the effort to discover the contents of the monkey

And here sorrowful mention must be made of something which, during this
state of affairs, most sorely afflicted me. Most monkey jackets are of
a dark hue; mine, as I have fifty times repeated, and say again, was
white. And thus, in those long, dark nights, when it was my
quarter-watch on deck, and not in the top, and others went skulking and
“sogering” about the decks, secure from detection—their identity
undiscoverable—my own hapless jacket for ever proclaimed the name of
its wearer. It gave me many a hard job, which otherwise I should have
escaped. When an officer wanted a man for any particular duty—running
aloft, say, to communicate some slight order to the captains of the
tops—how easy, in that mob of incognitoes, to individualise “_that
white jacket_,” and dispatch him on the errand. Then, it would never do
for me to hang back when the ropes were being pulled.

Indeed, upon all these occasions, such alacrity and cheerfulness was I
obliged to display, that I was frequently held up as an illustrious
example of activity, which the rest were called upon to emulate.
“Pull—pull! you lazy lubbers! Look at White-Jacket, there; pull like

Oh! how I execrated my luckless garment; how often I scoured the deck
with it to give it a tawny hue; how often I supplicated the inexorable
Brush, captain of the paint-room, for just one brushful of his
invaluable pigment. Frequently, I meditated giving it a toss overboard;
but I had not the resolution. Jacketless at sea! Jacketless so near
Cape Horn! The thought was unendurable. And, at least, my garment was a
jacket in name, if not in utility.

At length I essayed a “swap.” “Here, Bob,” said I, assuming all
possible suavity, and accosting a mess-mate with a sort of diplomatic
assumption of superiority, “suppose I was ready to part with this
‘grego’ of mine, and take yours in exchange—what would you give me to

“Give you to _boot?_” he exclaimed, with horror; “I wouldn’t take your
infernal jacket for a gift!”

How I hailed every snow-squall; for then—blessings on them!—many of the
men became _white-jackets_ along with myself; and, powdered with the
flakes, we all looked like millers.

We had six lieutenants, all of whom, with the exception of the First
Lieutenant, by turns headed the watches. Three of these officers,
including Mad Jack, were strict disciplinarians, and never permitted us
to lay down on deck during the night. And, to tell the truth, though it
caused much growling, it was far better for our health to be thus kept
on our feet. So promenading was all the vogue. For some of us, however,
it was like pacing in a dungeon; for, as we had to keep at our
stations—some at the halyards, some at the braces, and elsewhere—and
were not allowed to stroll about indefinitely, and fairly take the
measure of the ship’s entire keel, we were fain to confine ourselves to
the space of a very few feet. But the worse of this was soon over. The
suddenness of the change in the temperature consequent on leaving Cape
Horn, and steering to the northward with a ten-knot breeze, is a
noteworthy thing. To-day, you are assailed by a blast that seems to
have edged itself on icebergs; but in a little more than a week, your
jacket may be superfluous.

One word more about Cape Horn, and we have done with it.

Years hence, when a ship-canal shall have penetrated the Isthmus of
Darien, and the traveller be taking his seat in the ears at Cape Cod
for Astoria, it will be held a thing almost incredible that, for so
long a period, vessels bound to the Nor’-west Coast from New York
should, by going round Cape Horn, have lengthened their voyages some
thousands of miles. “In those unenlightened days” (I quote, in advance,
the language of some future philosopher), “entire years were frequently
consumed in making the voyage to and from the Spice Islands, the
present fashionable watering-place of the beau-monde of Oregon.” Such
must be our national progress.

Why, sir, that boy of yours will, one of these days, be sending your
grandson to the salubrious city of Jeddo to spend his summer vacations.


While now running rapidly away from the bitter coast of Patagonia,
battling with the night-watches—still cold—as best we may; come under
the lee of my white-jacket, reader, while I tell of the less painful
sights to be seen in a frigate.

A hint has already been conveyed concerning the subterranean depths of
the Neversink’s hold. But there is no time here to speak of the
_spirit-room_, a cellar down in the after-hold, where the sailor’s
“grog” is kept; nor of the _cabletiers_, where the great hawsers and
chains are piled, as you see them at a large ship-chandler’s on shore;
nor of the grocer’s vaults, where tierces of sugar, molasses, vinegar,
rice, and flour are snugly stowed; nor of the _sail-room_, full as a
sail-maker’s loft ashore—piled up with great top-sails and
top-gallant-sails, all ready-folded in their places, like so many white
vests in a gentleman’s wardrobe; nor of the copper and copper-fastened
_magazine_, closely packed with kegs of powder, great-gun and small-arm
cartridges; nor of the immense _shot-lockers_, or subterranean
arsenals, full as a bushel of apples with twenty-four-pound balls; nor
of the _bread-room_, a large apartment, tinned all round within to keep
out the mice, where the hard biscuit destined for the consumption of
five hundred men on a long voyage is stowed away by the cubic yard; nor
of the vast iron tanks for fresh water in the hold, like the reservoir
lakes at Fairmount, in Philadelphia; nor of the _paint-room_, where the
kegs of white-lead, and casks of linseed oil, and all sorts of pots and
brushes, are kept; nor of the _armoror’s smithy_, where the ship’s
forges and anvils may be heard ringing at times; I say I have no time
to speak of these things, and many more places of note.

But there is one very extensive warehouse among the rest that needs
special mention—_the ship’s Yeoman’s storeroom_. In the Neversink it
was down in the ship’s basement, beneath the berth-deck, and you went
to it by way of the _Fore-passage_, a very dim, devious corridor,
indeed. Entering—say at noonday—you find yourself in a gloomy
apartment, lit by a solitary lamp. On one side are shelves, filled with
balls of _marline, ratlin-stuf, seizing-stuff, spun-yarn_, and numerous
twines of assorted sizes. In another direction you see large cases
containing heaps of articles, reminding one of a shoemaker’s
furnishing-store—wooden _serving-mallets, fids, toggles_, and
_heavers:_ iron _prickers_ and _marling-spikes;_ in a third quarter you
see a sort of hardware shop—shelves piled with all manner of hooks,
bolts, nails, screws, and _thimbles;_ and, in still another direction,
you see a block-maker’s store, heaped up with lignum-vitae sheeves and

Through low arches in the bulkhead beyond, you peep in upon distant
vaults and catacombs, obscurely lighted in the far end, and showing
immense coils of new ropes, and other bulky articles, stowed in tiers,
all savouring of tar.

But by far the most curious department of these mysterious store-rooms
is the armoury, where the spikes, cutlasses, pistols, and belts,
forming the arms of the boarders in time of action, are hung against
the walls, and suspended in thick rows from the beams overhead. Here,
too, are to be seen scores of Colt’s patent revolvers, which, though
furnished with but one tube, multiply the fatal bullets, as the naval
cat-o’-nine-tails, with a cannibal cruelty, in one blow nine times
multiplies a culprit’s lashes; so that when a sailor is ordered one
dozen lashes, the sentence should read one hundred and eight. All these
arms are kept in the brightest order, wearing a fine polish, and may
truly be said to _reflect_ credit on the Yeoman and his mates.

Among the lower grade of officers in a man-of-war, that of Yeoman is
not the least important. His responsibilities are denoted by his pay.
While the _petty officers_, quarter-gunners, captains of the tops, and
others, receive but fifteen and eighteen dollars a month—but little
more than a mere able seamen—the Yeoman in an American line-of-battle
ship receives forty dollars, and in a frigate thirty-five dollars per

He is accountable for all the articles under his charge, and on no
account must deliver a yard of twine or a ten-penny nail to the
boatswain or carpenter, unless shown a written requisition and order
from the Senior Lieutenant. The Yeoman is to be found burrowing in his
underground store-rooms all the day long, in readiness to serve
licensed customers. But in the counter, behind which he usually stands,
there is no place for a till to drop the shillings in, which takes away
not a little from the most agreeable part of a storekeeper’s duties.
Nor, among the musty, old account-books in his desk, where he registers
all expenditures of his stuffs, is there any cash or check book.

The Yeoman of the Neversink was a somewhat odd specimen of a
Troglodyte. He was a little old man, round-shouldered, bald-headed,
with great goggle-eyes, looking through portentous round spectacles,
which he called his _barnacles_. He was imbued with a wonderful zeal
for the naval service, and seemed to think that, in keeping his pistols
and cutlasses free from rust, he preserved the national honour
untarnished. After _general quarters_, it was amusing to watch his
anxious air as the various _petty officers_ restored to him the arms
used at the martial exercises of the crew. As successive bundles would
be deposited on his counter, he would count over the pistols and
cutlasses, like an old housekeeper telling over her silver forks and
spoons in a pantry before retiring for the night. And often, with a
sort of dark lantern in his hand, he might be seen poking into his
furthest vaults and cellars, and counting over his great coils of
ropes, as if they were all jolly puncheons of old Port and Madeira.

By reason of his incessant watchfulness and unaccountable bachelor
oddities, it was very difficult for him to retain in his employment the
various sailors who, from time to time, were billeted with him to do
the duty of subalterns. In particular, he was always desirous of having
at least one steady, faultless young man, of a literary taste, to keep
an eye to his account-books, and swab out the armoury every morning. It
was an odious business this, to be immured all day in such a bottomless
hole, among tarry old ropes and villainous guns and pistols. It was
with peculiar dread that I one day noticed the goggle-eyes of _Old
Revolver_, as they called him, fastened upon me with a fatal glance of
good-will and approbation. He had somehow heard of my being a very
learned person, who could both read and write with extraordinary
facility; and moreover that I was a rather reserved youth, who kept his
modest, unassuming merits in the background. But though, from the keen
sense of my situation as a man-of-war’s-man all this about my keeping
myself in the _back_ ground was true enough, yet I had no idea of
hiding my diffident merits _under_ ground. I became alarmed at the old
Yeoman’s goggling glances, lest he should drag me down into tarry
perdition in his hideous store-rooms. But this fate was providentially
averted, owing to mysterious causes which I never could fathom.


Among such a crowd of marked characters as were to be met with on board
our frigate, many of whom moved in mysterious circles beneath the
lowermost deck, and at long intervals flitted into sight like
apparitions, and disappeared again for whole weeks together, there were
some who inordinately excited my curiosity, and whose names, callings,
and precise abodes I industriously sought out, in order to learn
something satisfactory concerning them.

While engaged in these inquiries, often fruitless, or but partially
gratified, I could not but regret that there was no public printed
Directory for the Neversink, such as they have in large towns,
containing an alphabetic list of all the crew, and where they might be
found. Also, in losing myself in some remote, dark corner of the bowels
of the frigate, in the vicinity of the various store-rooms, shops, and
warehouses, I much lamented that no enterprising tar had yet thought of
compiling a _Hand-book of the Neversink_, so that the tourist might
have a reliable guide.

Indeed, there were several parts of the ship under hatches shrouded in
mystery, and completely inaccessible to the sailor.

Wondrous old doors, barred and bolted in dingy bulkheads, must have
opened into regions full of interest to a successful explorer.

They looked like the gloomy entrances to family vaults of buried dead;
and when I chanced to see some unknown functionary insert his key, and
enter these inexplicable apartments with a battle-lantern, as if on
solemn official business, I almost quaked to dive in with him, and
satisfy myself whether these vaults indeed contained the mouldering
relics of by-gone old Commodores and Post-captains. But the habitations
of the living commodore and captain—their spacious and curtained
cabins—were themselves almost as sealed volumes, and I passed them in
hopeless wonderment, like a peasant before a prince’s palace. Night and
day armed sentries guarded their sacred portals, cutlass in hand; and
had I dared to cross their path, I would infallibly have been cut down,
as if in battle. Thus, though for a period of more than a year I was an
inmate of this floating box of live-oak, yet there were numberless
things in it that, to the last, remained wrapped in obscurity, or
concerning which I could only lose myself in vague speculations. I was
as a Roman Jew of the Middle Ages, confined to the Jews’ quarter of the
town, and forbidden to stray beyond my limits. Or I was as a modern
traveller in the same famous city, forced to quit it at last without
gaining ingress to the most mysterious haunts—the innermost shrine of
the Pope, and the dungeons and cells of the Inquisition.

But among all the persons and things on board that puzzled me, and
filled me most with strange emotions of doubt, misgivings and mystery,
was the Gunner—a short, square, grim man, his hair and beard grizzled
and singed, as if with gunpowder. His skin was of a flecky brown, like
the stained barrel of a fowling-piece, and his hollow eyes burned in
his head like blue-lights. He it was who had access to many of those
mysterious vaults I have spoken of. Often he might be seen groping his
way into them, followed by his subalterns, the old quarter-gunners, as
if intent upon laying a train of powder to blow up the ship. I
remembered Guy Fawkes and the Parliament-house, and made earnest
inquiry whether this gunner was a Roman Catholic. I felt relieved when
informed that he was not.

A little circumstance which one of his _mates_ once told me heightened
the gloomy interest with which I regarded his chief. He told me that,
at periodical intervals, his master the Gunner, accompanied by his
phalanx, entered into the great Magazine under the Gun-room, of which
he had sole custody and kept the key, nearly as big as the key of the
Bastile, and provided with lanterns, something like Sir Humphrey Davy’s
Safety-lamp for coal mines, proceeded to turn, end for end, all the
kegs of powder and packages of cartridges stored in this innermost
explosive vault, lined throughout with sheets of copper. In the
vestibule of the Magazine, against the panelling, were several pegs for
slippers, and, before penetrating further than that vestibule, every
man of the gunner’s gang silently removed his shoes, for fear that the
nails in their heels might possibly create a spark, by striking against
the coppered floor within. Then, with slippered feet and with hushed
whispers, they stole into the heart of the place.

This turning of the powder was to preserve its inflammability. And
surely it was a business full of direful interest, to be buried so deep
below the sun, handling whole barrels of powder, any one of which,
touched by the smallest spark, was powerful enough to blow up a whole
street of warehouses.

The gunner went by the name of _Old Combustibles_, though I thought
this an undignified name for so momentous a personage, who had all our
lives in his hand.

While we lay in Callao, we received from shore several barrels of
powder. So soon as the _launch_ came alongside with them, orders were
given to extinguish all lights and all fires in the ship; and the
master-at-arms and his corporals inspected every deck to see that this
order was obeyed; a very prudent precaution, no doubt, but not observed
at all in the Turkish navy. The Turkish sailors will sit on their
gun-carriages, tranquilly smoking, while kegs of powder are being
rolled under their ignited pipe-bowls. This shows the great comfort
there is in the doctrine of these Fatalists, and how such a doctrine,
in some things at least, relieves men from nervous anxieties. But we
all are Fatalists at bottom. Nor need we so much marvel at the heroism
of that army officer, who challenged his personal foe to bestride a
barrel of powder with him—the match to be placed between them—and be
blown up in good company, for it is pretty certain that the whole earth
itself is a vast hogshead, full of inflammable materials, and which we
are always bestriding; at the same time, that all good Christians
believe that at any minute the last day may come and the terrible
combustion of the entire planet ensue.

As if impressed with a befitting sense of the awfulness of his calling,
our gunner always wore a fixed expression of solemnity, which was
heightened by his grizzled hair and beard. But what imparted such a
sinister look to him, and what wrought so upon my imagination
concerning this man, was a frightful scar crossing his left cheek and
forehead. He had been almost mortally wounded, they said, with a
sabre-cut, during a frigate engagement in the last war with Britain.

He was the most methodical, exact, and punctual of all the forward
officers. Among his other duties, it pertained to him, while in
harbour, to see that at a certain hour in the evening one of the great
guns was discharged from the forecastle, a ceremony only observed in a
flag-ship. And always at the precise moment you might behold him
blowing his match, then applying it; and with that booming thunder in
his ear, and the smell of the powder in his hair, he retired to his
hammock for the night. What dreams he must have had!

The same precision was observed when ordered to fire a gun to _bring
to_ some ship at sea; for, true to their name, and preserving its
applicability, even in times of peace, all men-of-war are great bullies
on the high seas. They domineer over the poor merchantmen, and with a
hissing hot ball sent bowling across the ocean, compel them to stop
their headway at pleasure.

It was enough to make you a man of method for life, to see the gunner
superintending his subalterns, when preparing the main-deck batteries
for a great national salute. While lying in harbour, intelligence
reached us of the lamentable casualty that befell certain high officers
of state, including the acting Secretary of the Navy himself, some
other member of the President’s cabinet, a Commodore, and others, all
engaged in experimenting upon a new-fangled engine of war. At the same
time with the receipt of this sad news, orders arrived to fire
minute-guns for the deceased head of the naval department. Upon this
occasion the gunner was more than usually ceremonious, in seeing that
the long twenty-fours were thoroughly loaded and rammed down, and then
accurately marked with chalk, so as to be discharged in undeviating
rotation, first from the larboard side, and then from the starboard.

But as my ears hummed, and all my bones danced in me with the
reverberating din, and my eyes and nostrils were almost suffocated with
the smoke, and when I saw this grim old gunner firing away so solemnly,
I thought it a strange mode of honouring a man’s memory who had himself
been slaughtered by a cannon. Only the smoke, that, after rolling in at
the port-holes, rapidly drifted away to leeward, and was lost to view,
seemed truly emblematical touching the personage thus honoured, since
that great non-combatant, the Bible, assures us that our life is but a
vapour, that quickly passeth away.


In men-of-war, the space on the uppermost deck, round about the
main-mast, is the Police-office, Court-house, and yard of execution,
where all charges are lodged, causes tried, and punishment
administered. In frigate phrase, to be _brought up to the mast_, is
equivalent to being presented before the grand-jury, to see whether a
true bill will be found against you.

From the merciless, inquisitorial _baiting_, which sailors, charged
with offences, too often experience _at the mast_, that vicinity is
usually known among them as the _bull-ring_.

The main-mast, moreover, is the only place where the sailor can hold
formal communication with the captain and officers. If any one has been
robbed; if any one has been evilly entreated; if any one’s character
has been defamed; if any one has a request to present; if any one has
aught important for the executive of the ship to know—straight to the
main-mast he repairs; and stands there—generally with his hat
off—waiting the pleasure of the officer of the deck, to advance and
communicate with him. Often, the most ludicrous scenes occur, and the
most comical complaints are made.

One clear, cold morning, while we were yet running away from the Cape,
a raw boned, crack-pated Down Easter, belonging to the Waist, made his
appearance at the mast, dolefully exhibiting a blackened tin pan,
bearing a few crusty traces of some sort of a sea-pie, which had been
cooked in it.

“Well, sir, what now?” said the Lieutenant of the Deck, advancing.

“They stole it, sir; all my nice _dunderfunk_, sir; they did, sir,”
whined the Down Easter, ruefully holding up his pan. “Stole your
_dunderfunk!_ what’s that?”

“_Dunderfunk_, sir, _dunderfunk_; a cruel nice dish as ever man put
into him.”

“Speak out, sir; what’s the matter?”

“My _dunderfunk_, sir—as elegant a dish of _dunderfunk_ as you ever
see, sir—they stole it, sir!”

“Go forward, you rascal!” cried the Lieutenant, in a towering rage, “or
else stop your whining. Tell me, what’s the matter?”

“Why, sir, them ’ere two fellows, Dobs and Hodnose, stole my

“Once more, sir, I ask what that _dundledunk_ is? Speak!” “As cruel a

“Be off, sir! sheer!” and muttering something about _non compos
mentis_, the Lieutenant stalked away; while the Down Easter beat a
melancholy retreat, holding up his pan like a tambourine, and making
dolorous music on it as he went.

“Where are you going with that tear in your eye, like a travelling
rat?” cried a top-man.

“Oh! he’s going home to Down East,” said another; “so far eastward, you
know, _shippy_, that they have to pry up the sun with a handspike.”

To make this anecdote plainer, be it said that, at sea, the monotonous
round of salt beef and pork at the messes of the sailors—where but very
few of the varieties of the season are to be found—induces them to
adopt many contrivances in order to diversify their meals. Hence the
various sea-rolls, made dishes, and Mediterranean pies, well known by
men-of-war’s-men—_Scouse, Lob-scouse, Soft-Tack, Soft-Tommy,
Skillagalee, Burgoo, Dough-boys, Lob-Dominion, Dog’s-Body_, and lastly,
and least known, _Dunderfunk_; all of which come under the general
denomination of _Manavalins_.

_Dunderfunk_ is made of hard biscuit, hashed and pounded, mixed with
beef fat, molasses, and water, and baked brown in a pan. And to those
who are beyond all reach of shore delicacies, this _dunderfunk_, in the
feeling language of the Down Easter, is certainly “_a cruel nice

Now the only way that a sailor, after preparing his _dunderfunk_, could
get it cooked on board the Neversink, was by slily going to _Old
Coffee_, the ship’s cook, and bribing him to put it into his oven. And
as some such dishes or other are well known to be all the time in the
oven, a set of unprincipled gourmands are constantly on the look-out
for the chance of stealing them. Generally, two or three league
together, and while one engages _Old Coffee_ in some interesting
conversation touching his wife and family at home, another snatches the
first thing he can lay hands on in the oven, and rapidly passes it to
the third man, who at his earliest leisure disappears with it.

In this manner had the Down Easter lost his precious pie, and afterward
found the empty pan knocking about the forecastle.


If you begin the day with a laugh, you may, nevertheless, end it with a
sob and a sigh.

Among the many who were exceedingly diverted with the scene between the
Down Easter and the Lieutenant, none laughed more heartily than John,
Peter, Mark, and Antone—four sailors of the starboard-watch. The same
evening these four found themselves prisoners in the “brig,” with a
sentry standing over them. They were charged with violating a
well-known law of the ship—having been engaged in one of those tangled,
general fights sometimes occurring among sailors. They had nothing to
anticipate but a flogging, at the captain’s pleasure.

Toward evening of the next day, they were startled by the dread summons
of the boatswain and his mates at the principal hatchway—a summons that
ever sends a shudder through every manly heart in a frigate:

“_All hands witness punishment, ahoy!_”

The hoarseness of the cry, its unrelenting prolongation, its being
caught up at different points, and sent through the lowermost depths of
the ship; all this produces a most dismal effect upon every heart not
calloused by long habituation to it.

However much you may desire to absent yourself from the scene that
ensues, yet behold it you must; or, at least, stand near it you must;
for the regulations enjoin the attendance of the entire ship’s company,
from the corpulent Captain himself to the smallest boy who strikes the

“_All hands witness punishment, ahoy!_”

To the sensitive seaman that summons sounds like a doom. He knows that
the same law which impels it—the same law by which the culprits of the
day must suffer; that by that very law he also is liable at any time to
be judged and condemned. And the inevitableness of his own presence at
the scene; the strong arm that drags him in view of the scourge, and
holds him there till all is over; forcing upon his loathing eye and
soul the sufferings and groans of men who have familiarly consorted
with him, eaten with him, battled out watches with him—men of his own
type and badge—all this conveys a terrible hint of the omnipotent
authority under which he lives. Indeed, to such a man the naval summons
to witness punishment carries a thrill, somewhat akin to what we may
impute to the quick and the dead, when they shall hear the Last Trump,
that is to bid them all arise in their ranks, and behold the final
penalties inflicted upon the sinners of our race.

But it must not be imagined that to all men-of-war’s-men this summons
conveys such poignant emotions; but it is hard to decide whether one
should be glad or sad that this is not the case; whether it is grateful
to know that so much pain is avoided, or whether it is far sadder to
think that, either from constitutional hard-heartedness or the
multiplied searings of habit, hundreds of men-of-war’s-men have been
made proof against the sense of degradation, pity, and shame.

As if in sympathy with the scene to be enacted, the sun, which the day
previous had merrily flashed upon the tin pan of the disconsolate Down
Easter, was now setting over the dreary waters, veiling itself in
vapours. The wind blew hoarsely in the cordage; the seas broke heavily
against the bows; and the frigate, staggering under whole top-sails,
strained as in agony on her way.

“_All hands witness punishment, ahoy!_”

At the summons the crew crowded round the main-mast; multitudes eager
to obtain a good place on the booms, to overlook the scene; many
laughing and chatting, others canvassing the case of the culprits; some
maintaining sad, anxious countenances, or carrying a suppressed
indignation in their eyes; a few purposely keeping behind to avoid
looking on; in short, among five hundred men, there was every possible
shade of character.

All the officers—midshipmen included—stood together in a group on the
starboard side of the main-mast; the First Lieutenant in advance, and
the surgeon, whose special duty it is to be present at such times,
standing close by his side.

Presently the Captain came forward from his cabin, and stood in the
centre of this solemn group, with a small paper in his hand. That paper
was the daily report of offences, regularly laid upon his table every
morning or evening, like the day’s journal placed by a bachelor’s
napkin at breakfast.

“Master-at-arms, bring up the prisoners,” he said.

A few moments elapsed, during which the Captain, now clothed in his
most dreadful attributes, fixed his eyes severely upon the crew, when
suddenly a lane formed through the crowd of seamen, and the prisoners
advanced—the master-at-arms, rattan in hand, on one side, and an armed
marine on the other—and took up their stations at the mast.

“You John, you Peter, you Mark, you Antone,” said the Captain, “were
yesterday found fighting on the gun-deck. Have you anything to say?”

Mark and Antone, two steady, middle-aged men, whom I had often admired
for their sobriety, replied that they did not strike the first blow;
that they had submitted to much before they had yielded to their
passions; but as they acknowledged that they had at last defended
themselves, their excuse was overruled.

John—a brutal bully, who, it seems, was the real author of the
disturbance—was about entering into a long extenuation, when he was cut
short by being made to confess, irrespective of circumstances, that he
had been in the fray.

Peter, a handsome lad about nineteen years old, belonging to the
mizzen-top, looked pale and tremulous. He was a great favourite in his
part of the ship, and especially in his own mess, principally composed
of lads of his own age. That morning two of his young mess-mates had
gone to his bag, taken out his best clothes, and, obtaining the
permission of the marine sentry at the “brig,” had handed them to him,
to be put on against being summoned to the mast. This was done to
propitiate the Captain, as most captains love to see a tidy sailor. But
it would not do. To all his supplications the Captain turned a deaf
ear. Peter declared that he had been struck twice before he had
returned a blow. “No matter,” said the Captain, “you struck at last,
instead of reporting the case to an officer. I allow no man to fight on
board here but myself. I do the fighting.”

“Now, men,” he added, “you all admit the charge; you know the penalty.
Strip! Quarter-masters, are the gratings rigged?”

The gratings are square frames of barred wood-work, sometimes placed
over the hatchways. One of these squares was now laid on the deck,
close to the ship’s bulwarks, and while the remaining preparations were
being made, the master-at-arms assisted the prisoners in removing their
jackets and shirts. This done, their shirts were loosely thrown over
their shoulders.

At a sign from the Captain, John, with a shameless leer, advanced, and
stood passively upon the grating, while the bare-headed old
quarter-master, with grey hair streaming in the wind, bound his feet to
the cross-bars, and, stretching out his arms over his head, secured
them to the hammock-nettings above. He then retreated a little space,
standing silent.

Meanwhile, the boatswain stood solemnly on the other side, with a green
bag in his hand, from which, taking four instruments of punishment, he
gave one to each of his mates; for a fresh “cat” applied by a fresh
hand, is the ceremonious privilege accorded to every man-of-war

At another sign from the Captain, the master-at-arms, stepping up,
removed the shirt from the prisoner. At this juncture a wave broke
against the ship’s side, and clashed the spray over his exposed back.
But though the air was piercing cold, and the water drenched him, John
stood still, without a shudder.

The Captain’s finger was now lifted, and the first boatswain’s-mate
advanced, combing out the nine tails of his _cat_ with his hand, and
then, sweeping them round his neck, brought them with the whole force
of his body upon the mark. Again, and again, and again; and at every
blow, higher and higher rose the long, purple bars on the prisoner’s
back. But he only bowed over his head, and stood still. Meantime, some
of the crew whispered among themselves in applause of their ship-mate’s
nerve; but the greater part were breathlessly silent as the keen
scourge hissed through the wintry air, and fell with a cutting, wiry
sound upon the mark. One dozen lashes being applied, the man was taken
down, and went among the crew with a smile, saying, “D——n me! it’s
nothing when you’re used to it! Who wants to fight?”

The next was Antone, the Portuguese. At every blow he surged from side
to side, pouring out a torrent of involuntary blasphemies. Never before
had he been heard to curse. When cut down, he went among the men,
swearing to have the life of the Captain. Of course, this was unheard
by the officers.

Mark, the third prisoner, only cringed and coughed under his
punishment. He had some pulmonary complaint. He was off duty for
several days after the flogging; but this was partly to be imputed to
his extreme mental misery. It was his first scourging, and he felt the
insult more than the injury. He became silent and sullen for the rest
of the cruise.

The fourth and last was Peter, the mizzen-top lad. He had often boasted
that he had never been degraded at the gangway. The day before his
cheek had worn its usual red but now no ghost was whiter. As he was
being secured to the gratings, and the shudderings and creepings of his
dazzlingly white back were revealed, he turned round his head
imploringly; but his weeping entreaties and vows of contrition were of
no avail. “I would not forgive God Almighty!” cried the Captain. The
fourth boatswain’s-mate advanced, and at the first blow, the boy,
shouting “_My God! Oh! my God!_” writhed and leaped so as to displace
the gratings, and scatter the nine tails of the scourge all over his
person. At the next blow he howled, leaped, and raged in unendurable

“What are you stopping for, boatswain’s-mate?” cried the Captain. “Lay
on!” and the whole dozen was applied.

“I don’t care what happens to me now!” wept Peter, going among the
crew, with blood-shot eyes, as he put on his shirt. “I have been
flogged once, and they may do it again, if they will. Let them look for
me now!”

“Pipe down!” cried the Captain, and the crew slowly dispersed.

Let us have the charity to believe them—as we do—when some Captains in
the Navy say, that the thing of all others most repulsive to them, in
the routine of what they consider their duty, is the administration of
corporal punishment upon the crew; for, surely, not to feel scarified
to the quick at these scenes would argue a man but a beast.

You see a human being, stripped like a slave; scourged worse than a
hound. And for what? For things not essentially criminal, but only made
so by arbitrary laws.


There are incidental considerations touching this matter of flogging,
which exaggerate the evil into a great enormity. Many illustrations
might be given, but let us be content with a few.

One of the arguments advanced by officers of the Navy in favour of
corporal punishment is this: it can be inflicted in a moment; it
consumes no valuable time; and when the prisoner’s shirt is put on,
_that_ is the last of it. Whereas, if another punishment were
substituted, it would probably occasion a great waste of time and
trouble, besides thereby begetting in the sailor an undue idea of his

Absurd, or worse than absurd, as it may appear, all this is true; and
if you start from the same premises with these officers, you, must
admit that they advance an irresistible argument. But in accordance
with this principle, captains in the Navy, to a certain extent, inflict
the scourge—which is ever at hand—for nearly all degrees of
transgression. In offences not cognisable by a court-martial, little,
if any, discrimination is shown. It is of a piece with the penal laws
that prevailed in England some sixty years ago, when one hundred and
sixty different offences were declared by the statute-book to be
capital, and the servant-maid who but pilfered a watch was hung beside
the murderer of a family.

It is one of the most common punishments for very trivial offences in
the Navy, to “stop” a seaman’s _grog_ for a day or a week. And as most
seamen so cling to their _grog_, the loss of it is generally deemed by
them a very serious penalty. You will sometimes hear them say, “I would
rather have my wind _stopped_ than _my grog!_”

But there are some sober seamen that would much rather draw the money
for it, instead of the grog itself, as provided by law; but they are
too often deterred from this by the thought of receiving a scourging
for some inconsiderable offence, as a substitute for the stopping of
their spirits. This is a most serious obstacle to the cause of
temperance in the Navy. But, in many cases, even the reluctant drawing
of his grog cannot exempt a prudent seaman from ignominy; for besides
the formal administering of the “_cat_” at the gangway for petty
offences, he is liable to the “colt,” or rope’s-end, a bit of
_ratlin-stuff_, indiscriminately applied—without stripping the
victim—at any time, and in any part of the ship, at the merest wink
from the Captain. By an express order of that officer, most boatswain’s
mates carry the “colt” coiled in their hats, in readiness to be
administered at a minute’s warning upon any offender. This was the
custom in the Neversink. And until so recent a period as the
administration of President Polk, when the historian Bancroft,
Secretary of the Navy, officially interposed, it was an almost
universal thing for the officers of the watch, at their own discretion,
to inflict chastisement upon a sailor, and this, too, in the face of
the ordinance restricting the power of flogging solely to Captains and
Courts Martial. Nor was it a thing unknown for a Lieutenant, in a
sudden outburst of passion, perhaps inflamed by brandy, or smarting
under the sense of being disliked or hated by the seamen, to order a
whole watch of two hundred and fifty men, at dead of night, to undergo
the indignity of the “colt.”

It is believed that, even at the present day, there are instances of
Commanders still violating the law, by delegating the power of the colt
to subordinates. At all events, it is certain that, almost to a man,
the Lieutenants in the Navy bitterly rail against the officiousness of
Bancroft, in so materially abridging their usurped functions by
snatching the colt from their hands. At the time, they predicted that
this rash and most ill-judged interference of the Secretary would end
in the breaking up of all discipline in the Navy. But it has not so
proved. These officers _now_ predict that, if the “cat” be abolished,
the same unfulfilled prediction would be verified.

Concerning the license with which many captains violate the express
laws laid down by Congress for the government of the Navy, a glaring
instance may be quoted. For upward of forty years there has been on the
American Statute-book a law prohibiting a captain from inflicting, on
his own authority, more than twelve lashes at one time. If more are to
be given, the sentence must be passed by a Court-martial. Yet, for
nearly half a century, this law has been frequently, and with almost
perfect impunity, set at naught: though of late, through the exertions
of Bancroft and others, it has been much better observed than formerly;
indeed, at the present day, it is generally respected. Still, while the
Neversink was lying in a South American port, on the cruise now written
of, the seamen belonging to another American frigate informed us that
their captain sometimes inflicted, upon his own authority, eighteen and
twenty lashes. It is worth while to state that this frigate was vastly
admired by the shore ladies for her wonderfully neat appearance. One of
her forecastle-men told me that he had used up three jack-knives
(charged to him on the books of the purser) in scraping the
belaying-pins and the combings of the hatchways.

It is singular that while the Lieutenants of the watch in American
men-of-war so long usurped the power of inflicting corporal punishment
with the _colt_, few or no similar abuses were known in the English
Navy. And though the captain of an English armed ship is authorised to
inflict, at his own discretion, _more_ than a dozen lashes (I think
three dozen), yet it is to be doubted whether, upon the whole, there is
as much flogging at present in the English Navy as in the American. The
chivalric Virginian, John Randolph of Roanoke, declared, in his place
in Congress, that on board of the American man-of-war that carried him
out Ambassador to Russia he had witnessed more flogging than had taken
place on his own plantation of five hundred African slaves in ten
years. Certain it is, from what I have personally seen, that the
English officers, as a general thing, seem to be less disliked by their
crews than the American officers by theirs. The reason probably is,
that many of them, from their station in life, have been more
accustomed to social command; hence, quarter-deck authority sits more
naturally on them. A coarse, vulgar man, who happens to rise to high
naval rank by the exhibition of talents not incompatible with
vulgarity, invariably proves a tyrant to his crew. It is a thing that
American men-of-war’s-men have often observed, that the Lieutenants
from the Southern States, the descendants of the old Virginians, are
much less severe, and much more gentle and gentlemanly in command, than
the Northern officers, as a class.

According to the present laws and usages of the Navy, a seaman, for the
most trivial alleged offences, of which he may be entirely innocent,
must, without a trial, undergo a penalty the traces whereof he carries
to the grave; for to a man-of-war’s-man’s experienced eye the marks of
a naval scourging with the “_cat_” are through life discernible. And
with these marks on his back, this image of his Creator must rise at
the Last Day. Yet so untouchable is true dignity, that there are cases
wherein to be flogged at the gangway is no dishonour; though, to abase
and hurl down the last pride of some sailor who has piqued him, be
some-times the secret motive, with some malicious officer, in procuring
him to be condemned to the lash. But this feeling of the innate dignity
remaining untouched, though outwardly the body be scarred for the whole
term of the natural life, is one of the hushed things, buried among the
holiest privacies of the soul; a thing between a man’s God and himself;
and for ever undiscernible by our fellow-men, who account _that_ a
degradation which seems so to the corporal eye. But what torments must
that seaman undergo who, while his back bleeds at the gangway, bleeds
agonized drops of shame from his soul! Are we not justified in
immeasurably denouncing this thing? Join hands with me, then; and, in
the name of that Being in whose image the flogged sailor is made, let
us demand of Legislators, by what right they dare profane what God
himself accounts sacred.

Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman? asks the
intrepid Apostle, well knowing, as a Roman citizen, that it was not.
And now, eighteen hundred years after, is it lawful for you, my
countrymen, to scourge a man that is an American? to scourge him round
the world in your frigates?

It is to no purpose that you apologetically appeal to the general
depravity of the man-of-war’s-man. Depravity in the oppressed is no
apology for the oppressor; but rather an additional stigma to him, as
being, in a large degree, the effect, and not the cause and
justification of oppression.


It is next to idle, at the present day, merely to denounce an iniquity.
Be ours, then, a different task.

If there are any three things opposed to the genius of the American
Constitution, they are these: irresponsibility in a judge, unlimited
discretionary authority in an executive, and the union of an
irresponsible judge and an unlimited executive in one person.

Yet by virtue of an enactment of Congress, all the Commodores in the
American navy are obnoxious to these three charges, so far as concerns
the punishment of the sailor for alleged misdemeanors not particularly
set forth in the Articles of War.

Here is the enactment in question.

XXXII. _Of the Articles of War_.—“All crimes committed by persons
belonging to the Navy, which are not specified in the foregoing
articles, shall be punished according to the laws and customs in such
cases at sea.”

This is the article that, above all others, puts the scourge into the
hands of the Captain, calls him to no account for its exercise, and
furnishes him with an ample warrant for inflictions of cruelty upon the
common sailor, hardly credible to landsmen.

By this article the Captain is made a legislator, as well as a judge
and an executive. So far as it goes, it absolutely leaves to his
discretion to decide what things shall be considered crimes, and what
shall be the penalty; whether an accused person has been guilty of
actions by him declared to be crimes; and how, when, and where the
penalty shall be inflicted.

In the American Navy there is an everlasting suspension of the Habeas
Corpus. Upon the bare allegation of misconduct there is no law to
restrain the Captain from imprisoning a seaman, and keeping him
confined at his pleasure. While I was in the Neversink, the Captain of
an American sloop of war, from undoubted motives of personal pique,
kept a seaman confined in the brig for upward of a month.

Certainly the necessities of navies warrant a code for their government
more stringent than the law that governs the land; but that code should
conform to the spirit of the political institutions of the country that
ordains it. It should not convert into slaves some of the citizens of a
nation of free-men. Such objections cannot be urged against the laws of
the Russian navy (not essentially different from our own), because the
laws of that navy, creating the absolute one-man power in the Captain,
and vesting in him the authority to scourge, conform in spirit to the
territorial laws of Russia, which is ruled by an autocrat, and whose
courts inflict the _knout_ upon the subjects of the land. But with us
it is different. Our institutions claim to be based upon broad
principles of political liberty and equality. Whereas, it would hardly
affect one iota the condition on shipboard of an American
man-of-war’s-man, were he transferred to the Russian navy and made a
subject of the Czar.

As a sailor, he shares none of our civil immunities; the law of our
soil in no respect accompanies the national floating timbers grown
thereon, and to which he clings as his home. For him our Revolution was
in vain; to him our Declaration of Independence is a lie.

It is not sufficiently borne in mind, perhaps, that though the naval
code comes under the head of the martial law, yet, in time of peace,
and in the thousand questions arising between man and man on board
ship, this code, to a certain extent, may not improperly be deemed
municipal. With its crew of 800 or 1,000 men, a three-decker is a city
on the sea. But in most of these matters between man and man, the
Captain instead of being a magistrate, dispensing what the law
promulgates, is an absolute ruler, making and unmaking law as he

It will be seen that the XXth of the Articles of War provides, that if
any person in the Navy negligently perform the duties assigned him, he
shall suffer such punishment as a court-martial shall adjudge; but if
the offender be a private (common sailor) he may, at the discretion of
the Captain, be put in irons or flogged. It is needless to say, that in
cases where an officer commits a trivial violation of this law, a
court-martial is seldom or never called to sit upon his trial; but in
the sailor’s case, he is at once condemned to the lash. Thus, one set
of sea-citizens is exempted from a law that is hung in terror over
others. What would landsmen think, were the State of New York to pass a
law against some offence, affixing a fine as a penalty, and then add to
that law a section restricting its penal operation to mechanics and day
laborers, exempting all gentlemen with an income of one thousand
dollars? Yet thus, in the spirit of its practical operation, even thus,
stands a good part of the naval laws wherein naval flogging is

But a law should be “universal,” and include in its possible penal
operations the very judge himself who gives decisions upon it; nay, the
very judge who expounds it. Had Sir William Blackstone violated the
laws of England, he would have been brought before the bar over which
he had presided, and would there have been tried, with the counsel for
the crown reading to him, perhaps, from a copy of his own
_Commentaries_. And should he have been found guilty, he would have
suffered like the meanest subject, “according to law.”

How is it in an American frigate? Let one example suffice. By the
Articles of War, and especially by Article I., an American Captain may,
and frequently does, inflict a severe and degrading punishment upon a
sailor, while he himself is for ever removed from the possibility of
undergoing the like disgrace; and, in all probability, from undergoing
any punishment whatever, even if guilty of the same thing—contention
with his equals, for instance—for which he punishes another. Yet both
sailor and captain are American citizens.

Now, in the language of Blackstone, again, there is a law, “coeval with
mankind, dictated by God himself, superior in obligation to any other,
and no human laws are of any validity if contrary to this.” That law is
the Law of Nature; among the three great principles of which Justinian
includes “that to every man should be rendered his due.” But we have
seen that the laws involving flogging in the Navy do _not_ render to
every man his due, since in some cases they indirectly exclude the
officers from any punishment whatever, and in all cases protect them
from the scourge, which is inflicted upon the sailor. Therefore,
according to Blackstone and Justinian, those laws have no binding
force; and every American man-of-war’s-man would be morally justified
in resisting the scourge to the uttermost; and, in so resisting, would
be religiously justified in what would be judicially styled “the act of
mutiny” itself.

If, then, these scourging laws be for any reason necessary, make them
binding upon all who of right come under their sway; and let us see an
honest Commodore, duly authorised by Congress, condemning to the lash a
transgressing Captain by the side of a transgressing sailor. And if the
Commodore himself prove a transgressor, let us see one of his brother
Commodores take up the lash against _him_, even as the boatswain’s
mates, the navy executioners, are often called upon to scourge each

Or will you say that a navy officer is a man, but that an American-born
citizen, whose grandsire may have ennobled him by pouring out his blood
at Bunker Hill—will you say that, by entering the service of his
country as a common seaman, and standing ready to fight her foes, he
thereby loses his manhood at the very time he most asserts it? Will you
say that, by so doing, he degrades himself to the liability of the
scourge, but if he tarries ashore in time of danger, he is safe from
that indignity? All our linked states, all four continents of mankind,
unite in denouncing such a thought.

We plant the question, then, on the topmost argument of all.
Irrespective of incidental considerations, we assert that flogging in
the navy is opposed to the essential dignity, of man, which no
legislator has a right to violate; that it is oppressive, and glaringly
unequal in its operations; that it is utterly repugnant to the spirit
of our democratic institutions; indeed, that it involves a lingering
trait of the worst times of a barbarous feudal aristocracy; in a word,
we denounce it as religiously, morally, and immutably _wrong_.

No matter, then, what may be the consequences of its abolition; no
matter if we have to dismantle our fleets, and our unprotected commerce
should fall a prey to the spoiler, the awful admonitions of justice and
humanity demand that abolition without procrastination; in a voice that
is not to be mistaken, demand that abolition today. It is not a
dollar-and-cent question of expediency; it is a matter of _right and
wrong_. And if any man can lay his hand on his heart, and solemnly say
that this scourging is right, let that man but once feel the lash on
his own back, and in his agony you will hear the apostate call the
seventh heavens to witness that it is _wrong_. And, in the name of
immortal manhood, would to God that every man who upholds this thing
were scourged at the gangway till he recanted.


But White-Jacket is ready to come down from the lofty mast-head of an
eternal principle, and fight you—Commodores and Captains of the navy—on
your own quarter-deck, with your own weapons, at your own paces.

Exempt yourselves from the lash, you take Bible oaths to it that it is
indispensable for others; you swear that, without the lash, no armed
ship can be kept in suitable discipline. Be it proved to you, officers,
and stamped upon your foreheads, that herein you are utterly wrong.

“Send them to Collingwood,” said Lord Nelson, “and _he_ will bring them
to order.” This was the language of that renowned Admiral, when his
officers reported to him certain seamen of the fleet as wholly
ungovernable. “Send them to Collingwood.” And who was Collingwood,
that, after these navy rebels had been imprisoned and scourged without
being brought to order, Collingwood could convert them to docility?

Who Admiral Collinngwood was, as an historical hero, history herself
will tell you; nor, in whatever triumphal hall they may be hanging,
will the captured flags of Trafalgar fail to rustle at the mention of
that name. But what Collingwood was as a disciplinarian on board the
ships he commanded perhaps needs to be said. He was an officer, then,
who held in abhorrence all corporal punishment; who, though seeing more
active service than any sea-officer of his time, yet, for years
together, governed his men without inflicting the lash.

But these seaman of his must have been most exemplary saints to have
proved docile under so lenient a sway. Were they saints? Answer, ye
jails and alms-houses throughout the length and breadth of Great
Britain, which, in Collingwood’s time, were swept clean of the last
lingering villain and pauper to man his majesty’s fleets.

Still more, _that_ was a period when the uttermost resources of England
were taxed to the quick; when the masts of her multiplied fleets almost
transplanted her forests, all standing to the sea; when British
press-gangs not only boarded foreign ships on the high seas, and
boarded foreign pier-heads, but boarded their own merchantmen at the
mouth of the Thames, and boarded the very fire-sides along its banks;
when Englishmen were knocked down and dragged into the navy, like
cattle into the slaughter-house, with every mortal provocation to a mad
desperation against the service that thus ran their unwilling heads
into the muzzles of the enemy’s cannon. _This_ was the time, and
_these_ the men that Collingwood governed without the lash.

I know it has been said that Lord Collingwood began by inflicting
severe punishments, and afterward ruling his sailors by the mere memory
of a by-gone terror, which he could at pleasure revive; and that his
sailors knew this, and hence their good behaviour under a lenient sway.
But, granting the quoted assertion to be true, how comes it that many
American Captains, who, after inflicting as severe punishment as ever
Collingwood could have authorized—how comes it that _they_, also, have
not been able to maintain good order without subsequent floggings,
after once showing to the crew with what terrible attributes they were
invested? But it is notorious, and a thing that I myself, in several
instances, _know_ to have been the case, that in the American navy,
where corporal punishment has been most severe, it has also been most

But it is incredible that, with such crews as Lord
Collingwood’s—composed, in part, of the most desperate characters, the
rakings of the jails—it is incredible that such a set of men could have
been governed by the mere _memory_ of the lash. Some other influence
must have been brought to bear; mainly, no doubt, the influence wrought
by a powerful brain, and a determined, intrepid spirit over a
miscellaneous rabble.

It is well known that Lord Nelson himself, in point of policy, was
averse to flogging; and that, too, when he had witnessed the mutinous
effects of government abuses in the navy—unknown in our times—and
which, to the terror of all England, developed themselves at the great
mutiny of the Nore: an outbreak that for several weeks jeopardised the
very existence of the British navy.

But we may press this thing nearly two centuries further back, for it
is a matter of historical doubt whether, in Robert Blake’s time,
Cromwell’s great admiral, such a thing as flogging was known at the
gangways of his victorious fleets. And as in this matter we cannot go
further back than to Blake, so we cannot advance further than to our
own time, which shows Commodore Stockton, during the recent war with
Mexico, governing the American squadron in the Pacific without
employing the scourge.

But if of three famous English Admirals one has abhorred flogging,
another almost governed his ships without it, and to the third it may
be supposed to have been unknown, while an American Commander has,
within the present year almost, been enabled to sustain the good
discipline of an entire squadron in time of war without having an
instrument of scourging on board, what inevitable inferences must be
drawn, and how disastrous to the mental character of all advocates of
navy flogging, who may happen to be navy officers themselves.

It cannot have escaped the discernment of any observer of mankind,
that, in the presence of its conventional inferiors, conscious
imbecility in power often seeks to carry off that imbecility by
assumptions of lordly severity. The amount of flogging on board an
American man-of-war is, in many cases, in exact proportion to the
professional and intellectual incapacity of her officers to command.
Thus, in these cases, the law that authorises flogging does but put a
scourge into the hand of a fool. In most calamitous instances this has
been shown.

It is a matter of record, that some English ships of war have fallen a
prey to the enemy through the insubordination of the crew, induced by
the witless cruelty of their officers; officers so armed by the law
that they could inflict that cruelty without restraint. Nor have there
been wanting instances where the seamen have ran away with their ships,
as in the case of the Hermione and Danae, and forever rid themselves of
the outrageous inflictions of their officers by sacrificing their lives
to their fury.

Events like these aroused the attention of the British public at the
time. But it was a tender theme, the public agitation of which the
government was anxious to suppress. Nevertheless, whenever the thing
was privately discussed, these terrific mutinies, together with the
then prevailing insubordination of the men in the navy, were almost
universally attributed to the exasperating system of flogging. And the
necessity for flogging was generally believed to be directly referable
to the impressment of such crowds of dissatisfied men. And in high
quarters it was held that if, by any mode, the English fleet could be
manned without resource to coercive measures, then the necessity of
flogging would cease.

“If we abolish either impressment or flogging, the abolition of the
other will follow as a matter of course.” This was the language of the
_Edinburgh Review_, at a still later period, 1824.

If, then, the necessity of flogging in the British armed marine was
solely attributed to the impressment of the seamen, what faintest
shadow of reason is there for the continuance of this barbarity in the
American service, which is wholly freed from the reproach of

It is true that, during a long period of non-impressment, and even down
to the present day, flogging has been, and still is, the law of the
English navy. But in things of this kind England should be nothing to
us, except an example to be shunned. Nor should wise legislators wholly
govern themselves by precedents, and conclude that, since scourging has
so long prevailed, some virtue must reside in it. Not so. The world has
arrived at a period which renders it the part of Wisdom to pay homage
to the prospective precedents of the Future in preference to those of
the Past. The Past is dead, and has no resurrection; but the Future is
endowed with such a life, that it lives to us even in anticipation. The
Past is, in many things, the foe of mankind; the Future is, in all
things, our friend. In the Past is no hope; the Future is both hope and
fruition. The Past is the text-book of tyrants; the Future the Bible of
the Free. Those who are solely governed by the Past stand like Lot’s
wife, crystallised in the act of looking backward, and forever
incapable of looking before.

Let us leave the Past, then, to dictate laws to immovable China; let us
abandon it to the Chinese Legitimists of Europe. But for us, we will
have another captain to rule over us—that captain who ever marches at
the head of his troop and beckons them forward, not lingering in the
rear, and impeding their march with lumbering baggage-wagons of old
precedents. _This_ is the Past.

But in many things we Americans are driven to a rejection of the maxims
of the Past, seeing that, ere long, the van of the nations must, of
right, belong to ourselves. There are occasions when it is for America
to make precedents, and not to obey them. We should, if possible, prove
a teacher to posterity, instead of being the pupil of by-gone
generations. More shall come after us than have gone before; the world
is not yet middle-aged.

Escaped from the house of bondage, Israel of old did not follow after
the ways of the Egyptians. To her was given an express dispensation; to
her were given new things under the sun. And we Americans are the
peculiar, chosen people—the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the
liberties of the world. Seventy years ago we escaped from thrall; and,
besides our first birthright—embracing one continent of earth—God has
given to us, for a future inheritance, the broad domains of the
political pagans, that shall yet come and lie down under the shade of
our ark, without bloody hands being lifted. God has predestinated,
mankind expects, great things from our race; and great things we feel
in our souls. The rest of the nations must soon be in our rear. We are
the pioneers of the world; the advance-guard, sent on through the
wilderness of untried things, to break a new path in the New World that
is ours. In our youth is our strength; in our inexperience, our wisdom.
At a period when other nations have but lisped, our deep voice is heard
afar. Long enough, have we been skeptics with regard to ourselves, and
doubted whether, indeed, the political Messiah had come. But he has
come in us, if we would but give utterance to his promptings. And let
us always remember that with ourselves, almost for the first time in
the history of earth, national selfishness is unbounded philanthropy;
for we can not do a good to America but we give alms to the world.


We had just slid into pleasant weather, drawing near to the Tropics,
when all hands were thrown into a wonderful excitement by an event that
eloquently appealed to many palates.

A man at the fore-top-sail-yard sung out that there were eight or ten
dark objects floating on the sea, some three points off our lee-bow.

“Keep her off three points!” cried Captain Claret, to the
quarter-master at the _cun_.

And thus, with all our batteries, store-rooms, and five hundred men,
with their baggage, and beds, and provisions, at one move of a round
bit of mahogany, our great-embattled ark edged away for the strangers,
as easily as a boy turns to the right or left in pursuit of insects in
the field.

Directly the man on the top-sail-yard reported the dark objects to be
hogsheads. Instantly all the top-men were straining their eyes, in
delirious expectation of having their long _grog fast_ broken at last,
and that, too, by what seemed an almost miraculous intervention. It was
a curious circumstance that, without knowing the contents of the
hogsheads, they yet seemed certain that the staves encompassed the
thing they longed for.

Sail was now shortened, our headway was stopped, and a cutter was
lowered, with orders to tow the fleet of strangers alongside. The men
sprang to their oars with a will, and soon five goodly puncheons lay
wallowing in the sea, just under the main-chains. We got overboard the
slings, and hoisted them out of the water.

It was a sight that Bacchus and his bacchanals would have gloated over.
Each puncheon was of a deep-green color, so covered with minute
barnacles and shell-fish, and streaming with sea-weed, that it needed
long searching to find out their bung-holes; they looked like venerable
old _loggerhead-turtles._ How long they had been tossing about, and
making voyages for the benefit of the flavour of their contents, no one
could tell. In trying to raft them ashore, or on board of some
merchant-ship, they must have drifted off to sea. This we inferred from
the ropes that length-wise united them, and which, from one point of
view, made them resemble a long sea-serpent. They were _struck_ into
the gun-deck, where, the eager crowd being kept off by sentries, the
cooper was called with his tools.

“Bung up, and bilge free!” he cried, in an ecstasy, flourishing his
driver and hammer.

Upon clearing away the barnacles and moss, a flat sort of shell-fish
was found, closely adhering, like a California-shell, right over one of
the bungs. Doubtless this shell-fish had there taken up his quarters,
and thrown his own body into the breach, in order the better to
preserve the precious contents of the cask. The by-standers were
breathless, when at last this puncheon was canted over and a tin-pot
held to the orifice. What was to come forth? salt-water or wine? But a
rich purple tide soon settled the question, and the lieutenant assigned
to taste it, with a loud and satisfactory smack of his lips, pronounced
it Port!

“Oporto!” cried Mad Jack, “and no mistake!”

But, to the surprise, grief, and consternation of the sailors, an order
now came from the quarter-deck to strike the “strangers down into the
main-hold!” This proceeding occasioned all sorts of censorious
observations upon the Captain, who, of course, had authorised it.

It must be related here that, on the passage out from home, the
Neversink had touched at Madeira; and there, as is often the case with
men-of-war, the Commodore and Captain had laid in a goodly stock of
wines for their own private tables, and the benefit of their foreign
visitors. And although the Commodore was a small, spare man, who
evidently emptied but few glasses, yet Captain Claret was a portly
gentleman, with a crimson face, whose father had fought at the battle
of the Brandywine, and whose brother had commanded the well-known
frigate named in honour of that engagement. And his whole appearance
evinced that Captain Claret himself had fought many Brandywine battles
ashore in honour of his sire’s memory, and commanded in many bloodless
Brandywine actions at sea.

It was therefore with some savour of provocation that the sailors held
forth on the ungenerous conduct of Captain Claret, in stepping in
between them and Providence, as it were, which by this lucky windfall,
they held, seemed bent upon relieving their necessities; while Captain
Claret himself, with an inexhaustible cellar, emptied his Madeira
decanters at his leisure.

But next day all hands were electrified by the old familiar sound—so
long hushed—of the drum rolling to grog.

After that the port was served out twice a day, till all was expended.


The next day was Sunday; a fact set down in the almanac, spite of
merchant seamen’s maxim, that _there are no Sundays of soundings_.

_No Sundays off soundings,_ indeed! No Sundays on shipboard! You may as
well say there should be no Sundays in churches; for is not a ship
modeled after a church? has it not three spires—three steeples? yea,
and on the gun-deck, a bell and a belfry? And does not that bell
merrily peal every Sunday morning, to summon the crew to devotions?

At any rate, there were Sundays on board this particular frigate of
ours, and a clergyman also. He was a slender, middle-aged man, of an
amiable deportment and irreproachable conversation; but I must say,
that his sermons were but ill calculated to benefit the crew. He had
drank at the mystic fountain of Plato; his head had been turned by the
Germans; and this I will say, that White-Jacket himself saw him with
Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria in his hand.

Fancy, now, this transcendental divine standing behind a gun-carriage
on the main-deck, and addressing five hundred salt-sea sinners upon the
psychological phenomena of the soul, and the ontological necessity of
every sailor’s saving it at all hazards. He enlarged upon the follies
of the ancient philosophers; learnedly alluded to the Phiedon of Plato;
exposed the follies of Simplicius’s Commentary on Aristotle’s “De
Coelo,” by arraying against that clever Pagan author the admired tract
of Tertullian—_De Prascriptionibus Haereticorum_—and concluded by a
Sanscrit invocation. He was particularly hard upon the Gnostics and
Marcionites of the second century of the Christian era; but he never,
in the remotest manner, attacked the everyday vices of the nineteenth
century, as eminently illustrated in our man-of-war world. Concerning
drunkenness, fighting, flogging, and oppression—things expressly or
impliedly prohibited by Christianity—he never said aught. But the most
mighty Commodore and Captain sat before him; and in general, if, in a
monarchy, the state form the audience of the church, little evangelical
piety will be preached. Hence, the harmless, non-committal abstrusities
of our Chaplain were not to be wondered at. He was no Massillon, to
thunder forth his ecclesiastical rhetoric, even when a Louis le Grand
was enthroned among his congregation. Nor did the chaplains who
preached on the quarter-deck of Lord Nelson ever allude to the guilty
Felix, nor to Delilah, nor practically reason of righteousness,
temperance, and judgment to come, when that renowned Admiral sat,
sword-belted, before them.

During these Sunday discourses, the officers always sat in a circle
round the Chaplain, and, with a business-like air, steadily preserved
the utmost propriety. In particular, our old Commodore himself made a
point of looking intensely edified; and not a sailor on board but
believed that the Commodore, being the greatest man present, must alone
comprehend the mystic sentences that fell from our parson’s lips.

Of all the noble lords in the ward-room, this lord-spiritual, with the
exception of the Purser, was in the highest favour with the Commodore,
who frequently conversed with him in a close and confidential manner.
Nor, upon reflection, was this to be marvelled at, seeing how
efficacious, in all despotic governments, it is for the throne and
altar to go hand-in-hand.

The accommodations of our chapel were very poor. We had nothing to sit
on but the great gun-rammers and capstan-bars, placed horizontally upon
shot-boxes. These seats were exceedingly uncomfortable, wearing out our
trowsers and our tempers, and, no doubt, impeded the con-version of
many valuable souls.

To say the truth, men-of-war’s-men, in general, make but poor auditors
upon these occasions, and adopt every possible means to elude them.
Often the boatswain’s-mates were obliged to drive the men to service,
violently swearing upon these occasions, as upon every other.

“Go to prayers, d——n you! To prayers, you rascals—to prayers!” In this
clerical invitation Captain Claret would frequently unite.

At this Jack Chase would sometimes make merry. “Come, boys, don’t hang
back,” he would say; “come, let us go hear the parson talk about his
Lord High Admiral Plato, and Commodore Socrates.”

But, in one instance, grave exception was taken to this summons. A
remarkably serious, but bigoted seaman, a sheet-anchor-man—whose
private devotions may hereafter be alluded to—once touched his hat to
the Captain, and respectfully said, “Sir, I am a Baptist; the chaplain
is an Episcopalian; his form of worship is not mine; I do not believe
with him, and it is against my conscience to be under his ministry. May
I be allowed, sir, _not_ to attend service on the half-deck?”

“You will be allowed, sir!” said the Captain, haughtily, “to obey the
laws of the ship. If you absent yourself from prayers on Sunday
mornings, you know the penalty.”

According to the Articles of War, the Captain was perfectly right; but
if any law requiring an American to attend divine service against his
will be a law respecting the establishment of religion, then the
Articles of War are, in this one particular, opposed to the American
Constitution, which expressly says, “Congress shall make no law
respecting the establishment of religion, or the free exercise
thereof.” But this is only one of several things in which the Articles
of War are repugnant to that instrument. They will be glanced at in
another part of the narrative.

The motive which prompts the introduction of chaplains into the Navy
cannot but be warmly responded to by every Christian. But it does not
follow, that because chaplains are to be found in men-of-war, that,
under the present system, they achieve much good, or that, under any
other, they ever will.

How can it be expected that the religion of peace should flourish in an
oaken castle of war? How can it be expected that the clergyman, whose
pulpit is a forty-two-pounder, should convert sinners to a faith that
enjoins them to turn the right cheek when the left is smitten? How is
it to be expected that when, according to the XLII. of the Articles of
War, as they now stand unrepealed on the Statute-book, “a bounty shall
be paid” (to the officers and crew) “by the United States government of
$20 for each person on board any ship of an enemy which shall be sunk
or destroyed by any United States ship;” and when, by a subsequent
section (vii.), it is provided, among other apportionings, that the
chaplain shall receive “two twentieths” of this price paid for sinking
and destroying ships full of human beings? How is it to be expected
that a clergyman, thus provided for, should prove efficacious in
enlarging upon the criminality of Judas, who, for thirty pieces of
silver, betrayed his Master?

Although, by the regulations of the Navy, each seaman’s mess on board
the _Neversink_ was furnished with a Bible, these Bibles were seldom or
never to be seen, except on Sunday mornings, when usage demands that
they shall be exhibited by the cooks of the messes, when the
master-at-arms goes his rounds on the berth-deck. At such times, they
usually surmounted a highly-polished tin-pot placed on the lid of the

Yet, for all this, the Christianity of men-of-war’s men, and their
disposition to contribute to pious enterprises, are often relied upon.
Several times subscription papers were circulated among the crew of the
Neversink, while in harbour, under the direct patronage of the
Chaplain. One was for the purpose of building a seaman’s chapel in
China; another to pay the salary of a tract-distributor in Greece; a
third to raise a fund for the benefit of an African Colonization

Where the Captain himself is a moral man, he makes a far better
chaplain for his crew than any clergyman can be. This is sometimes
illustrated in the case of sloops of war and armed brigs, which are not
allowed a regular chaplain. I have known one crew, who were warmly
attached to a naval commander worthy of their love, who have mustered
even with alacrity to the call to prayer; and when their Captain would
read the Church of England service to them, would present a
congregation not to be surpassed for earnestness and devotion by any
Scottish Kirk. It seemed like family devotions, where the head of the
house is foremost in confessing himself before his Maker. But our own
hearts are our best prayer-rooms, and the chaplains who can most help
us are ourselves.


In good time we were up with the parallel of Rio de Janeiro, and,
standing in for the land, the mist soon cleared; and high aloft the
famed Sugar Loaf pinnacle was seen, our bowsprit pointing for it
straight as a die.

As we glided on toward our anchorage, the bands of the various
men-of-war in harbour saluted us with national airs, and gallantly
lowered their ensigns. Nothing can exceed the courteous etiquette of
these ships, of all nations, in greeting their brethren. Of all men,
your accomplished duellist is generally the most polite.

We lay in Rio some weeks, lazily taking in stores and otherwise
preparing for the passage home. But though Rio is one of the most
magnificent bays in the world; though the city itself contains many
striking objects; and though much might be said of the Sugar Loaf and
Signal Hill heights; and the little islet of Lucia; and the fortified
Ihla Dos Cobras, or Isle of the Snakes (though the only anacondas and
adders now found in the arsenals there are great guns and pistols); and
Lord Wood’s Nose—a lofty eminence said by seamen to resemble his
lordship’s conch-shell; and the Prays do Flamingo—a noble tract of
beach, so called from its having been the resort, in olden times, of
those gorgeous birds; and the charming Bay of Botofogo, which, spite of
its name, is fragrant as the neighbouring Larangieros, or Valley of the
Oranges; and the green Gloria Hill, surmounted by the belfries of the
queenly Church of Nossa Senora de Gloria; and the iron-gray Benedictine
convent near by; and the fine drive and promenade, Passeo Publico; and
the massive arch-over-arch aqueduct, Arcos de Carico; and the Emperor’s
Palace; and the Empress’s Gardens; and the fine Church de Candelaria;
and the gilded throne on wheels, drawn by eight silken, silver-belled
mules, in which, of pleasant evenings, his Imperial Majesty is driven
out of town to his Moorish villa of St. Christova—ay, though much might
be said of all this, yet must I forbear, if I may, and adhere to my one
proper object, _the world in a man-of-war_.

Behold, now, the Neversink under a new aspect. With all her batteries,
she is tranquilly lying in harbour, surrounded by English, French,
Dutch, Portuguese, and Brazilian seventy-fours, moored in the
deep-green water, close under the lee of that oblong, castellated mass
of rock, Ilha Dos Cobras, which, with its port-holes and lofty
flag-staffs, looks like another man-of-war, fast anchored in the way.
But what is an insular fortress, indeed, but an embattled land-slide
into the sea from the world Gibraltars and Quebecs? And what a
main-land fortress but a few decks of a line-of-battle ship
transplanted ashore? They are all one—all, as King David, men-of-war
from their youth.

Ay, behold now the Neversink at her anchors, in many respects
presenting a different appearance from what she presented at sea. Nor
is the routine of life on board the same.

At sea there is more to employ the sailors, and less temptation to
violations of the law. Whereas, in port, unless some particular service
engages them, they lead the laziest of lives, beset by all the
allurements of the shore, though perhaps that shore they may never

Unless you happen to belong to one of the numerous boats, which, in a
man-of-war in harbour, are continually plying to and from the land, you
are mostly thrown upon your own resources to while away the time. Whole
days frequently pass without your being individually called upon to
lift a finger; for though, in the merchant-service, they make a point
of keeping the men always busy about something or other, yet, to employ
five hundred sailors when there is nothing definite to be done wholly
surpasses the ingenuity of any First Lieutenant in the Navy.

As mention has just been made of the numerous boats employed in
harbour, something more may as well be put down concerning them. Our
frigate carried a very large boat—as big as a small sloop—called a
_launch_, which was generally used for getting off wood, water, and
other bulky articles. Besides this, she carried four boats of an
arithmetical progression in point of size—the largest being known as
the first cutter, the next largest the second cutter, then the third
and fourth cutters. She also carried a Commodore’s Barge, a Captain’s
Gig, and a “dingy,” a small yawl, with a crew of apprentice boys. All
these boats, except the “dingy,” had their regular crews, who were
subordinate to their cockswains—_petty officers_, receiving pay in
addition to their seaman’s wages.

The _launch_ was manned by the old Tritons of the forecastle, who were
no ways particular about their dress, while the other
boats—commissioned for genteeler duties—were rowed by young follows,
mostly, who had a dandy eye to their personal appearance. Above all,
the officers see to it that the Commodore’s Barge and the Captain’s Gig
are manned by gentlemanly youths, who may do credit to their country,
and form agreeable objects for the eyes of the Commodore or Captain to
repose upon as he tranquilly sits in the stern, when pulled ashore by
his barge-men or gig-men, as the case may be. Some sailors are very
fond of belonging to the boats, and deem it a great honour to be a
_Commodore’s barge-man_; but others, perceiving no particular
distinction in that office, do not court it so much.

On the second day after arriving at Rio, one of the gig-men fell sick,
and, to my no small concern, I found myself temporarily appointed to
his place.

“Come, White-Jacket, rig yourself in white—that’s the gig’s uniform
to-day; you are a gig-man, my boy—give ye joy!” This was the first
announcement of the fact that I heard; but soon after it was officially

I was about to seek the First Lieutenant, and plead the scantiness of
my wardrobe, which wholly disqualified me to fill so distinguished a
station, when I heard the bugler call away the “gig;” and, without more
ado, I slipped into a clean frock, which a messmate doffed for my
benefit, and soon after found myself pulling off his High Mightiness,
the Captain, to an English seventy-four.

As we were bounding along, the cockswain suddenly cried “Oars!” At the
word every oar was suspended in the air, while our Commodore’s barge
floated by, bearing that dignitary himself. At the sight, Captain
Claret removed his chapeau, and saluted profoundly, our boat lying
motionless on the water. But the barge never stopped; and the Commodore
made but a slight return to the obsequious salute he had received.

We then resumed rowing, and presently I heard “Oars!” again; but from
another boat, the second cutter, which turned out to be carrying a
Lieutenant ashore. If was now Captain Claret’s turn to be honoured. The
cutter lay still, and the Lieutenant off hat; while the Captain only
nodded, and we kept on our way.

This naval etiquette is very much like the etiquette at the Grand Porte
of Constantinople, where, after washing the Sublime Sultan’s feet, the
Grand Vizier avenges himself on an Emir, who does the same office for

When we arrived aboard the English seventy-four, the Captain was
received with the usual honours, and the gig’s crew were conducted
below, and hospitably regaled with some spirits, served out by order of
the officer of the deck.

Soon after, the English crew went to quarters; and as they stood up at
their guns, all along the main-deck, a row of beef-fed Britons,
stalwart-looking fellows, I was struck with the contrast they afforded
to similar sights on board of the Neversink.

For on board of us our “_quarters_” showed an array of rather slender,
lean-checked chaps. But then I made no doubt, that, in a sea-tussle,
these lantern-jawed varlets would have approved themselves as slender
Damascus blades, nimble and flexible; whereas these Britons would have
been, perhaps, as sturdy broadswords. Yet every one remembers that
story of Saladin and Richard trying their respective blades; how
gallant Richard clove an anvil in twain, or something quite as
ponderous, and Saladin elegantly severed a cushion; so that the two
monarchs were even—each excelling in his way—though, unfortunately for
my simile, in a patriotic point of view, Richard whipped Saladin’s
armies in the end.

There happened to be a lord on board of this ship—the younger son of an
earl, they told me. He was a fine-looking fellow. I chanced to stand by
when he put a question to an Irish captain of a gum; upon the seaman’s
inadvertently saying sir to him, his lordship looked daggers at the
slight; and the sailor touching his hat a thousand times, said,
“Pardon, your honour; I meant to say _my lord_, sir!”

I was much pleased with an old white-headed musician, who stood at the
main hatchway, with his enormous bass drum full before him, and
thumping it sturdily to the tune of “God Save the King!” though small
mercy did he have on his drum-heads. Two little boys were clashing
cymbals, and another was blowing a fife, with his cheeks puffed out
like the plumpest of his country’s plum-puddings.

When we returned from this trip, there again took place that
ceremonious reception of our captain on board the vessel he commanded,
which always had struck me as exceedingly diverting.

In the first place, while in port, one of the quarter-masters is always
stationed on the poop with a spy-glass, to look out for all boats
approaching, and report the same to the officer of the deck; also, who
it is that may be coming in them; so that preparations may be made
accordingly. As soon, then, as the gig touched the side, a mighty
shrill piping was heard, as if some boys were celebrating the Fourth of
July with penny whistles. This proceeded from a boatswain’s mate, who,
standing at the gangway, was thus honouring the Captain’s return after
his long and perilous absence.

The Captain then slowly mounted the ladder, and gravely marching
through a lane of “_side-boys_,” so called—all in their best bibs and
tuckers, and who stood making sly faces behind his back—was received by
all the Lieutenants in a body, their hats in their hands, and making a
prodigious scraping and bowing, as if they had just graduated at a
French dancing-school. Meanwhile, preserving an erect, inflexible, and
ram-rod carriage, and slightly touching his chapeau, the Captain made
his ceremonious way to the cabin, disappearing behind the scenes, like
the pasteboard ghost in Hamlet.

But these ceremonies are nothing to those in homage of the Commodore’s
arrival, even should he depart and arrive twenty times a day. Upon such
occasions, the whole marine guard, except the sentries on duty, are
marshalled on the quarter-deck, presenting arms as the Commodore passes
them; while their commanding officer gives the military salute with his
sword, as if making masonic signs. Meanwhile, the boatswain himself—not
a _boatswain’s mate_—is keeping up a persevering whistling with his
silver pipe; for the Commodore is never greeted with the rude whistle
of a boatswain’s subaltern; _that_ would be positively insulting. All
the Lieutenants and Midshipmen, besides the Captain himself, are drawn
up in a phalanx, and off hat together; and the _side-boys_, whose
number is now increased to ten or twelve, make an imposing display at
the gangway; while the whole brass band, elevated upon the poop, strike
up “See! the Conquering Hero Comes!” At least, this was the tune that
our Captain always hinted, by a gesture, to the captain of the band,
whenever the Commodore arrived from shore.

It conveyed a complimentary appreciation, on the Captain’s part, of the
Commodore’s heroism during the late war.

To return to the gig. As I did not relish the idea of being a sort of
body-servant to Captain Claret—since his gig-men were often called upon
to scrub his cabin floor, and perform other duties for him—I made it my
particular business to get rid of my appointment in his boat as soon as
possible, and the next day after receiving it, succeeded in procuring a
substitute, who was glad of the chance to fill the position I so much

And thus, with our counterlikes and dislikes, most of us
men-of-war’s-men harmoniously dove-tail into each other, and, by our
very points of opposition, unite in a clever whole, like the parts of a
Chinese puzzle. But as, in a Chinese puzzle, many pieces are hard to
place, so there are some unfortunate fellows who can never slip into
their proper angles, and thus the whole puzzle becomes a puzzle indeed,
which is the precise condition of the greatest puzzle in the world—this
man-of-war world itself.


The ceremonials of a man-of-war, some of which have been described in
the preceding chapter, may merit a reflection or two.

The general usages of the American Navy are founded upon the usages
that prevailed in the navy of monarchical England more than a century
ago; nor have they been materially altered since. And while both
England and America have become greatly liberalised in the interval;
while shore pomp in high places has come to be regarded by the more
intelligent masses of men as belonging to the absurd, ridiculous, and
mock-heroic; while that most truly august of all the majesties of
earth, the President of the United States, may be seen entering his
residence with his umbrella under his arm, and no brass band or
military guard at his heels, and unostentatiously taking his seat by
the side of the meanest citizen in a public conveyance; while this is
the case, there still lingers in American men-of-war all the stilted
etiquette and childish parade of the old-fashioned Spanish court of
Madrid. Indeed, so far as the things that meet the eye are concerned,
an American Commodore is by far a greater man than the President of
twenty millions of freemen.

But we plain people ashore might very willingly be content to leave
these commodores in the unmolested possession of their gilded penny
whistles, rattles, and gewgaws, since they seem to take so much
pleasure in them, were it not that all this is attended by consequences
to their subordinates in the last degree to be deplored.

While hardly any one will question that a naval officer should be
surrounded by circumstances calculated to impart a requisite dignity to
his position, it is not the less certain that, by the excessive pomp he
at present maintains, there is naturally and unavoidably generated a
feeling of servility and debasement in the hearts of most of the seamen
who continually behold a fellow-mortal flourishing over their heads
like the archangel Michael with a thousand wings. And as, in degree,
this same pomp is observed toward their inferiors by all the grades of
commissioned officers, even down to a midshipman, the evil is
proportionately multiplied.

It would not at all diminish a proper respect for the officers, and
subordination to their authority among the seamen, were all this idle
parade—only ministering to the arrogance of the officers, without at
all benefiting the state—completely done away. But to do so, we voters
and lawgivers ourselves must be no respecters of persons.

That saying about _levelling upward, and not downward_, may seem very
fine to those who cannot see its self-involved absurdity. But the truth
is, that, to gain the true level, in some things, we _must_ cut
downward; for how can you make every sailor a commodore? or how raise
the valleys, without filling them up with the superfluous tops of the

Some discreet, but democratic, legislation in this matter is much to be
desired. And by bringing down naval officers, in these things at least,
without affecting their legitimate dignity and authority, we shall
correspondingly elevate the common sailor, without relaxing the
subordination, in which he should by all means be retained.


Nowhere does time pass more heavily than with most men-of-war’s-men on
board their craft in harbour.

One of my principal antidotes against _ennui_ in Rio, was reading.
There was a public library on board, paid for by government, and
intrusted to the custody of one of the marine corporals, a little,
dried-up man, of a somewhat literary turn. He had once been a clerk in
a post-office ashore; and, having been long accustomed to hand over
letters when called for, he was now just the man to hand over books. He
kept them in a large cask on the berth-deck, and, when seeking a
particular volume, had to capsize it like a barrel of potatoes. This
made him very cross and irritable, as most all librarians are. Who had
the selection of these books, I do not know, but some of them must have
been selected by our Chaplain, who so pranced on Coleridge’s “_High
German horse_.”

Mason Good’s Book of Nature—a very good book, to be sure, but not
precisely adapted to tarry tastes—was one of these volumes; and
Machiavel’s Art of War—which was very dry fighting; and a folio of
Tillotson’s Sermons—the best of reading for divines, indeed, but with
little relish for a main-top-man; and Locke’s Essays—incomparable
essays, everybody knows, but miserable reading at sea; and Plutarch’s
Lives—super-excellent biographies, which pit Greek against Roman in
beautiful style, but then, in a sailor’s estimation, not to be
mentioned with the _Lives of the Admirals_; and Blair’s Lectures,
University Edition—a fine treatise on rhetoric, but having nothing to
say about nautical phrases, such as “_splicing the main-brace_,”
“_passing a gammoning_,” “_puddinging the dolphin_,” and “_making a
Carrick-bend_;” besides numerous invaluable but unreadable tomes, that
might have been purchased cheap at the auction of some
college-professor’s library.

But I found ample entertainment in a few choice old authors, whom I
stumbled upon in various parts of the ship, among the inferior
officers. One was “_Morgan’s History of Algiers_,” a famous old quarto,
abounding in picturesque narratives of corsairs, captives, dungeons,
and sea-fights; and making mention of a cruel old Dey, who, toward the
latter part of his life, was so filled with remorse for his cruelties
and crimes that he could not stay in bed after four o’clock in the
morning, but had to rise in great trepidation and walk off his bad
feelings till breakfast time. And another venerable octavo, containing
a certificate from Sir Christopher Wren to its authenticity, entitled
“_Knox’s Captivity in Ceylon, 1681_”—abounding in stories about the
Devil, who was superstitiously supposed to tyrannise over that
unfortunate land: to mollify him, the priests offered up buttermilk,
red cocks, and sausages; and the Devil ran roaring about in the woods,
frightening travellers out of their wits; insomuch that the Islanders
bitterly lamented to Knox that their country was full of devils, and
consequently, there was no hope for their eventual well-being. Knox
swears that he himself heard the Devil roar, though he did not see his
horns; it was a terrible noise, he says, like the baying of a hungry

Then there was Walpole’s Letters—very witty, pert, and polite—and some
odd volumes of plays, each of which was a precious casket of jewels of
good things, shaming the trash nowadays passed off for dramas,
containing “The Jew of Malta,” “Old Fortunatus,” “The City Madam.”
“Volpone,” “The Alchymist,” and other glorious old dramas of the age of
Marlow and Jonson, and that literary Damon and Pythias, the
magnificent, mellow old Beaumont and Fletcher, who have sent the long
shadow of their reputation, side by side with Shakspeare’s, far down
the endless vale of posterity. And may that shadow never be less! but
as for St. Shakspeare may his never be more, lest the commentators
arise, and settling upon his sacred text like unto locusts, devour it
clean up, leaving never a dot over an I.

I diversified this reading of mine, by borrowing Moore’s “_Loves of the
Angels_” from Rose-water, who recommended it as “_de charmingest of
volumes;_” and a Negro Song-book, containing _Sittin’ on a Rail_,
_Gumbo Squash_, and _Jim along Josey_, from Broadbit, a
sheet-anchor-man. The sad taste of this old tar, in admiring such
vulgar stuff, was much denounced by Rose-water, whose own predilections
were of a more elegant nature, as evinced by his exalted opinion of the
literary merits of the “_Loves of the Angels_.”

I was by no means the only reader of books on board the Neversink.
Several other sailors were diligent readers, though their studies did
not lie in the way of belles-lettres. Their favourite authors were such
as you may find at the book-stalls around Fulton Market; they were
slightly physiological in their nature. My book experiences on board of
the frigate proved an example of a fact which every book-lover must
have experienced before me, namely, that though public libraries have
an imposing air, and doubtless contain invaluable volumes, yet,
somehow, the books that prove most agreeable, grateful, and
companionable, are those we pick up by chance here and there; those
which seem put into our hands by Providence; those which pretend to
little, but abound in much.


Reading was by no means the only method adopted by my shipmates in
whiling away the long, tedious hours in harbour. In truth, many of them
could not have read, had they wanted to ever so much; in early youth
their primers had been sadly neglected. Still, they had other pursuits;
some were experts at the needle, and employed their time in making
elaborate shirts, stitching picturesque eagles, and anchors, and all
the stars of the federated states in the collars thereof; so that when
they at last completed and put on these shirts, they may be said to
have hoisted the American colors.

Others excelled in _tattooing_ or _pricking_, as it is called in a
man-of-war. Of these prickers, two had long been celebrated, in their
way, as consummate masters of the art. Each had a small box full of
tools and colouring matter; and they charged so high for their
services, that at the end of the cruise they were supposed to have
cleared upward of four hundred dollars. They would _prick_ you to order
a palm-tree, or an anchor, a crucifix, a lady, a lion, an eagle, or
anything else you might want.

The Roman Catholic sailors on board had at least the crucifix pricked
on their arms, and for this reason: If they chanced to die in a
Catholic land, they would be sure of a decent burial in consecrated
ground, as the priest would be sure to observe the symbol of Mother
Church on their persons. They would not fare as Protestant sailors
dying in Callao, who are shoved under the sands of St. Lorenzo, a
solitary, volcanic island in the harbour, overrun with reptiles, their
heretical bodies not being permitted to repose in the more genial loam
of Lima.

And many sailors not Catholics were anxious to have the crucifix
painted on them, owing to a curious superstition of theirs. They
affirm—some of them—that if you have that mark tattooed upon all four
limbs, you might fall overboard among seven hundred and seventy-five
thousand white sharks, all dinnerless, and not one of them would so
much as dare to smell at your little finger.

We had one fore-top-man on board, who, during the entire cruise, was
having an endless cable _pricked_ round and round his waist, so that,
when his frock was off, he looked like a capstan with a hawser coiled
round about it. This fore-top-man paid eighteen pence per link for the
cable, besides being on the smart the whole cruise, suffering the
effects of his repeated puncturings; so he paid very dear for his

One other mode of passing time while in port was cleaning and polishing
your _bright-work_; for it must be known that, in men-of-war, every
sailor has some brass or steel of one kind or other to keep in high
order—like housemaids, whose business it is to keep well-polished the
knobs on the front door railing and the parlour-grates.

Excepting the ring-bolts, eye-bolts, and belaying-pins scattered about
the decks, this bright-work, as it is called, is principally about the
guns, embracing the “_monkey-tails_” of the carronades, the screws,
_prickers_, little irons, and other things.

The portion that fell to my own share I kept in superior order, quite
equal in polish to Rogers’s best cutlery. I received the most
extravagant encomiums from the officers; one of whom offered to match
me against any brazier or brass-polisher in her British Majesty’s Navy.
Indeed, I devoted myself to the work body and soul, and thought no
pains too painful, and no labour too laborious, to achieve the highest
attainable polish possible for us poor lost sons of Adam to reach.

Upon one occasion, even, when woollen rags were scarce, and no
burned-brick was to be had from the ship’s Yeoman, I sacrificed the
corners of my woollen shirt, and used some dentrifice I had, as
substitutes for the rags and burned-brick. The dentrifice operated
delightfully, and made the threading of my carronade screw shine and
grin again, like a set of false teeth in an eager heiress-hunter’s

Still another mode of passing time, was arraying yourself in your best
“_togs_” and promenading up and down the gun-deck, admiring the shore
scenery from the port-holes, which, in an amphitheatrical bay like
Rio—belted about by the most varied and charming scenery of hill, dale,
moss, meadow, court, castle, tower, grove, vine, vineyard, aqueduct,
palace, square, island, fort—is very much like lounging round a
circular cosmorama, and ever and anon lazily peeping through the
glasses here and there. Oh! there is something worth living for, even
in our man-of-war world; and one glimpse of a bower of grapes, though a
cable’s length off, is almost satisfaction for dining off a shank-bone
salted down.

This promenading was chiefly patronised by the marines, and
particularly by Colbrook, a remarkably handsome and very gentlemanly
corporal among them. He was a complete lady’s man; with fine black
eyes, bright red cheeks, glossy jet whiskers, and a refined
organisation of the whole man. He used to array himself in his
regimentals, and saunter about like an officer of the Coldstream
Guards, strolling down to his club in St. James’s. Every time he passed
me, he would heave a sentimental sigh, and hum to himself “_The girl I
left behind me_.” This fine corporal afterward became a representative
in the Legislature of the State of New Jersey; for I saw his name
returned about a year after my return home.

But, after all, there was not much room, while in port, for
promenading, at least on the gun-deck, for the whole larboard side is
kept clear for the benefit of the officers, who appreciate the
advantages of having a clear stroll fore and aft; and they well know
that the sailors had much better be crowded together on the other side
than that the set of their own coat-tails should be impaired by
brushing against their tarry trowsers.

One other way of killing time while in port is playing checkers; that
is, when it is permitted; for it is not every navy captain who will
allow such a scandalous proceeding, But, as for Captain Claret, though
he _did_ like his glass of Madeira uncommonly well, and was an
undoubted descendant from the hero of the Battle of the Brandywine, and
though he sometimes showed a suspiciously flushed face when
superintending in person the flogging of a sailor for getting
intoxicated against his particular orders, yet I will say for Captain
Claret that, upon the whole, he was rather indulgent to his crew, so
long as they were perfectly docile. He allowed them to play checkers as
much as they pleased. More than once I have known him, when going
forward to the forecastle, pick his way carefully among scores of
canvas checker-cloths spread upon the deck, so as not to tread upon the
men—the checker-men and man-of-war’s-men included; but, in a certain
sense, they were both one; for, as the sailors used their checker-men,
so, at quarters, their officers used these man-of-war’s men.

But Captain Claret’s leniency in permitting checkers on board his ship
might have arisen from the following little circumstance,
confidentially communicated to me. Soon after the ship had sailed from
home, checkers were prohibited; whereupon the sailors were exasperated
against the Captain, and one night, when he was walking round the
forecastle, bim! came an iron belaying-pin past his ears; and while he
was dodging that, bim! came another, from the other side; so that, it
being a very dark night, and nobody to be seen, and it being impossible
to find out the trespassers, he thought it best to get back into his
cabin as soon as possible. Some time after—just as if the belaying-pins
had nothing to do with it—it was indirectly rumoured that the
checker-boards might be brought out again, which—as a philosophical
shipmate observed—showed that Captain Claret was a man of a ready
understanding, and could understand a hint as well as any other man,
even when conveyed by several pounds of iron.

Some of the sailors were very precise about their checker-cloths, and
even went so far that they would not let you play with them unless you
first washed your hands, especially if so be you had just come from
tarring down the rigging.

Another way of beguiling the tedious hours, is to get a cosy seat
somewhere, and fall into as snug a little reverie as you can. Or if a
seat is not to be had—which is frequently the case—then get a tolerably
comfortable _stand-up_ against the bulwarks, and begin to think about
home and bread and butter—always inseparably connected to a
wanderer—which will very soon bring delicious tears into your eyes; for
every one knows what a luxury is grief, when you can get a private
closet to enjoy it in, and no Paul Prys intrude. Several of my shore
friends, indeed, when suddenly overwhelmed by some disaster, always
make a point of flying to the first oyster-cellar, and shutting
themselves up in a box with nothing but a plate of stewed oysters, some
crackers, the castor, and a decanter of old port.

Still another way of killing time in harbour, is to lean over the
bulwarks, and speculate upon where, under the sun, you are going to be
that day next year, which is a subject full of interest to every living
soul; so much so, that there is a particular day of a particular month
of the year, which, from my earliest recollections, I have always kept
the run of, so that I can even now tell just where I was on that
identical day of every year past since I was twelve years old. And,
when I am all alone, to run over this almanac in my mind is almost as
entertaining as to read your own diary, and far more interesting than
to peruse a table of logarithms on a rainy afternoon. I always keep the
anniversary of that day with lamb and peas, and a pint of sherry, for
it comes in Spring. But when it came round in the Neversink, I could
get neither lamb, peas, nor sherry.

But perhaps the best way to drive the hours before you four-in-hand, is
to select a soft plank on the gun-deck, and go to sleep. A fine
specific, which seldom fails, unless, to be sure, you have been
sleeping all the twenty-four hours beforehand.

Whenever employed in killing time in harbour, I have lifted myself up
on my elbow and looked around me, and seen so many of my shipmates all
employed at the same common business; all under lock and key; all
hopeless prisoners like myself; all under martial law; all dieting on
salt beef and biscuit; all in one uniform; all yawning, gaping, and
stretching in concert, it was then that I used to feel a certain love
and affection for them, grounded, doubtless, on a fellow-feeling.

And though, in a previous part of this narrative, I have mentioned that
I used to hold myself somewhat aloof from the mass of seamen on board
the Neversink; and though this was true, and my real acquaintances were
comparatively few, and my intimates still fewer, yet, to tell the
truth, it is quite impossible to live so long with five hundred of your
fellow-beings, even if not of the best families in the land, and with
morals that would not be spoiled by further cultivation; it is quite
impossible, I say, to live with five hundred of your fellow-beings, be
they who they may, without feeling a common sympathy with them at the
time, and ever after cherishing some sort of interest in their welfare.

The truth of this was curiously corroborated by a rather equivocal
acquaintance of mine, who, among the men, went by the name of
“_Shakings_.” He belonged to the fore-hold, whence, of a dark night, he
would sometimes emerge to chat with the sailors on deck. I never liked
the man’s looks; I protest it was a mere accident that gave me the
honour of his acquaintance, and generally I did my best to avoid him,
when he would come skulking, like a jail-bird, out of his den into the
liberal, open air of the sky. Nevertheless, the anecdote this _holder_
told me is well worth preserving, more especially the extraordinary
frankness evinced in his narrating such a thing to a comparative

The substance of his story was as follows: Shakings, it seems, had once
been a convict in the New York State’s Prison at Sing Sing, where he
had been for years confined for a crime, which he gave me his solemn
word of honour he was wholly innocent of. He told me that, after his
term had expired, and he went out into the world again, he never could
stumble upon any of his old Sing Sing associates without dropping into
a public house and talking over old times. And when fortune would go
hard with him, and he felt out of sorts, and incensed at matters and
things in general, he told me that, at such time, he almost wished he
was back again in Sing Sing, where he was relieved from all anxieties
about what he should eat and drink, and was supported, like the
President of the United States and Prince Albert, at the public charge.
He used to have such a snug little cell, he said, all to himself, and
never felt afraid of house-breakers, for the walls were uncommonly
thick, and his door was securely bolted for him, and a watchman was all
the time walking up and down in the passage, while he himself was fast
asleep and dreaming. To this, in substance, the _holder_ added, that he
narrated this anecdote because he thought it applicable to a
man-of-war, which he scandalously asserted to be a sort of State Prison

Concerning the curious disposition to fraternise and be sociable, which
this Shakings mentioned as characteristic of the convicts liberated
from his old homestead at Sing Sing, it may well be asked, whether it
may not prove to be some feeling, somehow akin to the reminiscent
impulses which influenced them, that shall hereafter fraternally
reunite all us mortals, when we shall have exchanged this State’s
Prison man-of-war world of ours for another and a better.

From the foregoing account of the great difficulty we had in killing
time while in port, it must not be inferred that on board of the
Neversink in Rio there was literally no work to be done, at long
intervals the _launch_ would come alongside with water-casks, to be
emptied into iron tanks in the hold. In this way nearly fifty thousand
gallons, as chronicled in the books of the master’s mate, were decanted
into the ship’s bowels—a ninety day’s allowance. With this huge Lake
Ontario in us, the mighty Neversink might be said to resemble the
united continent of the Eastern Hemisphere—floating in a vast ocean
herself, and having a Mediterranean floating in her.


It is in a good degree owing to the idleness just described, that,
while lying in harbour, the man-of-war’s-man is exposed to the most
temptations and gets into his saddest scrapes. For though his vessel be
anchored a mile from the shore, and her sides are patrolled by sentries
night and day, yet these things cannot entirely prevent the seductions
of the land from reaching him. The prime agent in working his
calamities in port is his old arch-enemy, the ever-devilish god of

Immured as the man-of-war’s-man is, serving out his weary three years
in a sort of sea-Newgate, from which he cannot escape, either by the
roof or burrowing underground, he too often flies to the bottle to seek
relief from the intolerable ennui of nothing to do, and nowhere to go.
His ordinary government allowance of spirits, one gill per diem, is not
enough to give a sufficient to his listless senses; he pronounces his
grog basely _watered_; he scouts at it as _thinner than muslin;_ he
craves a more vigorous _nip at the cable_, a more sturdy _swig at the
halyards;_ and if opium were to be had, many would steep themselves a
thousand fathoms down in the densest fumes of that oblivious drug. Tell
him that the delirium tremens and the mania-a-potu lie in ambush for
drunkards, he will say to you, “Let them bear down upon me, then,
before the wind; anything that smacks of life is better than to feel
Davy Jones’s chest-lid on your nose.” He is reckless as an avalanche;
and though his fall destroy himself and others, yet a ruinous commotion
is better than being frozen fast in unendurable solitudes. No wonder,
then, that he goes all lengths to procure the thing he craves; no
wonder that he pays the most exorbitant prices, breaks through all law,
and braves the ignominious lash itself, rather than be deprived of his

Now, concerning no one thing in a man-of-war, are the regulations more
severe than respecting the smuggling of grog, and being found
intoxicated. For either offence there is but one penalty, invariably
enforced; and that is the degradation of the gangway.

All conceivable precautions are taken by most frigate-executives to
guard against the secret admission of spirits into the vessel. In the
first place, no shore-boat whatever is allowed to approach a man-of-war
in a foreign harbour without permission from the officer of the deck.
Even the _bum-boats_, the small craft licensed by the officers to bring
off fruit for the sailors, to be bought out of their own money—these
are invariably inspected before permitted to hold intercourse with the
ship’s company. And not only this, but every one of the numerous ship’s
boats—kept almost continually plying to and from the shore—are
similarly inspected, sometimes each boat twenty times in the day.

This inspection is thus performed: The boat being descried by the
quarter-master from the poop, she is reported to the deck officer, who
thereupon summons the master-at-arms, the ship’s chief of police. This
functionary now stations himself at the gangway, and as the boat’s
crew, one by one, come up the side, he personally overhauls them,
making them take off their hats, and then, placing both hands upon
their heads, draws his palms slowly down to their feet, carefully
feeling all unusual protuberances. If nothing suspicious is felt, the
man is let pass; and so on, till the whole boat’s crew, averaging about
sixteen men, are examined. The chief of police then descends into the
boat, and walks from stem to stern, eyeing it all over, and poking his
long rattan into every nook and cranny. This operation concluded, and
nothing found, he mounts the ladder, touches his hat to the
deck-officer, and reports the boat _clean_; whereupon she is hauled out
to the booms.

Thus it will be seen that not a man of the ship’s company ever enters
the vessel from shore without it being rendered next to impossible,
apparently, that he should have succeeded in smuggling anything. Those
individuals who are permitted to board the ship without undergoing this
ordeal, are only persons whom it would be preposterous to search—such
as the Commodore himself, the Captain, Lieutenants, etc., and gentlemen
and ladies coming as visitors.

For anything to be clandestinely thrust through the lower port-holes at
night, is rendered very difficult, from the watchfulness of the
quarter-master in hailing all boats that approach, long before they
draw alongside, and the vigilance of the sentries, posted on platforms
overhanging the water, whose orders are to fire into a strange boat
which, after being warned to withdraw, should still persist in drawing
nigh. Moreover, thirty-two-pound shots are slung to ropes, and
suspended over the bows, to drop a hole into and sink any small craft,
which, spite of all precautions, by strategy should succeed in getting
under the bows with liquor by night. Indeed, the whole power of martial
law is enlisted in this matter; and every one of the numerous officers
of the ship, besides his general zeal in enforcing the regulations,
adds to that a personal feeling, since the sobriety of the men abridges
his own cares and anxieties.

How then, it will be asked, in the face of an argus-eyed police, and in
defiance even of bayonets and bullets, do men-of-war’s-men contrive to
smuggle their spirits? Not to enlarge upon minor stratagems—every few
days detected, and rendered naught (such as rolling up, in a
handkerchief, a long, slender “skin” of grog, like a sausage, and in
that manner ascending to the deck out of a boat just from shore; or
openly bringing on board cocoa-nuts and melons, procured from a knavish
bum-boat filled with spirits, instead of milk or water)—we will only
mention here two or three other modes, coming under my own observation.

While in Rio, a fore-top-man, belonging to the second cutter, paid down
the money, and made an arrangement with a person encountered at the
Palace-landing ashore, to the following effect. Of a certain moonless
night, he was to bring off three gallons of spirits, _in skins_, and
moor them to the frigate’s anchor-buoy—some distance from the
vessel—attaching something heavy, to sink them out of sight. In the
middle watch of the night, the fore-top-man slips out of his hammock,
and by creeping along in the shadows, eludes the vigilance of the
master-at-arms and his mates, gains a port-hole, and softly lowers
himself into the water, almost without creating a ripple—the sentries
marching to and fro on their overhanging platform above him. He is an
expert swimmer, and paddles along under the surface, every now and then
rising a little, and lying motionless on his back to breathe—little but
his nose exposed. The buoy gained, he cuts the skins adrift, ties them
round his body, and in the same adroit manner makes good his return.

This feat is very seldom attempted, for it needs the utmost caution,
address, and dexterity; and no one but a super-expert burglar, and
faultless Leander of a swimmer, could achieve it.

From the greater privileges which they enjoy, the “_forward officers_,”
that is, the Gunner, Boatswain, etc., have much greater opportunities
for successful smuggling than the common seamen. Coming alongside one
night in a cutter, Yarn, our boatswain, in some inexplicable way,
contrived to slip several skins of brandy through the air-port of his
own state-room. The feat, however, must have been perceived by one of
the boat’s crew, who immediately, on gaining the deck, sprung down the
ladders, stole into the boatswain’s room, and made away with the prize,
not three minutes before the rightful owner entered to claim it.
Though, from certain circumstances, the thief was known to the
aggrieved party, yet the latter could say nothing, since he himself had
infringed the law. But the next day, in the capacity of captain of the
ship’s executioners, Yarn had the satisfaction (it was so to him) of
standing over the robber at the gangway; for, being found intoxicated
with the very liquor the boatswain himself had smuggled, the man had
been condemned to a flogging.

This recalls another instance, still more illustrative of the knotted,
trebly intertwisted villainy, accumulating at a sort of compound
interest in a man-of-war. The cockswain of the Commodore’s barge takes
his crew apart, one by one, and cautiously sounds them as to their
fidelity—not to the United States of America, but to himself. Three
individuals, whom he deems doubtful—that is, faithful to the United
States of America—he procures to be discharged from the barge, and men
of his own selection are substituted; for he is always an influential
character, this cockswain of the Commodore’s barge. Previous to this,
however, he has seen to it well, that no Temperance men—that is,
sailors who do not draw their government ration of grog, but take the
money for it—he has seen to it, that none of these _balkers_ are
numbered among his crew. Having now proved his men, he divulges his
plan to the assembled body; a solemn oath of secrecy is obtained, and
he waits the first fit opportunity to carry into execution his
nefarious designs.

At last it comes. One afternoon the barge carries the Commodore across
the Bay to a fine water-side settlement of noblemen’s seats, called
Praya Grande. The Commodore is visiting a Portuguese marquis, and the
pair linger long over their dinner in an arbour in the garden.
Meanwhile, the cockswain has liberty to roam about where he pleases. He
searches out a place where some choice _red-eye_ (brandy) is to be had,
purchases six large bottles, and conceals them among the trees. Under
the pretence of filling the boat-keg with water, which is always kept
in the barge to refresh the crew, he now carries it off into the grove,
knocks out the head, puts the bottles inside, reheads the keg, fills it
with water, carries it down to the boat, and audaciously restores it to
its conspicuous position in the middle, with its bung-hole up. When the
Commodore comes down to the beach, and they pull off for the ship, the
cockswain, in a loud voice, commands the nearest man to take that bung
out of the keg—that precious water will spoil. Arrived alongside the
frigate, the boat’s crew are overhauled, as usual, at the gangway; and
nothing being found on them, are passed. The master-at-arms now
descending into the barge, and finding nothing suspicious, reports it
_clean_, having put his finger into the open bung of the keg and tasted
that the water was pure. The barge is ordered out to the booms, and
deep night is waited for, ere the cockswain essays to snatch the
bottles from the keg.

But, unfortunately for the success of this masterly smuggler, one of
his crew is a weak-pated fellow, who, having drank somewhat freely
ashore, goes about the gun-deck throwing out profound, tipsy hints
concerning some unutterable proceeding on the ship’s anvil. A knowing
old sheet-anchor-man, an unprincipled fellow, putting this, that, and
the other together, ferrets out the mystery; and straightway resolves
to reap the goodly harvest which the cockswain has sowed. He seeks him
out, takes him to one side, and addresses him thus:

“Cockswain, you have been smuggling off some _red-eye_, which at this
moment is in your barge at the booms. Now, cockswain, I have stationed
two of my mess-mates at the port-holes, on that side of the ship; and
if they report to me that you, or any of your bargemen, offer to enter
that barge before morning, I will immediately report you as a smuggler
to the officer of the deck.”

The cockswain is astounded; for, to be reported to the deck-officer as
a smuggler, would inevitably procure him a sound flogging, and be the
disgraceful _breaking_ of him as a petty officer, receiving four
dollars a month beyond his pay as an able seaman. He attempts to bribe
the other to secrecy, by promising half the profits of the enterprise;
but the sheet-anchor-man’s integrity is like a rock; he is no
mercenary, to be bought up for a song. The cockswain, therefore, is
forced to swear that neither himself, nor any of his crew, shall enter
the barge before morning. This done, the sheet-anchor-man goes to his
confidants, and arranges his plans. In a word, he succeeds in
introducing the six brandy bottles into the ship; five of which he
sells at eight dollars a bottle; and then, with the sixth, between two
guns, he secretly regales himself and confederates; while the helpless
cockswain, stifling his rage, bitterly eyes them from afar.

Thus, though they say that there is honour among thieves, there is
little among man-of-war smugglers.


The last smuggling story now about to be related also occurred while we
lay in Rio. It is the more particularly presented, since it furnishes
the most curious evidence of the almost incredible corruption pervading
nearly all ranks in some men-of-war.

For some days, the number of intoxicated sailors collared and brought
up to the mast by the master-at-arms, to be reported to the
deck-officers—previous to a flogging at the gangway—had, in the last
degree, excited the surprise and vexation of the Captain and senior
officers. So strict were the Captain’s regulations concerning the
suppression of grog-smuggling, and so particular had he been in
charging the matter upon all the Lieutenants, and every understrapper
official in the frigate, that he was wholly at a loss how so large a
quantity of spirits could have been spirited into the ship, in the face
of all these checks, guards, and precautions.

Still additional steps were adopted to detect the smugglers; and Bland,
the master-at-arms, together with his corporals, were publicly
harangued at the mast by the Captain in person, and charged to exert
their best powers in suppressing the traffic. Crowds were present at
the time, and saw the master-at-arms touch his cap in obsequious
homage, as he solemnly assured the Captain that he would still continue
to do his best; as, indeed, he said he had always done. He concluded
with a pious ejaculation expressive of his personal abhorrence of
smuggling and drunkenness, and his fixed resolution, so help him
Heaven, to spend his last wink in sitting up by night, to spy out all
deeds of darkness.

“I do not doubt you, master-at-arms,” returned the Captain; “now go to
your duty.” This master-at-arms was a favourite of the Captain’s.

The next morning, before breakfast, when the market-boat came off (that
is, one of the ship’s boats regularly deputed to bring off the daily
fresh provisions for the officers)—when this boat came off, the
master-at-arms, as usual, after carefully examining both her and her
crew, reported them to the deck-officer to be free from suspicion. The
provisions were then hoisted out, and among them came a good-sized
wooden box, addressed to “Mr. —— Purser of the United States ship
Neversink.” Of course, any private matter of this sort, destined for a
gentleman of the ward-room, was sacred from examination, and the
master-at-arms commanded one of his corporals to carry it down into the
Purser’s state-room. But recent occurrences had sharpened the vigilance
of the deck-officer to an unwonted degree, and seeing the box going
down the hatchway, he demanded what that was, and whom it was for.

“All right, sir,” said the master-at-arms, touching his cap; “stores
for the Purser, sir.”

“Let it remain on deck,” said the Lieutenant. “Mr. Montgomery!” calling
a midshipman, “ask the Purser whether there is any box coming off for
him this morning.”

“Ay, ay, sir,” said the middy, touching his cap.

Presently he returned, saying that the Purser was ashore.

“Very good, then; Mr. Montgomery, have that box put into the ‘brig,’
with strict orders to the sentry not to suffer any one to touch it.”

“Had I not better take it down into my mess, sir, till the Purser comes
off?” said the master-at-arms, deferentially.

“I have given my orders, sir!” said the Lieutenant, turning away.

When the Purser came on board, it turned out that he knew nothing at
all about the box. He had never so much as heard of it in his life. So
it was again brought up before the deck-officer, who immediately
summoned the master-at-arms.

“Break open that box!”

“Certainly, sir!” said the master-at-arms; and, wrenching off the
cover, twenty-five brown jugs like a litter of twenty-five brown pigs,
were found snugly nestled in a bed of straw.

“The smugglers are at work, sir,” said the master-at-arms, looking up.

“Uncork and taste it,” said the officer.

The master-at-arms did so; and, smacking his lips after a puzzled
fashion, was a little doubtful whether it was American whisky or
Holland gin; but he said he was not used to liquor.

“Brandy; I know it by the smell,” said the officer; “return the box to
the brig.”

“Ay, ay, sir,” said the master-at-arms, redoubling his activity.

The affair was at once reported to the Captain, who, incensed at the
audacity of the thing, adopted every plan to detect the guilty parties.
Inquiries were made ashore; but by whom the box had been brought down
to the market-boat there was no finding out. Here the matter rested for
a time.

Some days after, one of the boys of the mizzen-top was flogged for
drunkenness, and, while suspended in agony at the gratings, was made to
reveal from whom he had procured his spirits. The man was called, and
turned out to be an old superannuated marine, one Scriggs, who did the
cooking for the marine-sergeants and masters-at-arms’ mess. This marine
was one of the most villainous-looking fellows in the ship, with a
squinting, pick-lock, gray eye, and hang-dog gallows gait. How such a
most unmartial vagabond had insinuated himself into the honourable
marine corps was a perfect mystery. He had always been noted for his
personal uncleanliness, and among all hands, fore and aft, had the
reputation of being a notorious old miser, who denied himself the few
comforts, and many of the common necessaries of a man-of-war life.

Seeing no escape, Scriggs fell on his knees before the Captain, and
confessed the charge of the boy. Observing the fellow to be in an agony
of fear at the sight of the boatswain’s mates and their lashes, and all
the striking parade of public punishment, the Captain must have thought
this a good opportunity for completely pumping him of all his secrets.
This terrified marine was at length forced to reveal his having been
for some time an accomplice in a complicated system of underhand
villainy, the head of which was no less a personage than the
indefatigable chief of police, the master-at-arms himself. It appeared
that this official had his confidential agents ashore, who supplied him
with spirits, and in various boxes, packages, and bundles—addressed to
the Purser and others—brought them down to the frigate’s boats at the
landing. Ordinarily, the appearance of these things for the Purser and
other ward-room gentlemen occasioned no surprise; for almost every day
some bundle or other is coming off for them, especially for the Purser;
and, as the master-at-arms was always present on these occasions, it
was an easy matter for him to hurry the smuggled liquor out of sight,
and, under pretence of carrying the box or bundle down to the Purser’s
room, hide it away upon his own premises.

The miserly marine, Scriggs, with the pick-lock eye, was the man who
clandestinely sold the spirits to the sailors, thus completely keeping
the master-at-arms in the background. The liquor sold at the most
exorbitant prices; at one time reaching twelve dollars the bottle in
cash, and thirty dollars a bottle in orders upon the Purser, to be
honored upon the frigate’s arrival home. It may seem incredible that
such prices should have been given by the sailors; but when some
man-of-war’s-men crave liquor, and it is hard to procure, they would
almost barter ten years of their life-time for but one solitary “_tot_”
if they could.

The sailors who became intoxicated with the liquor thus smuggled on
board by the master-at-arms, were, in almost numberless instances,
officially seized by that functionary and scourged at the gangway. In a
previous place it has been shown how conspicuous a part the
master-at-arms enacts at this scene.

The ample profits of this iniquitous business were divided, between all
the parties concerned in it; Scriggs, the marine, coming in for one
third. His cook’s mess-chest being brought on deck, four canvas bags of
silver were found in it, amounting to a sum something short of as many
hundred dollars.

The guilty parties were scourged, double-ironed, and for several weeks
were confined in the “brig” under a sentry; all but the master-at-arms,
who was merely cashiered and imprisoned for a time; with bracelets at
his wrists. Upon being liberated, he was turned adrift among the ship’s
company; and by way of disgracing him still more, was thrust into the
_waist_, the most inglorious division of the ship.

Upon going to dinner one day, I found him soberly seated at my own
mess; and at first I could not but feel some very serious scruples
about dining with him. Nevertheless, he was a man to study and digest;
so, upon a little reflection; I was not displeased at his presence. It
amazed me, however, that he had wormed himself into the mess, since so
many of the other messes had declined the honour, until at last, I
ascertained that he had induced a mess-mate of ours, a distant relation
of his, to prevail upon the cook to admit him.

Now it would not have answered for hardly any other mess in the ship to
have received this man among them, for it would have torn a huge rent
in their reputation; but our mess, A. No. 1—the Forty-two-pounder
Club—was composed of so fine a set of fellows; so many captains of
tops, and quarter-masters—men of undeniable mark on board ship—of
long-established standing and consideration on the gun-deck; that, with
impunity, we could do so many equivocal things, utterly inadmissible
for messes of inferior pretension. Besides, though we all abhorred the
monster of Sin itself, yet, from our social superiority, highly
rarified education in our lofty top, and large and liberal sweep of the
aggregate of things, we were in a good degree free from those useless,
personal prejudices, and galling hatreds against conspicuous _sinners_,
not _Sin_—which so widely prevail among men of warped understandings
and unchristian and uncharitable hearts. No; the superstitions and
dogmas concerning Sin had not laid their withering maxims upon our
hearts. We perceived how that evil was but good disguised, and a knave
a saint in his way; how that in other planets, perhaps, what we deem
wrong, may there be deemed right; even as some substances, without
undergoing any mutations in themselves utterly change their colour,
according to the light thrown upon them. We perceived that the
anticipated millennium must have begun upon the morning the first words
were created; and that, taken all in all, our man-of-war world itself
was as eligible a round-sterned craft as any to be found in the Milky
Way. And we fancied that though some of us, of the gun-deck, were at
times condemned to sufferings and blights, and all manner of
tribulation and anguish, yet, no doubt, it was only our misapprehension
of these things that made us take them for woeful pains instead of the
most agreeable pleasures. I have dreamed of a sphere, says Pinzella,
where to break a man on the wheel is held the most exquisite of
delights you can confer upon him; where for one gentleman in any way to
vanquish another is accounted an everlasting dishonour; where to tumble
one into a pit after death, and then throw cold clods upon his upturned
face, is a species of contumely, only inflicted upon the most notorious

But whatever we mess-mates thought, in whatever circumstances we found
ourselves, we never forgot that our frigate, had as it was, was
homeward-bound. Such, at least, were our reveries at times, though
sorely jarred, now and then, by events that took our philosophy aback.
For after all, philosophy—that is, the best wisdom that has ever in any
way been revealed to our man-of-war world—is but a slough and a mire,
with a few tufts of good footing here and there.

But there was one man in the mess who would have naught to do with our
philosophy—a churlish, ill-tempered, unphilosophical, superstitious old
bear of a quarter-gunner; a believer in Tophet, for which he was
accordingly preparing himself. Priming was his name; but methinks I
have spoken of him before.

Besides, this Bland, the master-at-arms, was no vulgar, dirty knave. In
him—to modify Burke’s phrase—vice _seemed_, but only seemed, to lose
half its seeming evil by losing all its apparent grossness. He was a
neat and gentlemanly villain, and broke his biscuit with a dainty hand.
There was a fine polish about his whole person, and a pliant,
insinuating style in his conversation, that was, socially, quite
irresistible. Save my noble captain, Jack Chase, he proved himself the
most entertaining, I had almost said the most companionable man in the
mess. Nothing but his mouth, that was somewhat small, Moorish-arched,
and wickedly delicate, and his snaky, black eye, that at times shone
like a dark-lantern in a jeweller-shop at midnight, betokened the
accomplished scoundrel within. But in his conversation there was no
trace of evil; nothing equivocal; he studiously shunned an indelicacy,
never swore, and chiefly abounded in passing puns and witticisms,
varied with humorous contrasts between ship and shore life, and many
agreeable and racy anecdotes, very tastefully narrated. In short—in a
merely psychological point of view, at least—he was a charming
blackleg. Ashore, such a man might have been an irreproachable
mercantile swindler, circulating in polite society.

But he was still more than this. Indeed, I claim for this
master-at-arms a lofty and honourable niche in the Newgate Calendar of
history. His intrepidity, coolness, and wonderful self-possession in
calmly resigning himself to a fate that thrust him from an office in
which he had tyrannised over five hundred mortals, many of whom hated
and loathed him, passed all belief; his intrepidity, I say, in now
fearlessly gliding among them, like a disarmed swordfish among
ferocious white-sharks; this, surely, bespoke no ordinary man. While in
office, even, his life had often been secretly attempted by the seamen
whom he had brought to the gangway. Of dark nights they had dropped
shot down the hatchways, destined “to damage his pepper-box,” as they
phrased it; they had made ropes with a hangman’s noose at the end and
tried to _lasso_ him in dark corners. And now he was adrift among them,
under notorious circumstances of superlative villainy, at last dragged
to light; and yet he blandly smiled, politely offered his cigar-holder
to a perfect stranger, and laughed and chatted to right and left, as if
springy, buoyant, and elastic, with an angelic conscience, and sure of
kind friends wherever he went, both in this life and the life to come.

While he was lying ironed in the “brig,” gangs of the men were
sometimes overheard whispering about the terrible reception they would
give him when he should be set at large. Nevertheless, when liberated,
they seemed confounded by his erect and cordial assurance, his
gentlemanly sociability and fearless companionableness. From being an
implacable policeman, vigilant, cruel, and remorseless in his office,
however polished in his phrases, he was now become a disinterested,
sauntering man of leisure, winking at all improprieties, and ready to
laugh and make merry with any one. Still, at first, the men gave him a
wide berth, and returned scowls for his smiles; but who can forever
resist the very Devil himself, when he comes in the guise of a
gentleman, free, fine, and frank? Though Goethe’s pious Margaret hates
the Devil in his horns and harpooner’s tail, yet she smiles and nods to
the engaging fiend in the persuasive, _winning_, oily, wholly harmless
Mephistopheles. But, however it was, I, for one, regarded this
master-at-arms with mixed feelings of detestation, pity, admiration,
and something opposed to enmity. I could not but abominate him when I
thought of his conduct; but I pitied the continual gnawing which, under
all his deftly-donned disguises, I saw lying at the bottom of his soul.
I admired his heroism in sustaining himself so well under such
reverses. And when I thought how arbitrary the _Articles of War_ are in
defining a man-of-war villain; how much undetected guilt might be
sheltered by the aristocratic awning of our quarter-deck; how many
florid pursers, ornaments of the ward-room, had been legally protected
in defrauding _the people_, I could not but say to myself, Well, after
all, though this man is a most wicked one indeed, yet is he even more
luckless than depraved.

Besides, a studied observation of Bland convinced me that he was an
organic and irreclaimable scoundrel, who did wicked deeds as the cattle
browse the herbage, because wicked deeds seemed the legitimate
operation of his whole infernal organisation. Phrenologically, he was
without a soul. Is it to be wondered at, that the devils are
irreligious? What, then, thought I, who is to blame in this matter? For
one, I will not take the Day of Judgment upon me by authoritatively
pronouncing upon the essential criminality of any man-of-war’s-man; and
Christianity has taught me that, at the last day, man-of-war’s-men will
not be judged by the _Articles of War_, nor by the _United States
Statutes at Large_, but by immutable laws, ineffably beyond the
comprehension of the honourable Board of Commodores and Navy
Commissioners. But though I will stand by even a man-of-war thief, and
defend him from being seized up at the gangway, if I can—remembering
that my Saviour once hung between two thieves, promising one
life-eternal—yet I would not, after the plain conviction of a villain,
again let him entirely loose to prey upon honest seamen, fore and aft
all three decks. But this did Captain Claret; and though the thing may
not perhaps be credited, nevertheless, here it shall be recorded.

After the master-at-arms had been adrift among the ship’s company for
several weeks, and we were within a few days’ sail of home, he was
summoned to the mast, and publicly reinstated in his office as the
ship’s chief of police. Perhaps Captain Claret had read the Memoirs of
Vidocq, and believed in the old saying, _set a rogue to catch a rogue_.
Or, perhaps, he was a man of very tender feelings, highly susceptible
to the soft emotions of gratitude, and could not bear to leave in
disgrace a person who, out of the generosity of his heart, had, about a
year previous, presented him with a rare snuff-box, fabricated from a
sperm-whale’s tooth, with a curious silver hinge, and cunningly wrought
in the shape of a whale; also a splendid gold-mounted cane, of a costly
Brazilian wood, with a gold plate, bearing the Captain’s name and rank
in the service, the place and time of his birth, and with a vacancy
underneath—no doubt providentially left for his heirs to record his

Certain it was that, some months previous to the master-at-arms’
disgrace, he had presented these articles to the Captain, with his best
love and compliments; and the Captain had received them, and seldom
went ashore without the cane, and never took snuff but out of that box.
With some Captains, a sense of propriety might have induced them to
return these presents, when the generous donor had proved himself
unworthy of having them retained; but it was not Captain Claret who
would inflict such a cutting wound upon any officer’s sensibilities,
though long-established naval customs had habituated him to scourging
_the people_ upon an emergency.

Now had Captain Claret deemed himself constitutionally bound to decline
all presents from his subordinates, the sense of gratitude would not
have operated to the prejudice of justice. And, as some of the
subordinates of a man-of-war captain are apt to invoke his good wishes
and mollify his conscience by making him friendly gifts, it would
perhaps _have_ been an excellent thing for him to adopt the plan
pursued by the President of the United States, when he received a
present of lions and Arabian chargers from the Sultan of Muscat. Being
forbidden by his sovereign lords and masters, the imperial people, to
accept of any gifts from foreign powers, the President sent them to an
auctioneer, and the proceeds were deposited in the Treasury. In the
same manner, when Captain Claret received his snuff-box and cane, he
might have accepted them very kindly, and then sold them off to the
highest bidder, perhaps to the donor himself, who in that case would
never have tempted him again.

Upon his return home, Bland was paid off for his full term, not
deducting the period of his suspension. He again entered the service in
his old capacity.

As no further allusion will be made to this affair, it may as well be
stated now that, for the very brief period elapsing between his
restoration and being paid off in port by the Purser, the
master-at-arms conducted himself with infinite discretion, artfully
steering between any relaxation of discipline—which would have awakened
the displeasure of the officers—and any unwise severity—which would
have revived, in tenfold force, all the old grudges of the seamen under
his command.

Never did he show so much talent and tact as when vibrating in this his
most delicate predicament; and plenty of cause was there for the
exercise of his cunningest abilities; for, upon the discharge of our
man-of-war’s-men at home, should he _then_ be held by them as an enemy,
as free and independent citizens they would waylay him in the public
streets, and take purple vengeance for all his iniquities, past,
present, and possible in the future. More than once a master-at-arms
ashore has been seized by night by an exasperated crew, and served as
Origen served himself, or as his enemies served Abelard.

But though, under extreme provocation, _the people_ of a man-of-war
have been guilty of the maddest vengeance, yet, at other times, they
are very placable and milky-hearted, even to those who may have
outrageously abused them; many things in point might be related, but I

This account of the master-at-arms cannot better be concluded than by
denominating him, in the vivid language of the Captain of the Fore-top,
as “_the two ends and middle of the thrice-laid strand of a bloody
rascal_,” which was intended for a terse, well-knit, and
all-comprehensive assertion, without omission or reservation. It was
also asserted that, had Tophet itself been raked with a fine-tooth
comb, such another ineffable villain could not by any possibility have
been caught.


A day or two after our arrival in Rio, a rather amusing incident
occurred to a particular acquaintance of mine, young Lemsford, the
gun-deck bard.

The great guns of an armed ship have blocks of wood, called _tompions_,
painted black, inserted in their muzzles, to keep out the spray of the
sea. These tompions slip in and out very handily, like covers to butter

By advice of a friend, Lemsford, alarmed for the fate of his box of
poetry, had latterly made use of a particular gun on the main-deck, in
the tube of which he thrust his manuscripts, by simply crawling partly
out of the porthole, removing the tompion, inserting his papers,
tightly rolled, and making all snug again.

Breakfast over, he and I were reclining in the main-top—where, by
permission of my noble master, Jack Chase, I had invited him—when, of a
sudden, we heard a cannonading. It was our own ship.

“Ah!” said a top-man, “returning the shore salute they gave us

“O Lord!” cried Lemsford, “my _Songs of the Sirens!_” and he ran down
the rigging to the batteries; but just as he touched the gun-deck, gun
No. 20—his literary strong-box—went off with a terrific report.

“Well, my after-guard Virgil,” said Jack Chase to him, as he slowly
returned up the rigging, “did you get it? You need not answer; I see
you were too late. But never mind, my boy: no printer could do the
business for you better. That’s the way to publish, White-Jacket,”
turning to me—“fire it right into ’em; every canto a twenty-four-pound
shot; _hull_ the blockheads, whether they will or no. And mind you,
Lemsford, when your shot does the most execution, your hear the least
from the foe. A killed man cannot even lisp.”

“Glorious Jack!” cried Lemsford, running up and snatching him by the
hand, “say that again, Jack! look me in the eyes. By all the Homers,
Jack, you have made my soul mount like a balloon! Jack, I’m a poor
devil of a poet. Not two months before I shipped aboard here, I
published a volume of poems, very aggressive on the world, Jack. Heaven
knows what it cost me. I published it, Jack, and the cursed publisher
sued me for damages; my friends looked sheepish; one or two who liked
it were non-committal; and as for the addle-pated mob and rabble, they
thought they had found out a fool. Blast them, Jack, what they call the
public is a monster, like the idol we saw in Owhyhee, with the head of
a jackass, the body of a baboon, and the tail of a scorpion!”

“I don’t like that,” said Jack; “when I’m ashore, I myself am part of
the public.”

“Your pardon, Jack; you are not, you are then a part of the people,
just as you are aboard the frigate here. The public is one thing, Jack,
and the people another.”

“You are right,” said Jack; “right as this leg. Virgil, you are a
trump; you are a jewel, my boy. The public and the people! Ay, ay, my
lads, let us hate the one and cleave to the other.”


A day or two after the publication of Lemsford’s “Songs of the Sirens,”
a sad accident befell a mess-mate of mine, one of the captains of the
mizzen-top. He was a fine little Scot, who, from the premature loss of
the hair on the top of his head, always went by the name of _Baldy_.
This baldness was no doubt, in great part, attributable to the same
cause that early thins the locks of most man-of-war’s-men—namely, the
hard, unyielding, and ponderous man-of-war and navy-regulation
tarpaulin hat, which, when new, is stiff enough to sit upon, and
indeed, in lieu of his thumb, sometimes serves the common sailor for a

Now, there is nothing upon which the Commodore of a squadron more
prides himself than upon the celerity with which his men can handle the
sails, and go through with all the evolutions pertaining thereto. This
is especially manifested in harbour, when other vessels of his squadron
are near, and perhaps the armed ships of rival nations.

Upon these occasions, surrounded by his post-captain satraps—each of
whom in his own floating island is king—the Commodore domineers over
all—emperor of the whole oaken archipelago; yea, magisterial and
magnificent as the Sultan of the Isles of Sooloo.

But, even as so potent an emperor and Caesar to boot as the great Don
of Germany, Charles the Fifth, was used to divert himself in his dotage
by watching the gyrations of the springs and cogs of a long row of
clocks, even so does an elderly Commodore while away his leisure in
harbour, by what is called “_exercising guns_,” and also “_exercising
yards and sails;_” causing the various spars of all the ships under his
command to be “braced,” “topped,” and “cock billed” in concert, while
the Commodore himself sits, something like King Canute, on an arm-chest
on the poop of his flag-ship.

But far more regal than any descendant of Charlemagne, more haughty
than any Mogul of the East, and almost mysterious and voiceless in his
authority as the Great Spirit of the Five Nations, the Commodore deigns
not to verbalise his commands; they are imparted by signal.

And as for old Charles the Fifth, again, the gay-pranked, coloured
suits of cards were invented, to while away his dotage, even so,
doubtless, must these pretty little signals of blue and red spotted
_bunting_ have been devised to cheer the old age of all Commodores.

By the Commodore’s side stands the signal-midshipman, with a sea-green
bag swung on his shoulder (as a sportsman bears his game-bag), the
signal-book in one hand, and the signal spy-glass in the other. As this
signal-book contains the Masonic signs and tokens of the navy, and
would therefore be invaluable to an enemy, its binding is always
bordered with lead, so as to insure its sinking in case the ship should
be captured. Not the only book this, that might appropriately be bound
in lead, though there be many where the author, and not the bookbinder,
furnishes the metal.

As White-Jacket understands it, these signals consist of
variously-coloured flags, each standing for a certain number. Say there
are ten flags, representing the cardinal numbers—the red flag, No. 1;
the blue flag, No. 2; the green flag, No. 3, and so forth; then, by
mounting the blue flag over the red, that would stand for No. 21: if
the green flag were set underneath, it would then stand for 213. How
easy, then, by endless transpositions, to multiply the various numbers
that may be exhibited at the mizzen-peak, even by only three or four of
these flags.

To each number a particular meaning is applied. No. 100, for instance,
may mean, “_Beat to quarters_.” No. 150, “_All hands to grog_.” No.
2000, “_Strike top-gallant-yards_.” No. 2110, “_See anything to
windward?_” No. 2800, “_No_.”

And as every man-of-war is furnished with a signal-book, where all
these things are set down in order, therefore, though two American
frigates—almost perfect strangers to each other—came from the opposite
Poles, yet at a distance of more than a mile they could carry on a very
liberal conversation in the air.

When several men-of-war of one nation lie at anchor in one port,
forming a wide circle round their lord and master, the flag-ship, it is
a very interesting sight to see them all obeying the Commodore’s
orders, who meanwhile never opens his lips.

Thus was it with us in Rio, and hereby hangs the story of my poor
messmate Bally.

One morning, in obedience to a signal from our flag-ship, the various
vessels belonging to the American squadron then in harbour
simultaneously loosened their sails to dry. In the evening, the signal
was set to furl them. Upon such occasions, great rivalry exists between
the First Lieutenants of the different ships; they vie with each other
who shall first have his sails stowed on the yards. And this rivalry is
shared between all the officers of each vessel, who are respectively
placed over the different top-men; so that the main-mast is all
eagerness to vanquish the fore-mast, and the mizzen-mast to vanquish
them both. Stimulated by the shouts of their officers, the sailors
throughout the squadron exert themselves to the utmost.

“Aloft, topmen! lay out! furl!” cried the First Lieutenant of the

At the word the men sprang into the rigging, and on all three masts
were soon climbing about the yards, in reckless haste, to execute their

Now, in furling top-sails or courses, the point of honour, and the
hardest work, is in the _bunt_, or middle of the yard; this post
belongs to the first captain of the top.

“What are you ’bout there, mizzen-top-men?” roared the First
Lieutenant, through his trumpet. “D——n you, you are clumsy as Russian
bears! don’t you see the main—top-men are nearly off the yard? Bear a
hand, bear a hand, or I’ll stop your grog all round! You, Baldy! are
you going to sleep there in the bunt?”

While this was being said, poor Baldy—his hat off, his face streaming
with perspiration—was frantically exerting himself, piling up the
ponderous folds of canvas in the middle of the yard; ever and anon
glancing at victorious Jack Chase, hard at work at the
main-top-sail-yard before him.

At last, the sail being well piled up, Baldy jumped with both feet into
the _bunt_, holding on with one hand to the chain “_tie_,” and in that
manner was violently treading down the canvas, to pack it close.

“D——n you, Baldy, why don’t you move, you crawling caterpillar;” roared
the First Lieutenant.

Baldy brought his whole weight to bear on the rebellious sail, and in
his frenzied heedlessness let go his hold on the _tie_.

“You, Baldy! are you afraid of falling?” cried the First Lieutenant.

At that moment, with all his force, Baldy jumped down upon the sail;
the _bunt gasket_ parted; and a dark form dropped through the air.
Lighting upon the _top-rim_, it rolled off; and the next instant, with
a horrid crash of all his bones, Baldy came, like a thunderbolt, upon
the deck.

Aboard of most large men-of-war there is a stout oaken platform, about
four feet square, on each side of the quarter-deck. You ascend to it by
three or four steps; on top, it is railed in at the sides, with
horizontal brass bars. It is called _the Horse Block;_ and there the
officer of the deck usually stands, in giving his orders at sea.

It was one of these horse blocks, now unoccupied, that broke poor
Baldy’s fall. He fell lengthwise across the brass bars, bending them
into elbows, and crushing the whole oaken platform, steps and all,
right down to the deck in a thousand splinters.

He was picked up for dead, and carried below to the surgeon. His bones
seemed like those of a man broken on the wheel, and no one thought he
would survive the night. But with the surgeon’s skillful treatment he
soon promised recovery. Surgeon Cuticle devoted all his science to this

A curious frame-work of wood was made for the maimed man; and placed in
this, with all his limbs stretched out, Baldy lay flat on the floor of
the Sick-bay, for many weeks. Upon our arrival home, he was able to
hobble ashore on crutches; but from a hale, hearty man, with bronzed
cheeks, he was become a mere dislocated skeleton, white as foam; but
ere this, perhaps, his broken bones are healed and whole in the last
repose of the man-of-war’s-man.

Not many days after Baldy’s accident in furling sails—in this same
frenzied manner, under the stimulus of a shouting officer—a seaman fell
from the main-royal-yard of an English line-of-battle ship near us, and
buried his ankle-bones in the deck, leaving two indentations there, as
if scooped out by a carpenter’s gouge.

The royal-yard forms a cross with the mast, and falling from that lofty
cross in a line-of-battle ship is almost like falling from the cross of
St. Paul’s; almost like falling as Lucifer from the well-spring of
morning down to the Phlegethon of night.

In some cases, a man, hurled thus from a yard, has fallen upon his own
shipmates in the tops, and dragged them down with him to the same
destruction with himself.

Hardly ever will you hear of a man-of-war returning home after a
cruise, without the loss of some of her crew from aloft, whereas
similar accidents in the merchant service—considering the much greater
number of men employed in it—are comparatively few.

Why mince the matter? The death of most of these man-of-war’s-men lies
at the door of the souls of those officers, who, while safely standing
on deck themselves, scruple not to sacrifice an immortal man or two, in
order to show off the excelling discipline of the ship. And thus do
_the people_ of the gun-deck suffer, that the Commodore on the poop may
be glorified.


Some allusion has been made to the weariness experienced by the
man-of-war’s-men while lying at anchor; but there are scenes now and
then that serve to relieve it. Chief among these are the Purser’s
auctions, taking place while in harbour. Some weeks, or perhaps months,
after a sailor dies in an armed vessel, his bag of clothes is in this
manner sold, and the proceeds transferred to the account of his heirs
or executors.

One of these auctions came off in Rio, shortly after the sad accident
of Baldy.

It was a dreamy, quiet afternoon, and the crew were listlessly lying
around, when suddenly the Boatswain’s whistle was heard, followed by
the announcement, “D’ye hear there, fore and aft? Purser’s auction on
the spar-deck!”

At the sound, the sailors sprang to their feet and mustered round the
main-mast. Presently up came the Purser’s steward, marshalling before
him three or four of his subordinates, carrying several clothes’ bags,
which were deposited at the base of the mast.

Our Purser’s steward was a rather gentlemanly man in his way. Like many
young Americans of his class, he had at various times assumed the most
opposite functions for a livelihood, turning from one to the other with
all the facility of a light-hearted, clever adventurer. He had been a
clerk in a steamer on the Mississippi River; an auctioneer in Ohio; a
stock actor at the Olympic Theatre in New York; and now he was Purser’s
steward in the Navy. In the course of this deversified career his
natural wit and waggery had been highly spiced, and every way improved;
and he had acquired the last and most difficult art of the joker, the
art of lengthening his own face while widening those of his hearers,
preserving the utmost solemnity while setting them all in a roar. He
was quite a favourite with the sailors, which, in a good degree, was
owing to his humour; but likewise to his off-hand, irresistible,
romantic, theatrical manner of addressing them.

With a dignified air, he now mounted the pedestal of the main-top-sail
sheet-bitts, imposing silence by a theatrical wave of his hand;
meantime, his subordinates were rummaging the bags, and assorting their
contents before him.

“Now, my noble hearties,” he began, “we will open this auction by
offering to your impartial competition a very superior pair of old
boots;” and so saying, he dangled aloft one clumsy cowhide cylinder,
almost as large as a fire bucket, as a specimen of the complete pair.

“What shall I have now, my noble tars, for this superior pair of

“Where’s t’other boot?” cried a suspicious-eyed waister. “I remember
them ’ere boots. They were old Bob’s the quarter-gunner’s; there was
two on ’em, too. I want to see t’other boot.”

“My sweet and pleasant fellow,” said the auctioneer, with his blandest
accents, “the other boot is not just at hand, but I give you my word of
honour that it in all respects corresponds to the one you here see—it
does, I assure you. And I solemnly guarantee, my noble sea-faring
fencibles,” he added, turning round upon all, “that the other boot is
the exact counterpart of this. Now, then, say the word, my fine
fellows. What shall I have? Ten dollars, did you say?” politely bowing
toward some indefinite person in the background.

“No; ten cents,” responded a voice.

“Ten cents! ten cents! gallant sailors, for this noble pair of boots,”
exclaimed the auctioneer, with affected horror; “I must close the
auction, my tars of Columbia; this will never do. But let’s have
another bid; now, come,” he added, coaxingly and soothingly. “What is
it? One dollar, one dollar then—one dollar; going at one dollar; going,
going—going. Just see how it vibrates”—swinging the boot to and
fro—“this superior pair of sea-boots vibrating at one dollar; wouldn’t
pay for the nails in their heels; going, going—gone!” And down went the

“Ah, what a sacrifice! what a sacrifice!” he sighed, tearfully eyeing
the solitary fire-bucket, and then glancing round the company for

“A sacrifice, indeed!” exclaimed Jack Chase, who stood by; “Purser’s
Steward, you are Mark Antony over the body of Julius Cesar.”

“So I am, so I am,” said the auctioneer, without moving a muscle. “And
look!” he exclaimed, suddenly seizing the boot, and exhibiting it on
high, “look, my noble tars, if you have tears, prepare to shed them
now. You all do know this boot. I remember the first time ever old Bob
put it on. ’Twas on a winter evening, off Cape Horn, between the
starboard carronades—that day his precious grog was stopped. Look! in
this place a mouse has nibbled through; see what a rent some envious
rat has made, through this another filed, and, as he plucked his cursed
rasp away, mark how the bootleg gaped. This was the unkindest cut of
all. But whose are the boots?” suddenly assuming a business-like air;
“yours? yours? yours?”

But not a friend of the lamented Bob stood by.

“Tars of Columbia,” said the auctioneer, imperatively, “these boots
must be sold; and if I can’t sell them one way, I must sell them
another. How much _a pound_, now, for this superior pair of old boots?
going by _the pound_ now, remember, my gallant sailors! what shall I
have? one cent, do I hear? going now at one cent a

“Whose are they? Yours, Captain of the Waist? Well, my sweet and
pleasant friend, I will have them weighed out to you when the auction
is over.”

In like manner all the contents of the bags were disposed of, embracing
old frocks, trowsers, and jackets, the various sums for which they went
being charged to the bidders on the books of the Purser.

Having been present at this auction, though not a purchaser, and seeing
with what facility the most dismantled old garments went off, through
the magical cleverness of the accomplished auctioneer, the thought
occurred to me, that if ever I calmly and positively decided to dispose
of my famous white jacket, this would be the very way to do it. I
turned the matter over in my mind a long time.

The weather in Rio was genial and warm, and that I would ever again
need such a thing as a heavy quilted jacket—and such a jacket as the
white one, too—seemed almost impossible. Yet I remembered the American
coast, and that it would probably be Autumn when we should arrive
there. Yes, I thought of all that, to be sure; nevertheless, the
ungovernable whim seized me to sacrifice my jacket and recklessly abide
the consequences. Besides, was it not a horrible jacket? To how many
annoyances had it subjected me? How many scrapes had it dragged me
into? Nay, had it not once jeopardised my very existence? And I had a
dreadful presentiment that, if I persisted in retaining it, it would do
so again. Enough! I will sell it, I muttered; and so muttering, I
thrust my hands further down in my waistband, and walked the main-top
in the stern concentration of an inflexible purpose. Next day, hearing
that another auction was shortly to take place, I repaired to the
office of the Purser’s steward, with whom I was upon rather friendly
terms. After vaguely and delicately hinting at the object of my visit,
I came roundly to the point, and asked him whether he could slip my
jacket into one of the bags of clothes next to be sold, and so dispose
of it by public auction. He kindly acquiesced and the thing was done.

In due time all hands were again summoned round the main-mast; the
Purser’s steward mounted his post, and the ceremony began. Meantime, I
lingered out of sight, but still within hearing, on the gun-deck below,
gazing up, un-perceived, at the scene.

As it is now so long ago, I will here frankly make confession that I
had privately retained the services of a friend—Williams, the Yankee
pedagogue and peddler—whose business it would be to linger near the
scene of the auction, and, if the bids on the jacket loitered, to start
it roundly himself; and if the bidding then became brisk, he was
continually to strike in with the most pertinacious and infatuated
bids, and so exasperate competition into the maddest and most
extravagant overtures.

A variety of other articles having been put up, the white jacket was
slowly produced, and, held high aloft between the auctioneer’s thumb
and fore-finger, was submitted to the inspection of the discriminating

Here it behooves me once again to describe my jacket; for, as a
portrait taken at one period of life will not answer for a later stage;
much more this jacket of mine, undergoing so many changes, needs to be
painted again and again, in order truly to present its actual
appearance at any given period.

A premature old age had now settled upon it; all over it bore
melancholy sears of the masoned-up pockets that had once trenched it in
various directions. Some parts of it were slightly mildewed from
dampness; on one side several of the buttons were gone, and others were
broken or cracked; while, alas! my many mad endeavours to rub it black
on the decks had now imparted to the whole garment an exceedingly
untidy appearance. Such as it was, with all its faults, the auctioneer
displayed it.

“You, venerable sheet-anchor-men! and you, gallant fore-top-men! and
you, my fine waisters! what do you say now for this superior old
jacket? Buttons and sleeves, lining and skirts, it must this day be
sold without reservation. How much for it, my gallant tars of Columbia?
say the word, and how much?”

“My eyes!” exclaimed a fore-top-man, “don’t that ’ere bunch of old
swabs belong to Jack Chase’s pet? Aren’t that _the white jacket?_”

“_The white jacket!_” cried fifty voices in response; “_the white
jacket!_” The cry ran fore and aft the ship like a slogan, completely
overwhelming the solitary voice of my private friend Williams, while
all hands gazed at it with straining eyes, wondering how it came among
the bags of deceased mariners.

“Ay, noble tars,” said the auctioneer, “you may well stare at it; you
will not find another jacket like this on either side of Cape Horn, I
assure you. Why, just look at it! How much, now? _Give_ me a bid—but
don’t be rash; be prudent, be prudent, men; remember your Purser’s
accounts, and don’t be betrayed into extravagant bids.”

“Purser’s Steward!” cried Grummet, one of the quarter-gunners, slowly
shifting his quid from one cheek to the other, like a ballast-stone, “I
won’t bid on that ’ere bunch of old swabs, unless you put up ten pounds
of soap with it.”

“Don’t mind that old fellow,” said the auctioneer. “How much for the
jacket, my noble tars?”

“Jacket;” cried a dandy _bone polisher_ of the gun-room. “The
sail-maker was the tailor, then. How many fathoms of canvas in it,
Purser’s Steward?”

“How much for this _jacket_?” reiterated the auctioneer, emphatically.

“_Jacket_, do you call it!” cried a captain of the hold.

“Why not call it a white-washed man-of-war schooner? Look at the
port-holes, to let in the air of cold nights.”

“A reg’lar herring-net,” chimed in Grummet.

“Gives me the _fever nagur_ to look at it,” echoed a mizzen-top-man.

“Silence!” cried the auctioneer. “Start it now—start it, boys; anything
you please, my fine fellows! it _must_ be sold. Come, what ought I to
have on it, now?”

“Why, Purser’s Steward,” cried a waister, “you ought to have new
sleeves, a new lining, and a new body on it, afore you try to shove it
off on a greenhorn.”

“What are you, ‘busin’ that ’ere garment for?” cried an old
sheet-anchor-man. “Don’t you see it’s a ‘uniform mustering
jacket’—three buttons on one side, and none on t’other?”

“Silence!” again cried the auctioneer. “How much, my sea-fencibles, for
this superior old jacket?”

“Well,” said Grummet, “I’ll take it for cleaning-rags at one cent.”

“Oh, come, give us a bid! say something, Colombians.”

“Well, then,” said Grummet, all at once bursting into genuine
indignation, “if you want us to say something, then heave that bunch of
old swabs overboard, _say I_, and show us something worth looking at.”

“No one will give me a bid, then? Very good; here, shove it aside.
Let’s have something else there.”

While this scene was going forward, and my white jacket was thus being
abused, how my heart swelled within me! Thrice was I on the point of
rushing out of my hiding-place, and bearing it off from derision; but I
lingered, still flattering myself that all would be well, and the
jacket find a purchaser at last. But no, alas! there was no getting rid
of it, except by rolling a forty-two-pound shot in it, and committing
it to the deep. But though, in my desperation, I had once contemplated
something of that sort, yet I had now become unaccountably averse to
it, from certain involuntary superstitious considerations. If I sink my
jacket, thought I, it will be sure to spread itself into a bed at the
bottom of the sea, upon which I shall sooner or later recline, a dead
man. So, unable to conjure it into the possession of another, and
withheld from burying it out of sight for ever, my jacket stuck to me
like the fatal shirt on Nessus.


As the Purser’s steward so conspicuously figured at the unsuccessful
auction of my jacket, it reminds me of how important a personage that
official is on board of all men-of-war. He is the right-hand man and
confidential deputy and clerk of the Purser, who intrusts to him all
his accounts with the crew, while, in most cases, he himself, snug and
comfortable in his state-room, glances over a file of newspapers
instead of overhauling his ledgers.

Of all the non-combatants of a man-of-war, the Purser, perhaps, stands
foremost in importance. Though he is but a member of the gun-room mess,
yet usage seems to assign him a conventional station somewhat above
that of his equals in navy rank—the Chaplain, Surgeon, and Professor.
Moreover, he is frequently to be seen in close conversation with the
Commodore, who, in the Neversink, was more than once known to be
slightly jocular with our Purser. Upon several occasions, also, he was
called into the Commodore’s cabin, and remained closeted there for
several minutes together. Nor do I remember that there ever happened a
cabinet meeting of the ward-room barons, the Lieutenants, in the
Commodore’s cabin, but the Purser made one of the party. Doubtless the
important fact of the Purser having under his charge all the financial
affairs of a man-of-war, imparts to him the great importance he enjoys.
Indeed, we find in every government—monarchies and republics alike—that
the personage at the head of the finances invariably occupies a
commanding position. Thus, in point of station, the Secretary of the
Treasury of the United States is deemed superior to the other heads of
departments. Also, in England, the real office held by the great
Premier himself is—as every one knows—that of First Lord of the

Now, under this high functionary of state, the official known as the
Purser’s Steward was head clerk of the frigate’s fiscal affairs. Upon
the berth-deck he had a regular counting-room, full of ledgers,
journals, and day-books. His desk was as much littered with papers as
any Pearl Street merchant’s, and much time was devoted to his accounts.
For hours together you would see him, through the window of his
subterranean office, writing by the light of his perpetual lamp.

_Ex-officio_, the Purser’s Steward of most ships is a sort of
postmaster, and his office the post-office. When the letter-bags for
the squadron—almost as large as those of the United States mail—arrived
on board the Neversink, it was the Purser’s Steward that sat at his
little window on the berth-deck and handed you your letter or paper—if
any there were to your address. Some disappointed applicants among the
sailors would offer to buy the epistles of their more fortunate
shipmates, while yet the seal was unbroken—maintaining that the sole
and confidential reading of a fond, long, domestic letter from any
man’s home, was far better than no letter at all.

In the vicinity of the office of the Purser’s Steward are the principal
store-rooms of the Purser, where large quantities of goods of every
description are to be found. On board of those ships where goods are
permitted to be served out to the crew for the purpose of selling them
ashore, to raise money, more business is transacted at the office of a
Purser’s Steward in one _Liberty-day_ morning than all the dry goods
shops in a considerable village would transact in a week.

Once a month, with undeviating regularity, this official has his hands
more than usually full. For, once a month, certain printed bills,
called Mess-bills, are circulated among the crew, and whatever you may
want from the Purser—be it tobacco, soap, duck, dungaree, needles,
thread, knives, belts, calico, ribbon, pipes, paper, pens, hats, ink,
shoes, socks, or whatever it may be—down it goes on the mess-bill,
which, being the next day returned to the office of the Steward, the
“slops,” as they are called, are served out to the men and charged to
their accounts.

Lucky is it for man-of-war’s-men that the outrageous impositions to
which, but a very few years ago, they were subjected from the abuses in
this department of the service, and the unscrupulous cupidity of many
of the pursers—lucky is it for them that _now_ these things are in a
great degree done away. The Pursers, instead of being at liberty to
make almost what they pleased from the sale of their wares, are now
paid by regular stipends laid down by law.

Under the exploded system, the profits of some of these officers were
almost incredible. In one cruise up the Mediterranean, the Purser of an
American line-of-battle ship was, on good authority, said to have
cleared the sum of $50,000. Upon that he quitted the service, and
retired into the country. Shortly after, his three daughters—not very
lovely—married extremely well.

The ideas that sailors entertain of Pursers is expressed in a rather
inelegant but expressive saying of theirs: “The Purser is a conjurer;
he can make a dead man chew tobacco”—insinuating that the accounts of a
dead man are sometimes subjected to post-mortem charges. Among sailors,
also, Pursers commonly go by the name of _nip-cheeses_.

No wonder that on board of the old frigate Java, upon her return from a
cruise extending over a period of more than four years, one thousand
dollars paid off eighty of her crew, though the aggregate wages of the
eighty for the voyage must have amounted to about sixty thousand
dollars. Even under the present system, the Purser of a line-of-battle
ship, for instance, is far better paid than any other officer, short of
Captain or Commodore. While the Lieutenant commonly receives but
eighteen hundred dollars, the Surgeon of the fleet but fifteen hundred,
the Chaplain twelve hundred, the Purser of a line-of-battle ship
receives thirty-five hundred dollars. In considering his salary,
however, his responsibilities are not to be over-looked; they are by no
means insignificant.

There are Pursers in the Navy whom the sailors exempt from the
insinuations above mentioned, nor, as a class, are they so obnoxious to
them now as formerly; for one, the florid old Purser of the
Neversink—never coming into disciplinary contact with the seamen, and
being withal a jovial and apparently good-hearted gentleman—was
something of a favourite with many of the crew.


While lying in the harbour of Callao, in Peru, certain rumours had come
to us touching a war with England, growing out of the long-vexed
Northeastern Boundary Question. In Rio these rumours were increased;
and the probability of hostilities induced our Commodore to authorize
proceedings that closely brought home to every man on board the
Neversink his liability at any time to be killed at his gun.

Among other things, a number of men were detailed to pass up the rusty
cannon-balls from the shot-lockers in the hold, and scrape them clean
for service. The Commodore was a very neat gentleman, and would not
fire a dirty shot into his foe.

It was an interesting occasion for a tranquil observer; nor was it
altogether neglected. Not to recite the precise remarks made by the
seamen while pitching the shot up the hatchway from hand to hand, like
schoolboys playing ball ashore, it will be enough to say that, from the
general drift of their discourse—jocular as it was—it was manifest
that, almost to a man, they abhorred the idea of going into action.

And why should they desire a war? Would their wages be raised? Not a
cent. The prize-money, though, ought to have been an inducement. But of
all the “rewards of virtue,” prize-money is the most uncertain; and
this the man-of-war’s-man knows. What, then, has he to expect from war?
What but harder work, and harder usage than in peace; a wooden leg or
arm; mortal wounds, and death? Enough, however, that by far the
majority of the common sailors of the Neversink were plainly concerned
at the prospect of war, and were plainly averse to it.

But with the officers of the quarter-deck it was just the reverse. None
of them, to be sure, in my hearing at least, verbally expressed their
gratification; but it was unavoidably betrayed by the increased
cheerfulness of their demeanour toward each other, their frequent
fraternal conferences, and their unwonted animation for several clays
in issuing their orders. The voice of Mad Jack—always a belfry to
hear—now resounded like that famous bell of England, Great Tom of
Oxford. As for Selvagee, he wore his sword with a jaunty air, and his
servant daily polished the blade.

But why this contrast between the forecastle and the quarter-deck,
between the man-of-war’s-man and his officer? Because, though war would
equally jeopardize the lives of both, yet, while it held out to the
sailor no promise of promotion, and what is called _glory_, these
things fired the breast of his officers.

It is no pleasing task, nor a thankful one, to dive into the souls of
some men; but there are occasions when, to bring up the mud from the
bottom, reveals to us on what soundings we are, on what coast we

How were these officers to gain glory? How but by a distinguished
slaughtering of their fellow-men. How were they to be promoted? How but
over the buried heads of killed comrades and mess-mates.

This hostile contrast between the feelings with which the common seamen
and the officers of the Neversink looked forward to this more than
possible war, is one of many instances that might be quoted to show the
antagonism of their interests, the incurable antagonism in which they
dwell. But can men, whose interests are diverse, ever hope to live
together in a harmony uncoerced? Can the brotherhood of the race of
mankind ever hope to prevail in a man-of-war, where one man’s bane is
almost another’s blessing? By abolishing the scourge, shall we do away
tyranny; _that_ tyranny which must ever prevail, where of two
essentially antagonistic classes in perpetual contact, one is
immeasurably the stronger? Surely it seems all but impossible. And as
the very object of a man-of-war, as its name implies, is to fight the
very battles so naturally averse to the seamen; so long as a man-of-war
exists, it must ever remain a picture of much that is tyrannical and
repelling in human nature.

Being an establishment much more extensive than the American Navy, the
English armed marine furnishes a yet more striking example of this
thing, especially as the existence of war produces so vast an
augmentation of her naval force compared with what it is in time of
peace. It is well known what joy the news of Bonaparte’s sudden return
from Elba created among crowds of British naval officers, who had
previously been expecting to be sent ashore on half-pay. Thus, when all
the world wailed, these officers found occasion for thanksgiving. I
urge it not against them as men—their feelings belonged to their
profession. Had they not been naval officers, they had not been
rejoicers in the midst of despair.

When shall the time come, how much longer will God postpone it, when
the clouds, which at times gather over the horizons of nations, shall
not be hailed by any class of humanity, and invoked to burst as a bomb?
Standing navies, as well as standing armies, serve to keep alive the
spirit of war even in the meek heart of peace. In its very embers and
smoulderings, they nourish that fatal fire, and half-pay officers, as
the priests of Mars, yet guard the temple, though no god be there.


I have said that I must pass over Rio without a description; but just
now such a flood of scented reminiscences steals over me, that I must
needs yield and recant, as I inhale that musky air.

More than one hundred and fifty miles’ circuit of living green hills
embosoms a translucent expanse, so gemmed in by sierras of grass, that
among the Indian tribes the place was known as “The Hidden Water.” On
all sides, in the distance, rise high conical peaks, which at sunrise
and sunset burn like vast tapers; and down from the interior, through
vineyards and forests, flow radiating streams, all emptying into the

Talk not of Bahia de Todos os Santos—the Bay of All Saints; for though
that be a glorious haven, yet Rio is the Bay of all Rivers—the Bay of
all Delights—the Bay of all Beauties. From circumjacent hillsides,
untiring summer hangs perpetually in terraces of vivid verdure; and,
embossed with old mosses, convent and castle nestle in valley and glen.

All round, deep inlets run into the green mountain land, and, overhung
with wild Highlands, more resemble Loch Katrines than Lake Lemans. And
though Loch Katrine has been sung by the bonneted Scott, and Lake Leman
by the coroneted Byron; yet here, in Rio, both the loch and the lake
are but two wild flowers in a prospect that is almost unlimited. For,
behold! far away and away, stretches the broad blue of the water, to
yonder soft-swelling hills of light green, backed by the purple
pinnacles and pipes of the grand Organ Mountains; fitly so called, for
in thunder-time they roll cannonades down the bay, drowning the blended
bass of all the cathedrals in Rio. Shout amain, exalt your voices,
stamp your feet, jubilate, Organ Mountains! and roll your Te Deums
round the world!

What though, for more than five thousand five hundred years, this grand
harbour of Rio lay hid in the hills, unknown by the Catholic
Portuguese? Centuries ere Haydn performed before emperors and kings,
these Organ Mountains played his Oratorio of the Creation, before the
Creator himself. But nervous Haydn could not have endured that
cannonading choir, since this composer of thunderbolts himself died at
last through the crashing commotion of Napoleon’s bombardment of

But all mountains are Organ Mountains: the Alps and the Himalayas; the
Appalachian Chain, the Ural, the Andes, the Green Hills and the White.
All of them play anthems forever: The Messiah, and Samson, and Israel
in Egypt, and Saul, and Judas Maccabeus, and Solomon.

Archipelago Rio! ere Noah on old Ararat anchored his ark, there lay
anchored in you all these green, rocky isles I now see. But God did not
build on you, isles! those long lines of batteries; nor did our blessed
Saviour stand godfather at the christening of yon frowning fortress of
Santa Cruz, though named in honour of himself, the divine Prince of

Amphitheatrical Rio! in your broad expanse might be held the
Resurrection and Judgment-day of the whole world’s men-of-war,
represented by the flag-ships of fleets—the flag-ships of the
Phoenician armed galleys of Tyre and Sidon; of King Solomon’s annual
squadrons that sailed to Ophir; whence in after times, perhaps, sailed
the Acapulco fleets of the Spaniards, with golden ingots for
ballasting; the flag-ships of all the Greek and Persian craft that
exchanged the war-hug at Salamis; of all the Roman and Egyptian galleys
that, eagle-like, with blood-dripping prows, beaked each other at
Actium; of all the Danish keels of the Vikings; of all the musquito
craft of Abba Thule, king of the Pelaws, when he went to vanquish
Artinsall; of all the Venetian, Genoese, and Papal fleets that came to
the shock at Lepanto; of both horns of the crescent of the Spanish
Armada; of the Portuguese squadron that, under the gallant Gama,
chastised the Moors, and discovered the Moluccas; of all the Dutch
navies red by Van Tromp, and sunk by Admiral Hawke; of the forty-seven
French and Spanish sail-of-the-line that, for three months, essayed to
batter down Gibraltar; of all Nelson’s seventy-fours that
thunder-bolted off St. Vincent’s, at the Nile, Copenhagen, and
Trafalgar; of all the frigate-merchantmen of the East India Company; of
Perry’s war-brigs, sloops, and schooners that scattered the British
armament on Lake Erie; of all the Barbary corsairs captured by
Bainbridge; of the war-canoes of the Polynesian kings, Tammahammaha and
Pomare—ay! one and all, with Commodore Noah for their Lord High
Admiral—in this abounding Bay of Rio these flag-ships might all come to
anchor, and swing round in concert to the first of the flood.

Rio is a small Mediterranean; and what was fabled of the entrance to
that sea, in Rio is partly made true; for here, at the mouth, stands
one of Hercules’ Pillars, the Sugar-Loaf Mountain, one thousand feet
high, inclining over a little, like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. At its
base crouch, like mastiffs, the batteries of Jose and Theodosia; while
opposite, you are menaced by a rock-founded fort.

The channel between—the sole inlet to the bay—seems but a biscuit’s
toss over; you see naught of the land-locked sea within till fairly in
the strait. But, then, what a sight is beheld! Diversified as the
harbour of Constantinople, but a thousand-fold grander. When the
Neversink swept in, word was passed, “Aloft, top-men! and furl
t’-gallant-sails and royals!”

At the sound I sprang into the rigging, and was soon at my perch. How I
hung over that main-royal-yard in a rapture High in air, poised over
that magnificent bay, a new world to my ravished eyes, I felt like the
foremost of a flight of angels, new-lighted upon earth, from some star
in the Milky Way.


We had not lain in Rio long, when in the innermost recesses of the
mighty soul of my noble Captain of the Top—incomparable Jack Chase—the
deliberate opinion was formed, and rock-founded, that our ship’s
company must have at least one day’s “_liberty_” to go ashore ere we
weighed anchor for home.

Here it must be mentioned that, concerning anything of this kind, no
sailor in a man-of-war ever presumes to be an agitator, unless he is of
a rank superior to a mere able-seaman; and no one short of a petty
officer—that is, a captain of the top, a quarter-gunner, or boatswain’s
mate—ever dreams of being a spokesman to the supreme authority of the
vessel in soliciting any kind of favor for himself and shipmates.

After canvassing the matter thoroughly with several old quarter-masters
and other dignified sea-fencibles, Jack, hat in hand, made his
appearance, one fine evening, at the mast, and, waiting till Captain
Claret drew nigh, bowed, and addressed him in his own off-hand,
polished, and poetical style. In his intercourse with the quarter-deck,
he always presumed upon his being such a universal favourite.

“Sir, this Rio is a charming harbour, and we poor mariners—your trusty
sea-warriors, valiant Captain! who, with _you_ at their head, would
board the Rock of Gibraltar itself, and carry it by storm—we poor
fellows, valiant Captain! have gazed round upon this ravishing
landscape till we can gaze no more. Will Captain Claret vouchsafe one
day’s liberty, and so assure himself of eternal felicity, since, in our
flowing cups, he will be ever after freshly remembered?”

As Jack thus rounded off with a snatch from Shakspeare, he saluted the
Captain with a gallant flourish of his tarpaulin, and then, bringing
the rim to his mouth, with his head bowed, and his body thrown into a
fine negligent attitude, stood a picture of eloquent but passive
appeal. He seemed to say, Magnanimous Captain Claret, we fine fellows,
and hearts of oak, throw ourselves upon your unparalleled goodness.

“And what do you want to go ashore for?” asked the Captain, evasively,
and trying to conceal his admiration of Jack by affecting some

“Ah! sir,” sighed Jack, “why do the thirsty camels of the desert desire
to lap the waters of the fountain and roll in the green grass of the
oasis? Are we not but just from the ocean Sahara? and is not this Rio a
verdant spot, noble Captain? Surely you will not keep us always
tethered at anchor, when a little more cable would admit of our
cropping the herbage! And it is a weary thing, Captain Claret, to be
imprisoned month after month on the gun-deck, without so much as
smelling a citron. Ah! Captain Claret, what sings sweet Waller:

     ‘But who can always on the billows lie?
      The watery wilderness yields no supply.’

compared with such a prisoner, noble Captain,

     ‘Happy, thrice happy, who, in battle slain,
      Press’d in Atrides’ cause the Trojan pain!’

Pope’s version, sir, not the original Greek.”

And so saying, Jack once more brought his hat-rim to his mouth, and
slightly bending forward, stood mute.

At this juncture the Most Serene Commodore himself happened to emerge
from the after-gangway, his gilded buttons, epaulets, and the gold lace
on his chapeau glittering in the flooding sunset. Attracted by the
scene between Captain Claret and so well-known and admired a commoner
as Jack Chase he approached, and assuming for the moment an air of
pleasant condescension—never shown to his noble barons the officers of
the ward-room—he said, with a smile, “Well, Jack, you and your
shipmates are after some favour, I suppose—a day’s liberty, is it not?”

Whether it was the horizontal setting sun, streaming along the deck,
that blinded Jack, or whether it was in sun-worshipping homage of the
mighty Commodore, there is no telling; but just at this juncture noble
Jack was standing reverentially holding his hat to his brow, like a man
with weak eyes.

“Valiant Commodore,” said he, at last, “this audience is indeed an
honour undeserved. I almost sink beneath it. Yes, valiant Commodore,
your sagacious mind has truly divined our object. Liberty, sir; liberty
is, indeed, our humble prayer. I trust your honourable wound, received
in glorious battle, valiant Comodore, pains you less today than

“Ah! cunning Jack!” cried the Commodore, by no means blind to the bold
sortie of his flattery, but not at all displeased with it. In more
respects than one, our Commodore’s wound was his weak side.

“I think we must give them liberty,” he added, turning to Captain
Claret; who thereupon, waving Jack further off, fell into confidential
discourse with his superior.

“Well, Jack, we will see about it,” at last cried the Commodore,
advancing. “I think we must let you go.”

“To your duty, captain of the main-top!” said the Captain, rather
stiffly. He wished to neutralise somewhat the effect of the Commodore’s
condescension. Besides, he had much rather the Commodore had been in
his cabin. His presence, for the time, affected his own supremacy in
his ship. But Jack was nowise cast down by the Captain’s coldness; he
felt safe enough; so he proceeded to offer his acknowledgments.

“‘Kind gentlemen,’” he sighed, “‘your pains are registered where every
day I turn the leaf to read,’—Macbeth, valiant Commodore and
Captain!—what the Thane says to the noble lords, Ross and Angus.”

And long and lingeringly bowing to the two noble officers, Jack backed
away from their presence, still shading his eyes with the broad rim of
his hat.

“Jack Chase for ever!” cried his shipmates, as he carried the grateful
news of liberty to them on the forecastle. “Who can talk to Commodores
like our matchless Jack!”


It was the next morning after matchless Jack’s interview with the
Commodore and Captain, that a little incident occurred, soon forgotten
by the crew at large, but long remembered by the few seamen who were in
the habit of closely scrutinising every-day proceedings. Upon the face
of it, it was but a common event—at least in a man-of-war—the flogging
of a man at the gangway. But the under-current of circumstances in the
case were of a nature that magnified this particular flogging into a
matter of no small importance. The story itself cannot here be related;
it would not well bear recital: enough that the person flogged was a
middle-aged man of the Waist—a forlorn, broken-down, miserable object,
truly; one of those wretched landsmen sometimes driven into the Navy by
their unfitness for all things else, even as others are driven into the
workhouse. He was flogged at the complaint of a midshipman; and hereby
hangs the drift of the thing. For though this waister was so ignoble a
mortal, yet his being scourged on this one occasion indirectly
proceeded from the mere wanton spite and unscrupulousness of the
midshipman in question—a youth, who was apt to indulge at times in
undignified familiarities with some of the men, who, sooner or later,
almost always suffered from his capricious preferences.

But the leading principle that was involved in this affair is far too
mischievous to be lightly dismissed.

In most cases, it would seem to be a cardinal principle with a Navy
Captain that his subordinates are disintegrated parts of himself,
detached from the main body on special service, and that the order of
the minutest midshipman must be as deferentially obeyed by the seamen
as if proceeding from the Commodore on the poop. This principle was
once emphasised in a remarkable manner by the valiant and handsome Sir
Peter Parker, upon whose death, on a national arson expedition on the
shores of Chesapeake Bay, in 1812 or 1813, Lord Byron wrote his
well-known stanzas. “By the god of war!” said Sir Peter to his sailors,
“I’ll make you touch your hat to a midshipman’s coat, if it’s only hung
on a broomstick to dry!”

That the king, in the eye of the law, can do no wrong, is the
well-known fiction of despotic states; but it has remained for the
navies of Constitutional Monarchies and Republics to magnify this
fiction, by indirectly extending it to all the quarter-deck
subordinates of an armed ship’s chief magistrate. And though judicially
unrecognised, and unacknowledged by the officers themselves, yet this
is the principle that pervades the fleet; this is the principle that is
every hour acted upon, and to sustain which, thousands of seamen have
been flogged at the gangway.

However childish, ignorant, stupid, or idiotic a midshipman, if he but
orders a sailor to perform even the most absurd action, that man is not
only bound to render instant and unanswering obedience, but he would
refuse at his peril. And if, having obeyed, he should then complain to
the Captain, and the Captain, in his own mind, should be thoroughly
convinced of the impropriety, perhaps of the illegality of the order,
yet, in nine cases out of ten, he would not publicly reprimand the
midshipman, nor by the slightest token admit before the complainant
that, in this particular thing, the midshipman had done otherwise than
perfectly right.

Upon a midshipman’s complaining of a seaman to Lord Collingwood, when
Captain of a line-of-battle ship, he ordered the man for punishment;
and, in the interval, calling the midshipman aside, said to him, “In
all probability, now, the fault is yours—you know; therefore, when the
man is brought to the mast, you had better ask for his pardon.”

Accordingly, upon the lad’s public intercession, Collingwood, turning
to the culprit, said, “This young gentleman has pleaded so humanely for
you, that, in hope you feel a due gratitude to him for his benevolence,
I will, for this time, overlook your offence.” This story is related by
the editor of the Admiral’s “Correspondence,” to show the Admiral’s

Now Collingood was, in reality, one of the most just, humane, and
benevolent admirals that ever hoisted a flag. For a sea-officer,
Collingwood was a man in a million. But if a man like him, swayed by
old usages, could thus violate the commonest principle of justice—with
however good motives at bottom—what must be expected from other
Captains not so eminently gifted with noble traits as Collingwood?

And if the corps of American midshipmen is mostly replenished from the
nursery, the counter, and the lap of unrestrained indulgence at home:
and if most of them at least, by their impotency as officers, in all
important functions at sea, by their boyish and overweening conceit of
their gold lace, by their overbearing manner toward the seamen, and by
their peculiar aptitude to construe the merest trivialities of manner
into set affronts against their dignity; if by all this they sometimes
contract the ill-will of the seamen; and if, in a thousand ways, the
seamen cannot but betray it—how easy for any of these midshipmen, who
may happen to be unrestrained by moral principle, to resort to spiteful
practices in procuring vengeance upon the offenders, in many instances
to the extremity of the lash; since, as we have seen, the tacit
principle in the Navy seems to be that, in his ordinary intercourse
with the sailors, a midshipman can do nothing obnoxious to the public
censure of his superiors.

“You fellow, I’ll get you _licked_ before long,” is often heard from a
midshipman to a sailor who, in some way not open to the judicial action
of the Captain, has chanced to offend him.

At times you will see one of these lads, not five feet high, gazing up
with inflamed eye at some venerable six-footer of a forecastle man,
cursing and insulting him by every epithet deemed most scandalous and
unendurable among men. Yet that man’s indignant tongue is
treble-knotted by the law, that suspends death itself over his head
should his passion discharge the slightest blow at the boy-worm that
spits at his feet.

But since what human nature is, and what it must for ever continue to
be, is well enough understood for most practical purposes, it needs no
special example to prove that, where the merest boys, indiscriminately
snatched from the human family, are given such authority over mature
men, the results must be proportionable in monstrousness to the custom
that authorises this worse than cruel absurdity.

Nor is it unworthy of remark that, while the noblest-minded and most
heroic sea-officers—men of the topmost stature, including Lord Nelson
himself—have regarded flogging in the Navy with the deepest concern,
and not without weighty scruples touching its general necessity, still,
one who has seen much of midshipmen can truly say that he has seen but
few midshipmen who were not enthusiastic advocates and admirers of
scourging. It would almost seem that they themselves, having so
recently escaped the posterior discipline of the nursery and the infant
school, are impatient to recover from those smarting reminiscences by
mincing the backs of full-grown American freemen.

It should not to be omitted here, that the midshipmen in the English
Navy are not permitted to be quite so imperious as in the American
ships. They are divided into three (I think) probationary classes of
“volunteers,” instead of being at once advanced to a warrant. Nor will
you fail to remark, when you see an English cutter officered by one of
those volunteers, that the boy does not so strut and slap his dirk-hilt
with a Bobadil air, and anticipatingly feel of the place where his
warlike whiskers are going to be, and sputter out oaths so at the men,
as is too often the case with the little boys wearing best-bower
anchors on their lapels in the American Navy.

Yet it must be confessed that at times you see midshipmen who are noble
little fellows, and not at all disliked by the crew. Besides three
gallant youths, one black-eyed little lad in particular, in the
Neversink, was such a one. From his diminutiveness, he went by the name
of _Boat Plug_ among the seamen. Without being exactly familiar with
them, he had yet become a general favourite, by reason of his kindness
of manner, and never cursing them. It was amusing to hear some of the
older Tritons invoke blessings upon the youngster, when his kind tones
fell on their weather-beaten ears. “Ah, good luck to you, sir!”
touching their hats to the little man; “you have a soul to be saved,
sir!” There was a wonderful deal of meaning involved in the latter
sentence. _You have a soul to be saved_, is the phrase which a
man-of-war’s-man peculiarly applies to a humane and kind-hearted
officer. It also implies that the majority of quarter-deck officers are
regarded by them in such a light that they deny to them the possession
of souls. Ah! but these plebeians sometimes have a sublime vengeance
upon patricians. Imagine an outcast old sailor seriously cherishing the
purely speculative conceit that some bully in epaulets, who orders him
to and fro like a slave, is of an organization immeasurably inferior to
himself; must at last perish with the brutes, while he goes to his
immortality in heaven.

But from what has been said in this chapter, it must not be inferred
that a midshipman leads a lord’s life in a man-of-war. Far from it. He
lords it over those below him, while lorded over himself by his
superiors. It is as if with one hand a school-boy snapped his fingers
at a dog, and at the same time received upon the other the discipline
of the usher’s ferule. And though, by the American Articles of War, a
Navy Captain cannot, of his own authority, legally punish a midshipman,
otherwise than by suspension from duty (the same as with respect to the
Ward-room officers), yet this is one of those sea-statutes which the
Captain, to a certain extent, observes or disregards at his pleasure.
Many instances might be related of the petty mortifications and
official insults inflicted by some Captains upon their midshipmen; far
more severe, in one sense, than the old-fashioned punishment of sending
them to the mast-head, though not so arbitrary as sending them before
the mast, to do duty with the common sailors—a custom, in former times,
pursued by Captains in the English Navy.

Captain Claret himself had no special fondness for midshipmen. A tall,
overgrown young midshipman, about sixteen years old, having fallen
under his displeasure, he interrupted the humble apologies he was
making, by saying, “Not a word, sir! I’ll not hear a word! Mount the
netting, sir, and stand there till you are ordered to come down!”

The midshipman obeyed; and, in full sight of the entire ship’s company,
Captain Claret promenaded to and fro below his lofty perch, reading him
a most aggravating lecture upon his alleged misconduct. To a lad of
sensibility, such treatment must have been almost as stinging as the
lash itself would have been.

It is to be remembered that, wherever these chapters treat of
midshipmen, the officers known as passed-midshipmen are not at all
referred to. In the American Navy, these officers form a class of young
men, who, having seen sufficient service at sea as midshipmen to pass
an examination before a Board of Commodores, are promoted to the rank
of passed-midshipmen, introductory to that of lieutenant. They are
supposed to be qualified to do duty as lieutenants, and in some cases
temporarily serve as such. The difference between a passed-midshipman
and a midshipman may be also inferred from their respective rates of
pay. The former, upon sea-service, receives $750 a year; the latter,
$400. There were no passed-midshipmen in the Neversink.


It has been said that some midshipmen, in certain cases, are guilty of
spiteful practices against the man-of-war’s-man. But as these
midshipmen are presumed to have received the liberal and lofty breeding
of gentlemen, it would seem all but incredible that any of their corps
could descend to the paltriness of cherishing personal malice against
so conventionally degraded a being as a sailor. So, indeed, it would
seem. But when all the circumstances are considered, it will not appear
extraordinary that some of them should thus cast discredit upon the
warrants they wear. Title, and rank, and wealth, and education cannot
unmake human nature; the same in cabin-boy and commodore, its only
differences lie in the different modes of development.

At sea, a frigate houses and homes five hundred mortals in a space so
contracted that they can hardly so much as move but they touch. Cut off
from all those outward passing things which ashore employ the eyes,
tongues, and thoughts of landsmen, the inmates of a frigate are thrown
upon themselves and each other, and all their ponderings are
introspective. A morbidness of mind is often the consequence,
especially upon long voyages, accompanied by foul weather, calms, or
head-winds. Nor does this exempt from its evil influence any rank on
board. Indeed, high station only ministers to it the more, since the
higher the rank in a man-of-war, the less companionship.

It is an odious, unthankful, repugnant thing to dwell upon a subject
like this; nevertheless, be it said, that, through these jaundiced
influences, even the captain of a frigate is, in some cases, indirectly
induced to the infliction of corporal punishment upon a seaman. Never
sail under a navy captain whom you suspect of being dyspeptic, or
constitutionally prone to hypochondria.

The manifestation of these things is sometimes remarkable. In the
earlier part of the cruise, while making a long, tedious run from
Mazatlan to Callao on the Main, baffled by light head winds and
frequent intermitting calms, when all hands were heartily wearied by
the torrid, monotonous sea, a good-natured fore-top-man, by the name of
Candy—quite a character in his way—standing in the waist among a crowd
of seamen, touched me, and said, “D’ye see the old man there,
White-Jacket, walking the poop? Well, don’t he look as if he wanted to
flog someone? Look at him once.”

But to me, at least, no such indications were visible in the deportment
of the Captain, though his thrashing the arm-chest with the slack of
the spanker-out-haul looked a little suspicious. But any one might have
been doing that to pass away a calm.

“Depend on it,” said the top-man, “he must somehow have thought I was
making sport of _him_ a while ago, when I was only taking off old
Priming, the gunner’s mate. Just look at him once, White-Jacket, while
I make believe coil this here rope; if there arn’t a dozen in that ’ere
Captain’s top-lights, my name is _horse-marine_. If I could only touch
my tile to him now, and take my Bible oath on it, that I was only
taking off Priming, and not _him_, he wouldn’t have such hard thoughts
of me. But that can’t be done; he’d think I meant to insult him. Well,
it can’t be helped; I suppose I must look out for a baker’s dozen afore

I had an incredulous laugh at this. But two days afterward, when we
were hoisting the main-top-mast stun’-sail, and the Lieutenant of the
Watch was reprimanding the crowd of seamen at the halyards for their
laziness—for the sail was but just crawling up to its place, owing to
the languor of the men, induced by the heat—the Captain, who had been
impatiently walking the deck, suddenly stopped short, and darting his
eyes among the seamen, suddenly fixed them, crying out, “You, Candy,
and be damned to you, you don’t pull an ounce, you blackguard! Stand up
to that gun, sir; I’ll teach you to be grinning over a rope that way,
without lending your pound of beef to it. Boatswain’s mate, where’s
your _colt?_ Give that man a dozen.”

Removing his hat, the boatswain’s mate looked into the crown aghast;
the coiled rope, usually worn there, was not to be found; but the next
instant it slid from the top of his head to the deck. Picking it up,
and straightening it out, he advanced toward the sailor.

“Sir,” said Candy, touching and retouching his cap to the Captain, “I
was pulling, sir, as much as the rest, sir; I was, indeed, sir.”

“Stand up to that gun,” cried the Captain. “Boatswain’s mate, do your

Three stripes were given, when the Captain raised his finger.
“You——,[3] do you dare stand up to be flogged with your hat on! Take it
off, sir, instantly.”

 [3] The phrase here used I have never seen either written or printed,
 and should not like to be the first person to introduce it to the

Candy dropped it on deck.

“Now go on, boatswain’s mate.” And the sailor received his dozen.

With his hand to his back he came up to me, where I stood among the
by-standers, saying, “O Lord, O Lord! that boatswain’s mate, too, had a
spite agin me; he always thought it was _me_ that set afloat that yarn
about his wife in Norfolk. O Lord! just run your hand under my shirt
will you, White-Jacket? There!! didn’t he have a spite agin me, to
raise such bars as them? And my shirt all cut to pieces, too—arn’t it,
White-Jacket? Damn me, but these coltings puts the tin in the Purser’s
pocket. O Lord! my back feels as if there was a red-hot gridiron lashed
to it. But I told you so—a widow’s curse on him, say I—he thought I
meant _him_, and not Priming.”


Whenever, in intervals of mild benevolence, or yielding to mere politic
dictates, Kings and Commodores relax the yoke of servitude, they should
see to it well that the concession seem not too sudden or unqualified;
for, in the commoner’s estimation, that might argue feebleness or fear.

Hence it was, perhaps, that, though noble Jack had carried the day
captive in his audience at the mast, yet more than thirty-six hours
elapsed ere anything official was heard of the “liberty” his shipmates
so earnestly coveted. Some of the people began to growl and grumble.

“It’s turned out all gammon, Jack,” said one.

“Blast the Commodore!” cried another, “he bamboozled you, Jack.”

“Lay on your oars a while,” answered Jack, “and we shall see; we’ve
struck for liberty, and liberty we’ll have! I’m your tribune, boys; I’m
your Rienzi. The Commodore must keep his word.”

Next day, about breakfast-time, a mighty whistling and piping was heard
at the main-hatchway, and presently the boatswain’s voice was heard:
“D’ye hear there, fore and aft! all you starboard-quarter watch! get
ready to go ashore on liberty!”

In a paroxysm of delight, a young mizzen-top-man, standing by at the
time, whipped the tarpaulin from his head, and smashed it like a
pancake on the deck. “Liberty!” he shouted, leaping down into the
berth-deck after his bag.

At the appointed hour, the quarter-watch mustered round the capstan, at
which stood our old First Lord of the Treasury and Pay-Master-General,
the Purser, with several goodly buck-skin bags of dollars, piled up on
the capstan. He helped us all round to half a handful or so, and then
the boats were manned, and, like so many Esterhazys, we were pulled
ashore by our shipmates. All their lives lords may live in listless
state; but give the commoners a holiday, and they outlord the Commodore

The ship’s company were divided into four sections or quarter-watches,
only one of which were on shore at a time, the rest remaining to
garrison the frigate—the term of liberty for each being twenty-four

With Jack Chase and a few other discreet and gentlemanly top-men, I
went ashore on the first day, with the first quarter-watch. Our own
little party had a charming time; we saw many fine sights; fell in—as
all sailors must—with dashing adventures. But, though not a few good
chapters might be written on this head, I must again forbear; for in
this book I have nothing to do with the shore further than to glance at
it, now and then, from the water; my man-of-war world alone must supply
me with the staple of my matter; I have taken an oath to keep afloat to
the last letter of my narrative.

Had they all been as punctual as Jack Chase’s party, the whole
quarter-watch of liberty-men had been safe on board the frigate at the
expiration of the twenty-four hours. But this was not the case; and
during the entire day succeeding, the midshipmen and others were
engaged in ferreting them out of their hiding-places on shore, and
bringing them off in scattered detachments to the ship.

They came in all imaginable stages of intoxication; some with blackened
eyes and broken heads; some still more severely injured, having been
stabbed in frays with the Portuguese soldiers. Others, unharmed, were
immediately dropped on the gun-deck, between the guns, where they lay
snoring for the rest of the day. As a considerable degree of license is
invariably permitted to man-of-war’s-men just “off liberty,” and as
man-of-war’s-men well know this to be the case, they occasionally avail
themselves of the privilege to talk very frankly to the officers when
they first cross the gangway, taking care, meanwhile, to reel about
very industriously, so that there shall be no doubt about their being
seriously intoxicated, and altogether _non compos_ for the time. And
though but few of them have cause to feign intoxication, yet some
individuals may be suspected of enacting a studied part upon these
occasions. Indeed—judging by certain symptoms—even when really
inebriated, some of the sailors must have previously determined upon
their conduct; just as some persons who, before taking the exhilarating
gas, secretly make up their minds to perform certain mad feats while
under its influence, which feats consequently come to pass precisely as
if the actors were not accountable for them.

For several days, while the other quarter-watches were given liberty,
the Neversink presented a sad scene. She was more like a madhouse than
a frigate; the gun-deck resounded with frantic fights, shouts, and
songs. All visitors from shore were kept at a cable’s length.

These scenes, however, are nothing to those which have repeatedly been
enacted in American men-of-war upon other stations. But the custom of
introducing women on board, in harbour, is now pretty much
discontinued, both in the English and American Navy, unless a ship,
commanded by some dissolute Captain, happens to lie in some far away,
outlandish port, in the Pacific or Indian Ocean.

The British line-of-battle ship, Royal George, which in 1782 sunk at
her anchors at Spithead, carried down three hundred English women among
the one thousand souls that were drowned on that memorable morning.

When, at last, after all the mad tumult and contention of “Liberty,”
the reaction came, our frigate presented a very different scene. The
men looked jaded and wan, lethargic and lazy; and many an old mariner,
with hand upon abdomen, called upon the Flag-staff to witness that
there were more _hot coppers_ in the Neversink than those in the ship’s

Such are the lamentable effects of suddenly and completely releasing
“_the people_” of a man-of-war from arbitrary discipline. It shows
that, to such, “liberty,” at first, must be administered in small and
moderate quantities, increasing with the patient’s capacity to make
good use of it.

Of course while we lay in Rio, our officers frequently went ashore for
pleasure, and, as a general thing, conducted themselves with propriety.
But it is a sad thing to say, that, as for Lieutenant Mad Jack, he
enjoyed himself so delightfully for three consecutive days in the town,
that, upon returning to the ship, he sent his card to the Surgeon, with
his compliments, begging him to drop into his state-room the first time
he happened to pass that way in the ward-room.

But one of our Surgeon’s mates, a young medico of fine family but
slender fortune, must have created by far the strongest impression
among the hidalgoes of Rio. He had read Don Quixote, and, instead of
curing him of his Quixotism, as it ought to have done, it only made him
still more Quixotic. Indeed, there are some natures concerning whose
moral maladies the grand maxim of Mr. Similia Similibus Curantur
Hahneman does not hold true, since, with them, _like cures_ not _like_,
but only aggravates _like_. Though, on the other hand, so incurable are
the moral maladies of such persons, that the antagonist maxim,
_contraria contrariis curantar_, often proves equally false.

Of a warm tropical day, this Surgeon’s mate must needs go ashore in his
blue cloth boat-cloak, wearing it, with a gallant Spanish toss, over
his cavalier shoulder. By noon, he perspired very freely; but then his
cloak attracted all eyes, and that was huge satisfaction. Nevertheless,
his being knock-kneed, and spavined of one leg, sorely impaired the
effect of this hidalgo cloak, which, by-the-way, was some-what rusty in
front, where his chin rubbed against it, and a good deal bedraggled all
over, from his having used it as a counterpane off Cape Horn.

As for the midshipmen, there is no knowing what their mammas would have
said to their conduct in Rio. Three of them drank a good deal too much;
and when they came on board, the Captain ordered them to be sewed up in
their hammocks, to cut short their obstreperous capers till sober.

This shows how unwise it is to allow children yet in their teens to
wander so far from home. It more especially illustrates the folly of
giving them long holidays in a foreign land, full of seductive
dissipation. Port for men, claret for boys, cried Dr. Johnson. Even so,
men only should drink the strong drink of travel; boys should still be
kept on milk and water at home. Middies! you may despise your mother’s
leading-strings, but they are the _man-ropes_ my lads, by which many
youngsters have steadied the giddiness of youth, and saved themselves
from lamentable falls. And middies! know this, that as infants, being
too early put on their feet, grow up bandy-legged, and curtailed of
their fair proportions, even so, my dear middies, does it morally prove
with some of you, who prematurely are sent off to sea.

These admonitions are solely addressed to the more diminutive class of
midshipmen—those under five feet high, and under seven stone in weight.

Truly, the records of the steerages of men-of-war are full of most
melancholy examples of early dissipation, disease, disgrace, and death.
Answer, ye shades of fine boys, who in the soils of all climes, the
round world over, far away sleep from your homes.

Mothers of men! If your hearts have been cast down when your boys have
fallen in the way of temptations ashore, how much more bursting your
grief, did you know that those boys were far from your arms, cabined
and cribbed in by all manner of iniquities. But this some of you cannot
believe. It is, perhaps, well that it is so.

But hold them fast—all those who have not yet weighed their anchors for
the Navy-round and round, hitch over hitch, bind your leading-strings
on them, and clinching a ring-bolt into your chimmey-jam, moor your
boys fast to that best of harbours, the hearth-stone.

But if youth be giddy, old age is staid; even as young saplings, in the
litheness of their limbs, toss to their roots in the fresh morning air;
but, stiff and unyielding with age, mossy trunks never bend. With pride
and pleasure be it said, that, as for our old Commodore, though he
might treat himself to as many “_liberty days_” as he pleased, yet
throughout our stay in Rio he conducted himself with the utmost

But he was an old, old man; physically, a very small man; his spine was
as an unloaded musket-barrel—not only attenuated, but destitute of a
solitary cartridge, and his ribs were as the ribs of a weasel.

Besides, he was Commodore of the fleet, supreme lord of the Commons in
Blue. It beseemed him, therefore, to erect himself into an ensample of
virtue, and show the gun-deck what virtue was. But alas! when Virtue
sits high aloft on a frigate’s poop, when Virtue is crowned in the
cabin a Commodore, when Virtue rules by compulsion, and domineers over
Vice as a slave, then Virtue, though her mandates be outwardly
observed, bears little interior sway. To be efficacious, Virtue must
come down from aloft, even as our blessed Redeemer came down to redeem
our whole man-of-war world; to that end, mixing with its sailors and
sinners as equals.


The allusion in the preceding chapter to the early age at which some of
the midshipmen enter the Navy, suggests some thoughts relative to more
important considerations.

A very general modern impression seems to be, that, in order to learn
the profession of a sea-officer, a boy can hardly be sent to sea too
early. To a certain extent, this may be a mistake. Other professions,
involving a knowledge of technicalities and things restricted to one
particular field of action, are frequently mastered by men who begin
after the age of twenty-one, or even at a later period of life. It was
only about the middle of the seventeenth century that the British
military and naval services were kept distinct. Previous to that epoch
the king’s officers commanded indifferently either by sea or by land.

Robert Blake, perhaps one of the most accomplished, and certainly one
of the most successful Admirals that ever hoisted a flag, was more than
half a century old (fifty-one years) before he entered the naval
service, or had aught to do, professionally, with a ship. He was of a
studious turn, and, after leaving Oxford, resided quietly on his
estate, a country gentleman, till his forty-second year, soon after
which he became connected with the Parliamentary army.

The historian Clarendon says of him, “He was the first man that made it
manifest that the science (seamanship) might be attained in less time
than was imagined.” And doubtless it was to his shore sympathies that
the well-known humanity and kindness which Blake evinced in his
intercourse with the sailors is in a large degree to be imputed.

Midshipmen sent into the Navy at a very early age are exposed to the
passive reception of all the prejudices of the quarter-deck in favour
of ancient usages, however useless or pernicious; those prejudices grow
up with them, and solidify with their very bones. As they rise in rank,
they naturally carry them up, whence the inveterate repugnance of many
Commodores and Captains to the slightest innovations in the service,
however salutary they may appear to landsmen.

It is hardly to be doubted that, in matters connected with the general
welfare of the Navy, government has paid rather too much deference to
the opinions of the officers of the Navy, considering them as men
almost born to the service, and therefore far better qualified to judge
concerning any and all questions touching it than people on shore. But
in a nation under a liberal Constitution, it must ever be unwise to
make too distinct and peculiar the profession of either branch of its
military men. True, in a country like ours, nothing is at present to be
apprehended of their gaining political rule; but not a little is to be
apprehended concerning their perpetuating or creating abuses among
their subordinates, unless civilians have full cognisance of their
administrative affairs, and account themselves competent to the
complete overlooking and ordering them.

We do wrong when we in any way contribute to the prevailing
mystification that has been thrown about the internal affairs of the
national sea-service. Hitherto those affairs have been regarded even by
some high state functionaries as things beyond their insight—altogether
too technical and mysterious to be fully comprehended by landsmen. And
this it is that has perpetuated in the Navy many evils that otherwise
would have been abolished in the general amelioration of other things.
The army is sometimes remodelled, but the Navy goes down from
generation to generation almost untouched and unquestioned, as if its
code were infallible, and itself a piece of perfection that no
statesman could improve. When a Secretary of the Navy ventures to
innovate upon its established customs, you hear some of the Navy
officers say, “What does this landsman know about our affairs? Did he
ever head a watch? He does not know starboard from larboard, girt-line
from back-stay.”

While we deferentially and cheerfully leave to Navy officers the sole
conduct of making and shortening sail, tacking ship, and performing
other nautical manoeuvres, as may seem to them best; let us beware of
abandoning to their discretion those general municipal regulations
touching the well-being of the great body of men before the mast; let
us beware of being too much influenced by their opinions in matters
where it is but natural to suppose that their long-established
prejudices are enlisted.


While we lay in Rio, we sometimes had company from shore; but an
unforeseen honour awaited us. One day, the young Emperor, Don Pedro
II., and suite—making a circuit of the harbour, and visiting all the
men-of-war in rotation—at last condescendingly visited the Neversink.

He came in a splendid barge, rowed by thirty African slaves, who, after
the Brazilian manner, in concert rose upright to their oars at every
stroke; then sank backward again to their seats with a simultaneous

He reclined under a canopy of yellow silk, looped with tassels of
green, the national colours. At the stern waved the Brazilian flag,
bearing a large diamond figure in the centre, emblematical, perhaps, of
the mines of precious stones in the interior; or, it may be, a
magnified portrait of the famous “Portuguese diamond” itself, which was
found in Brazil, in the district of Tejuco, on the banks of the Rio

We gave them a grand salute, which almost made the ship’s live-oak
_knees_ knock together with the tremendous concussions. We manned the
yards, and went through a long ceremonial of paying the Emperor homage.
Republicans are often more courteous to royalty than royalists
themselves. But doubtless this springs from a noble magnanimity.

At the gangway, the Emperor was received by our Commodore in person,
arrayed in his most resplendent coat and finest French epaulets. His
servant had devoted himself to polishing every button that morning with
rotten-stone and rags—your sea air is a sworn foe to metallic glosses;
whence it comes that the swords of sea-officers have, of late, so
rusted in their scabbards that they are with difficulty drawn.

It was a fine sight to see this Emperor and Commodore complimenting
each other. Both were _chapeaux-de-bras_, and both continually waved
them. By instinct, the Emperor knew that the venerable personage before
him was as much a monarch afloat as he himself was ashore. Did not our
Commodore carry the sword of state by his side? For though not borne
before him, it must have been a sword of state, since it looked far to
lustrous to have been his fighting sword. _That_ was naught but a
limber steel blade, with a plain, serviceable handle, like the handle
of a slaughter-house knife.

Who ever saw a star when the noon sun was in sight? But you seldom see
a king without satellites. In the suite of the youthful Emperor came a
princely train; so brilliant with gems, that they seemed just emerged
from the mines of the Rio Belmonte.

You have seen cones of crystallised salt? Just so flashed these
Portuguese Barons, Marquises, Viscounts, and Counts. Were it not for
their titles, and being seen in the train of their lord, you would have
sworn they were eldest sons of jewelers all, who had run away with
their fathers’ cases on their backs.

Contrasted with these lamp-lustres of Barons of Brazil, how waned the
gold lace of our barons of the frigate, the officers of the gun-room!
and compared with the long, jewel-hilted rapiers of the Marquises, the
little dirks of our cadets of noble houses—the middies—looked like
gilded tenpenny nails in their girdles.

But there they stood! Commodore and Emperor, Lieutenants and Marquises,
middies and pages! The brazen band on the poop struck up; the marine
guard presented arms; and high aloft, looking down on this scene, all
_the people_ vigorously hurraed. A top-man next me on the
main-royal-yard removed his hat, and diligently manipulated his head in
honour of the event; but he was so far out of sight in the clouds, that
this ceremony went for nothing.

A great pity it was, that in addition to all these honours, that
admirer of Portuguese literature, Viscount Strangford, of Great
Britain—who, I believe, once went out Ambassador Extraordinary to the
Brazils—it was a pity that he was not present on this occasion, to
yield his tribute of “A Stanza to Braganza!” For our royal visitor was
an undoubted Braganza, allied to nearly all the great families of
Europe. His grandfather, John VI., had been King of Portugal; his own
sister, Maria, was now its queen. He was, indeed, a distinguished young
gentleman, entitled to high consideration, and that consideration was
most cheerfully accorded him.

He wore a green dress-coat, with one regal morning-star at the breast,
and white pantaloons. In his chapeau was a single, bright, golden-hued
feather of the Imperial Toucan fowl, a magnificent, omnivorous,
broad-billed bandit bird of prey, a native of Brazil. Its perch is on
the loftiest trees, whence it looks down upon all humbler fowls, and,
hawk-like, flies at their throats. The Toucan once formed part of the
savage regalia of the Indian caciques of the country, and upon the
establishment of the empire, was symbolically retained by the
Portuguese sovereigns.

His Imperial Majesty was yet in his youth; rather corpulent, if
anything, with a care-free, pleasant face, and a polite, indifferent,
and easy address. His manners, indeed, were entirely unexceptionable.

Now here, thought I, is a very fine lad, with very fine prospects
before him. He is supreme Emperor of all these Brazils; he has no
stormy night-watches to stand; he can lay abed of mornings just as long
as he pleases. Any gentleman in Rio would be proud of his personal
acquaintance, and the prettiest girl in all South America would deem
herself honoured with the least glance from the acutest angle of his

Yes: this young Emperor will have a fine time of this life, even so
long as he condescends to exist. Every one jumps to obey him; and see,
as I live, there is an old nobleman in his suit—the Marquis d’Acarty
they call him, old enough to be his grandfather—who, in the hot sun, is
standing bareheaded before him, while the Emperor carries his hat on
his head.

“I suppose that old gentleman, now,” said a young New England tar
beside me, “would consider it a great honour to put on his Royal
Majesty’s boots; and yet, White-Jacket, if yonder Emperor and I were to
strip and jump overboard for a bath, it would be hard telling which was
of the blood royal when we should once be in the water. Look you, Don
Pedro II.,” he added, “how do you come to be Emperor? Tell me that. You
cannot pull as many pounds as I on the main-topsail-halyards; you are
not as tall as I: your nose is a pug, and mine is a cut-water; and how
do you come to be a ‘_brigand_,’ with that thin pair of spars? A
_brigand_, indeed!”

“_Braganza_, you mean,” said I, willing to correct the rhetoric of so
fierce a republican, and, by so doing, chastise his censoriousness.

“Braganza! _bragger_ it is,” he replied; “and a bragger, indeed. See
that feather in his cap! See how he struts in that coat! He may well
wear a green one, top-mates—he’s a green-looking swab at the best.”

“Hush, Jonathan,” said I; “there’s the _First Duff_ looking up. Be
still! the Emperor will hear you;” and I put my hand on his mouth.

“Take your hand away, White-Jacket,” he cried; “there’s no law up aloft
here. I say, you Emperor—you greenhorn in the green coat, there—look
you, you can’t raise a pair of whiskers yet; and see what a pair of
homeward-bounders I have on my jowls! _Don Pedro_, eh? What’s that,
after all, but plain Peter—reckoned a shabby name in my country. Damn
me, White-Jacket, I wouldn’t call my dog Peter!”

“Clap a stopper on your jaw-tackle, will you?” cried Ringbolt, the
sailor on the other side of him. “You’ll be getting us all into darbies
for this.”

“I won’t trice up my red rag for nobody,” retorted Jonathan. “So you
had better take a round turn with yours, Ringbolt, and let me alone, or
I’ll fetch you such a swat over your figure-head, you’ll think a Long
Wharf truck-horse kicked you with all four shoes on one hoof! You
Emperor—you counter-jumping son of a gun—cock your weather eye up aloft
here, and see your betters! I say, top-mates, he ain’t any Emperor at
all—I’m the rightful Emperor. Yes, by the Commodore’s boots! they stole
me out of my cradle here in the palace of Rio, and put that green-horn
in my place. Ay, you timber-head, you, I’m Don Pedro II., and by good
rights you ought to be a main-top-man here, with your fist in a
tar-bucket! Look you, I say, that crown of yours ought to be on my
head; or, if you don’t believe _that_, just heave it into the ring
once, and see who’s the best man.”

“What’s this hurra’s nest here aloft?” cried Jack Chase, coming up the
t’-gallant rigging from the top-sail yard. “Can’t you behave yourself,
royal-yard-men, when an Emperor’s on board?”

“It’s this here Jonathan,” answered Ringbolt; “he’s been blackguarding
the young nob in the green coat, there. He says Don Pedro stole his


“Crown, he means, noble Jack,” said a top-man.

“Jonathan don’t call himself an Emperor, does he?” asked Jack.

“Yes,” cried Jonathan; “that greenhorn, standing there by the
Commodore, is sailing under false colours; he’s an impostor, I say; he
wears my crown.”

“Ha! ha!” laughed Jack, now seeing into the joke, and willing to humour
it; “though I’m born a Briton, boys, yet, by the mast! these Don Pedros
are all Perkin Warbecks. But I say, Jonathan, my lad, don’t pipe your
eye now about the loss of your crown; for, look you, we all wear
crowns, from our cradles to our graves, and though in _double-darbies_
in the _brig_, the Commodore himself can’t unking us.”

“A riddle, noble Jack.”

“Not a bit; every man who has a sole to his foot has a crown to his
head. Here’s mine;” and so saying, Jack, removing his tarpaulin,
exhibited a bald spot, just about the bigness of a crown-piece, on the
summit of his curly and classical head.


I Beg their Royal Highnesses’ pardons all round, but I had almost
forgotten to chronicle the fact, that with the Emperor came several
other royal Princes—kings for aught we knew—since it was just after the
celebration of the nuptials of a younger sister of the Brazilian
monarch to some European royalty. Indeed, the Emperor and his suite
formed a sort of bridal party, only the bride herself was absent.

The first reception over, the smoke of the cannonading salute having
cleared away, and the martial outburst of the brass band having also
rolled off to leeward, the people were called down from the yards, and
the drum beat to quarters.

To quarters we went; and there we stood up by our iron bull-dogs, while
our royal and noble visitors promenaded along the batteries, breaking
out into frequent exclamations at our warlike array, the extreme
neatness of our garments, and, above all, the extraordinary polish of
the _bright-work_ about the great guns, and the marvellous whiteness of
the decks.

“Que gosto!” cried a Marquis, with several dry goods samples of ribbon,
tallied with bright buttons, hanging from his breast.

“Que gloria!” cried a crooked, coffee-coloured Viscount, spreading both

“Que alegria!” cried a little Count, mincingly circumnavigating a

“Que contentamento he o meu!” cried the Emperor himself, complacently
folding his royal arms, and serenely gazing along our ranks.

_Pleasure, Glory_, and _Joy_—this was the burden of the three noble
courtiers. _And very pleasing indeed_—was the simple rendering of Don
Pedro’s imperial remark.

“Ay, ay,” growled a grim rammer-and-sponger behind me; “it’s all
devilish fine for you nobs to look at; but what would you say if you
had to holy-stone the deck yourselves, and wear out your elbows in
polishing this cursed old iron, besides getting a dozen at the gangway,
if you dropped a grease-spot on deck in your mess? Ay, ay, devilish
fine for you, but devilish dull for us!”

In due time the drums beat the retreat, and the ship’s company
scattered over the decks.

Some of the officers now assumed the part of cicerones, to show the
distinguished strangers the bowels of the frigate, concerning which
several of them showed a good deal of intelligent curiosity. A guard of
honour, detached from the marine corps, accompanied them, and they made
the circuit of the berth-deck, where, at a judicious distance, the
Emperor peeped down into the cable-tier, a very subterranean vault.

The Captain of the Main-Hold, who there presided, made a polite bow in
the twilight, and respectfully expressed a desire for His Royal Majesty
to step down and honour him with a call; but, with his handkerchief to
his Imperial nose, his Majesty declined. The party then commenced the
ascent to the spar-deck; which, from so great a depth in a frigate, is
something like getting up to the top of Bunker Hill Monument from the

While a crowd of people was gathered about the forward part of the
booms, a sudden cry was heard from below; a lieutenant came running
forward to learn the cause, when an old sheet-anchor-man, standing by,
after touching his hat hitched up his waistbands, and replied, “I don’t
know, sir, but I’m thinking as how one o’ them ’ere kings has been
tumblin’ down the hatchway.”

And something like this it turned out. In ascending one of the narrow
ladders leading from the berth-deck to the gun-deck, the Most Noble
Marquis of Silva, in the act of elevating the Imperial coat-tails, so
as to protect them from rubbing against the newly-painted combings of
the hatchway, this noble marquis’s sword, being an uncommonly long one,
had caught between his legs, and tripped him head over heels down into
the fore-passage.

“Onde ides?” (where are you going?) said his royal master, tranquilly
peeping down toward the falling Marquis; “and what did you let go of my
coat-tails for?” he suddenly added, in a passion, glancing round at the
same time, to see if they had suffered from the unfaithfulness of his
train bearer.

“Oh, Lord!” sighed the Captain of the Fore-top, “who would be a Marquis
of Silva?”

Upon being assisted to the spar-deck, the unfortunate Marquis was found
to have escaped without serious harm; but, from the marked coolness of
his royal master, when the Marquis drew near to apologise for his
awkwardness, it was plain that he was condemned to languish for a time
under the royal displeasure.

Shortly after, the Imperial party withdrew, under another grand
national salute.


As we were somewhat short-handed while we lay in Rio, we received a
small draft of men from a United States sloop of war, whose three
years’ term of service would expire about the time of our arrival in

Under guard of an armed Lieutenant and four midshipmen, they came on
board in the afternoon. They were immediately mustered in the starboard
gangway, that Mr. Bridewell, our First Lieutenant, might take down
their names, and assign them their stations.

They stood in a mute and solemn row; the officer advanced, with his
memorandum-book and pencil.

My casual friend, Shakings, the holder, happened to be by at the time.
Touching my arm, he said, “White-Jacket, this here reminds me of
Sing-Sing, when a draft of fellows in darbies, came on from the State
Prison at Auburn for a change of scene like, you know!”

After taking down four or five names, Mr. Bridewell accosted the next
man, a rather good-looking person, but, from his haggard cheek and
sunken eye, he seemed to have been in the sad habit, all his life, of
sitting up rather late at night; and though all sailors do certainly
keep late hours enough—standing watches at midnight—yet there is no
small difference between keeping late hours at sea and keeping late
hours ashore.

“What’s your name?” asked the officer, of this rather rakish-looking

“Mandeville, sir,” said the man, courteously touching his cap. “You
must remember me, sir,” he added, in a low, confidential tone,
strangely dashed with servility; “we sailed together once in the old
Macedonian, sir. I wore an epaulet then; we had the same state-room,
you know, sir. I’m your old chum, Mandeville, sir,” and he again
touched his cap.

“I remember an _officer_ by that name,” said the First Lieutenant,
emphatically, “and I know _you_, fellow. But I know you henceforth for
a common sailor. I can show no favouritism here. If you ever violate
the ship’s rules, you shall be flogged like any other seaman. I place
you in the fore-top; go forward to your duty.”

It seemed this Mandeville had entered the Navy when very young, and had
risen to be a lieutenant, as he said. But brandy had been his bane. One
night, when he had the deck of a line-of-battle ship, in the
Mediterranean, he was seized with a fit of mania-a-potu, and being out
of his senses for the time, went below and turned into his berth,
leaving the deck without a commanding officer. For this unpardonable
offence he was broken.

Having no fortune, and no other profession than the sea, upon his
disgrace he entered the merchant-service as a chief mate; but his love
of strong drink still pursuing him, he was again cashiered at sea, and
degraded before the mast by the Captain. After this, in a state of
intoxication, he re-entered the Navy at Pensacola as a common sailor.
But all these lessons, so biting-bitter to learn, could not cure him of
his sin. He had hardly been a week on board the Neversink, when he was
found intoxicated with smuggled spirits. They lashed him to the
gratings, and ignominiously scourged him under the eye of his old
friend and comrade, the First Lieutenant.

This took place while we lay in port, which reminds me of the
circumstance, that when punishment is about to be inflicted in harbour,
all strangers are ordered ashore; and the sentries at the side have it
in strict charge to waive off all boats drawing near.


The conduct of Mandeville, in claiming the acquaintance of the First
Lieutenant under such disreputable circumstances was strongly
contrasted by the behaviour of another person on board, placed for a
time in a somewhat similar situation.

Among the genteel youths of the after-guard was a lad of about sixteen,
a very handsome young fellow, with starry eyes, curly hair of a golden
colour, and a bright, sunshiny complexion: he must have been the son of
some goldsmith. He was one of the few sailors—not in the main-top—whom
I used to single out for occasional conversation. After several
friendly interviews he became quite frank, and communicated certain
portions of his history. There is some charm in the sea, which induces
most persons to be very communicative concerning themselves.

We had lain in Rio but a day, when I observed that this lad—whom I
shall here call Frank—wore an unwonted expression of sadness, mixed
with apprehension. I questioned him as to the cause, but he chose to
conceal it. Not three days after, he abruptly accosted me on the
gun-deck, where I happened to be taking a promenade.

“I can’t keep it to myself any more,” he said; “I must have a
confidant, or I shall go mad!”

“What is the matter?” said I, in alarm.

“Matter enough—look at this!” and he handed me a torn half sheet of an
old New York _Herald_, putting his finger upon a particular word in a
particular paragraph. It was the announcement of the sailing from the
Brooklyn Navy-yard of a United States store ship, with provisions for
the squadron in Rio. It was upon a particular name, in the list of
officers and midshipmen, that Frank’s fingers was placed.

“That is my own brother,” said he; “he must have got a reefer’s warrant
since I left home. Now, White-Jacket, what’s to be done? I have
calculated that the store ship may be expected here every day; my
brother will then see me—he an officer and I a miserable sailor that
any moment may be flogged at the gangway, before his very eyes.
Heavens! White-Jacket, what shall I do? Would you run? Do you think
there is any chance to desert? I won’t see him, by Heaven, with this
sailor’s frock on, and he with the anchor button!”

“Why, Frank,” said I, “I do not really see sufficient cause for this
fit you are in. Your brother is an of officer—very good; and you are
nothing but a sailor—but that is no disgrace. If he comes on board
here, go up to him, and take him by the hand; believe me, he will be
glad enough to see you!”

Frank started from his desponding attitude, and fixing his eyes full
upon mine, with clasped hands exclaimed, “White-Jacket, I have been
from home nearly three years; in that time I have never heard one word
from my family, and, though God knows how I love them, yet I swear to
you, that though my brother can tell me whether my sisters are still
alive, yet, rather than accost him in this _lined-frock_, I would go
ten centuries without hearing one syllable from home?”

Amazed at his earnestness, and hardly able to account for it
altogether, I stood silent a moment; then said, “Why, Frank, this
midshipman is your own brother, you say; now, do you really think that
your own flesh and blood is going to give himself airs over you, simply
because he sports large brass buttons on his coat? Never believe it. If
he does, he can be no brother, and ought to be hanged—that’s all!”

“Don’t say that again,” said Frank, resentfully; “my brother is a
noble-hearted fellow; I love him as I do myself. You don’t understand
me, White-Jacket; don’t you see, that when my brother arrives, he must
consort more or less with our chuckle-headed reefers on board here?
There’s that namby-pamby Miss Nancy of a white-face, Stribbles, who,
the other day, when Mad Jack’s back was turned, ordered me to hand him
the spy-glass, as if he were a Commodore. Do you suppose, now, I want
my brother to see me a lackey abroad here? By Heaven it is enough to
drive one distracted! What’s to be done?” he cried, fiercely.

Much more passed between us, but all my philosophy was in vain, and at
last Frank departed, his head hanging down in despondency.

For several days after, whenever the quarter-master reported a sail
entering the harbour, Frank was foremost in the rigging to observe it.
At length, one afternoon, a vessel drawing near was reported to be the
long-expected store ship. I looked round for Frank on the spar-deck,
but he was nowhere to be seen. He must have been below, gazing out of a
port-hole. The vessel was hailed from our poop, and came to anchor
within a biscuit’s toss of our batteries.

That evening I heard that Frank had ineffectually endeavoured to get
removed from his place as an oarsman in the First-Cutter—a boat which,
from its size, is generally employed with the launch in carrying
ship-stores. When I thought that, the very next day, perhaps, this boat
would be plying between the store ship and our frigate, I was at no
loss to account for Frank’s attempts to get rid of his oar, and felt
heartily grieved at their failure.

Next morning the bugler called away the First-Cutter’s crew, and Frank
entered the boat with his hat slouched over his eyes. Upon his return,
I was all eagerness to learn what had happened, and, as the
communication of his feelings was a grateful relief, he poured his
whole story into my ear.

It seemed that, with his comrades, he mounted the store ship’s side,
and hurried forward to the forecastle. Then, turning anxiously toward
the quarter-deck, he spied two midshipmen leaning against the bulwarks,
conversing. One was the officer of his boat—was the other his brother?
No; he was too tall—too large. Thank Heaven! it was not him. And
perhaps his brother had not sailed from home, after all; there might
have been some mistake. But suddenly the strange midshipman laughed
aloud, and that laugh Frank had heard a thousand times before. It was a
free, hearty laugh—a brother’s laugh; but it carried a pang to the
heart of poor Frank.

He was now ordered down to the main-deck to assist in removing the
stores. The boat being loaded, he was ordered into her, when, looking
toward the gangway, he perceived the two midshipmen lounging upon each
side of it, so that no one could pass them without brushing their
persons. But again pulling his hat over his eyes, Frank, darting
between them, gained his oar. “How my heart thumped,” he said, “when I
actually, felt him so near me; but I wouldn’t look at him—no! I’d have
died first!”

To Frank’s great relief, the store ship at last moved further up the
bay, and it fortunately happened that he saw no more of his brother
while in Rio; and while there, he never in any way made himself known
to him.


There was a seaman belonging to the fore-top—a mess-mate, though not a
top-mate of mine, and no favourite of the Captain’s,—who, for certain
venial transgressions, had been prohibited from going ashore on liberty
when the ship’s company went. Enraged at the deprivation—for he had not
touched earth in upward of a year—he, some nights after, lowered
himself overboard, with the view of gaining a canoe, attached by a rope
to a Dutch galiot some cables’-lengths distant. In this canoe he
proposed paddling himself ashore. Not being a very expert swimmer, the
commotion he made in the water attracted the ear of the sentry on that
side of the ship, who, turning about in his walk, perceived the faint
white spot where the fugitive was swimming in the frigate’s shadow. He
hailed it; but no reply.

“Give the word, or I fire!”

Not a word was heard.

The next instant there was a red flash, and, before it had completely
ceased illuminating the night the white spot was changed into crimson.
Some of the officers, returning from a party at the Beach of the
Flamingoes, happened to be drawing near the ship in one of her cutters.
They saw the flash, and the bounding body it revealed. In a moment the
topman was dragged into the boat, a handkerchief was used for a
tourniquet, and the wounded fugitive was soon on board the frigate,
when, the surgeon being called, the necessary attentions were rendered.

Now, it appeared, that at the moment the sentry fired, the top-man—in
order to elude discovery, by manifesting the completest quietude—was
floating on the water, straight and horizontal, as if reposing on a
bed. As he was not far from the ship at the time, and the sentry was
considerably elevated above him—pacing his platform, on a level with
the upper part of the hammock-nettings—the ball struck with great
force, with a downward obliquity, entering the right thigh just above
the knee, and, penetrating some inches, glanced upward along the bone,
burying itself somewhere, so that it could not be felt by outward
manipulation. There was no dusky discoloration to mark its internal
track, as in the case when a partly-spent ball—obliquely hitting—after
entering the skin, courses on, just beneath the surface, without
penetrating further. Nor was there any mark on the opposite part of the
thigh to denote its place, as when a ball forces itself straight
through a limb, and lodges, perhaps, close to the skin on the other
side. Nothing was visible but a small, ragged puncture, bluish about
the edges, as if the rough point of a tenpenny nail had been forced
into the flesh, and withdrawn. It seemed almost impossible, that
through so small an aperture, a musket-bullet could have penetrated.

The extreme misery and general prostration of the man, caused by the
great effusion of blood—though, strange to say, at first he said he
felt no pain from the wound itself—induced the Surgeon, very
reluctantly, to forego an immediate search for the ball, to extract it,
as that would have involved the dilating of the wound by the knife; an
operation which, at that juncture, would have been almost certainly
attended with fatal results. A day or two, therefore, was permitted to
pass, while simple dressings were applied.

The Surgeon of the other American ships of war in harbour occasionally
visited the Neversink, to examine the patient, and incidentally to
listen to the expositions of our own Surgeon, their senior in rank. But
Cadwallader Cuticle, who, as yet, has been but incidentally alluded to,
now deserves a chapter by himself.


Cadwallader Cuticle, M. D., and Honorary Member of the most
distinguished Colleges of Surgeons both in Europe and America, was our
Surgeon of the Fleet. Nor was he at all blind to the dignity of his
position; to which, indeed, he was rendered peculiarly competent, if
the reputation he enjoyed was deserved. He had the name of being the
foremost Surgeon in the Navy, a gentleman of remarkable science, and a
veteran practitioner.

He was a small, withered man, nearly, perhaps quite, sixty years of
age. His chest was shallow, his shoulders bent, his pantaloons hung
round skeleton legs, and his face was singularly attenuated. In truth,
the corporeal vitality of this man seemed, in a good degree, to have
died out of him. He walked abroad, a curious patch-work of life and
death, with a wig, one glass eye, and a set of false teeth, while his
voice was husky and thick; but his mind seemed undebilitated as in
youth; it shone out of his remaining eye with basilisk brilliancy.

Like most old physicians and surgeons who have seen much service, and
have been promoted to high professional place for their scientific
attainments, this Cuticle was an enthusiast in his calling. In private,
he had once been heard to say, confidentially, that he would rather cut
off a man’s arm than dismember the wing of the most delicate pheasant.
In particular, the department of Morbid Anatomy was his peculiar love;
and in his state-room below he had a most unsightly collection of
Parisian casts, in plaster and wax, representing all imaginable
malformations of the human members, both organic and induced by
disease. Chief among these was a cast, often to be met with in the
Anatomical Museums of Europe, and no doubt an unexaggerated copy of a
genuine original; it was the head of an elderly woman, with an aspect
singularly gentle and meek, but at the same time wonderfully expressive
of a gnawing sorrow, never to be relieved. You would almost have
thought it the face of some abbess, for some unspeakable crime
voluntarily sequestered from human society, and leading a life of
agonised penitence without hope; so marvellously sad and tearfully
pitiable was this head. But when you first beheld it, no such emotions
ever crossed your mind. All your eyes and all your horrified soul were
fast fascinated and frozen by the sight of a hideous, crumpled horn,
like that of a ram, downward growing out from the forehead, and partly
shadowing the face; but as you gazed, the freezing fascination of its
horribleness gradually waned, and then your whole heart burst with
sorrow, as you contemplated those aged features, ashy pale and wan. The
horn seemed the mark of a curse for some mysterious sin, conceived and
committed before the spirit had entered the flesh. Yet that sin seemed
something imposed, and not voluntarily sought; some sin growing out of
the heartless necessities of the predestination of things; some sin
under which the sinner sank in sinless woe.

But no pang of pain, not the slightest touch of concern, ever crossed
the bosom of Cuticle when he looked on this cast. It was immovably
fixed to a bracket, against the partition of his state-room, so that it
was the first object that greeted his eyes when he opened them from his
nightly sleep. Nor was it to hide the face, that upon retiring, he
always hung his Navy cap upon the upward curling extremity of the horn,
for that obscured it but little.

The Surgeon’s cot-boy, the lad who made up his swinging bed and took
care of his room, often told us of the horror he sometimes felt when he
would find himself alone in his master’s retreat. At times he was
seized with the idea that Cuticle was a preternatural being; and once
entering his room in the middle watch of the night, he started at
finding it enveloped in a thick, bluish vapour, and stifling with the
odours of brimstone. Upon hearing a low groan from the smoke, with a
wild cry he darted from the place, and, rousing the occupants of the
neighbouring state-rooms, it was found that the vapour proceeded from
smouldering bunches of lucifer matches, which had become ignited
through the carelessness of the Surgeon. Cuticle, almost dead, was
dragged from the suffocating atmosphere, and it was several days ere he
completely recovered from its effects. This accident took place
immediately over the powder magazine; but as Cuticle, during his
sickness, paid dearly enough for transgressing the laws prohibiting
combustibles in the gun-room, the Captain contented himself with
privately remonstrating with him.

Well knowing the enthusiasm of the Surgeon for all specimens of morbid
anatomy, some of the ward-room officers used to play upon his
credulity, though, in every case, Cuticle was not long in discovering
their deceptions. Once, when they had some sago pudding for dinner, and
Cuticle chanced to be ashore, they made up a neat parcel of this
bluish-white, firm, jelly-like preparation, and placing it in a tin
box, carefully sealed with wax, they deposited it on the gun-room
table, with a note, purporting to come from an eminent physician in
Rio, connected with the Grand National Museum on the Praca d’
Acclamacao, begging leave to present the scientific Senhor Cuticle—with
the donor’s compliments—an uncommonly fine specimen of a cancer.

Descending to the ward-room, Cuticle spied the note, and no sooner read
it, than, clutching the case, he opened it, and exclaimed, “Beautiful!
splendid! I have never seen a finer specimen of this most interesting

“What have you there, Surgeon Cuticle?” said a Lieutenant, advancing.

“Why, sir, look at it; did you ever see anything more exquisite?”

“Very exquisite indeed; let me have a bit of it, will you, Cuticle?”

“Let you have a bit of it!” shrieked the Surgeon, starting back. “Let
you have one of my limbs! I wouldn’t mar so large a specimen for a
hundred dollars; but what can you want of it? You are not making

“I’m fond of the article,” said the Lieutenant; “it’s a fine cold
relish to bacon or ham. You know, I was in New Zealand last cruise,
Cuticle, and got into sad dissipation there among the cannibals; come,
let’s have a bit, if it’s only a mouthful.”

“Why, you infernal Feejee!” shouted Cuticle, eyeing the other with a
confounded expression; “you don’t really mean to eat a piece of this

“Hand it to me, and see whether I will not,” was the reply.

“In God’s name, take it!” cried the Surgeon, putting the case into his
hands, and then standing with his own uplifted.

“Steward!” cried the Lieutenant, “the castor—quick! I always use plenty
of pepper with this dish, Surgeon; it’s oystery. Ah! this is really
delicious,” he added, smacking his lips over a mouthful. “Try it now,
Surgeon, and you’ll never keep such a fine dish as this, lying uneaten
on your hands, as a mere scientific curiosity.”

Cuticle’s whole countenance changed; and, slowly walking up to the
table, he put his nose close to the tin case, then touched its contents
with his finger and tasted it. Enough. Buttoning up his coat, in all
the tremblings of an old man’s rage he burst from the ward-room, and,
calling for a boat, was not seen again for twenty-four hours.

But though, like all other mortals, Cuticle was subject at times to
these fits of passion—at least under outrageous provocation—nothing
could exceed his coolness when actually employed in his imminent
vocation. Surrounded by moans and shrieks, by features distorted with
anguish inflicted by himself, he yet maintained a countenance almost
supernaturally calm; and unless the intense interest of the operation
flushed his wan face with a momentary tinge of professional enthusiasm,
he toiled away, untouched by the keenest misery coming under a
fleet-surgeon’s eye. Indeed, long habituation to the dissecting-room
and the amputation-table had made him seemingly impervious to the
ordinary emotions of humanity. Yet you could not say that Cuticle was
essentially a cruel-hearted man. His apparent heartlessness must have
been of a purely scientific origin. It is not to be imagined even that
Cuticle would have harmed a fly, unless he could procure a microscope
powerful enough to assist him in experimenting on the minute vitals of
the creature.

But notwithstanding his marvellous indifference to the sufferings of
his patients, and spite even of his enthusiasm in his vocation—not
cooled by frosting old age itself—Cuticle, on some occasions, would
effect a certain disrelish of his profession, and declaim against the
necessity that forced a man of his humanity to perform a surgical
operation. Especially was it apt to be thus with him, when the case was
one of more than ordinary interest. In discussing it previous to
setting about it, he would veil his eagerness under an aspect of great
circumspection, curiously marred, however, by continual sallies of
unsuppressible impatience. But the knife once in his hand, the
compassionless surgeon himself, undisguised, stood before you. Such was
Cadwallader Cuticle, our Surgeon of the Fleet.


It seems customary for the Surgeon of the Fleet, when any important
operation in his department is on the anvil, and there is nothing to
absorb professional attention from it, to invite his brother surgeons,
if at hand at the time, to a ceremonious consultation upon it. And
this, in courtesy, his brother surgeons expect.

In pursuance of this custom, then, the surgeons of the neighbouring
American ships of war were requested to visit the Neversink in a body,
to advise concerning the case of the top-man, whose situation had now
become critical. They assembled on the half-deck, and were soon joined
by their respected senior, Cuticle. In a body they bowed as he
approached, and accosted him with deferential regard.

“Gentlemen,” said Cuticle, unostentatiously seating himself on a
camp-stool, handed him by his cot-boy, “we have here an extremely
interesting case. You have all seen the patient, I believe. At first I
had hopes that I should have been able to cut down to the ball, and
remove it; but the state of the patient forbade. Since then, the
inflammation and sloughing of the part has been attended with a copious
suppuration, great loss of substance, extreme debility and emaciation.
From this, I am convinced that the ball has shattered and deadened the
bone, and now lies impacted in the medullary canal. In fact, there can
be no doubt that the wound is incurable, and that amputation is the
only resource. But, gentlemen, I find myself placed in a very delicate
predicament. I assure you I feel no professional anxiety to perform the
operation. I desire your advice, and if you will now again visit the
patient with me, we can then return here and decide what is best to be
done. Once more, let me say, that I feel no personal anxiety whatever
to use the knife.”

The assembled surgeons listened to this address with the most serious
attention, and, in accordance with their superior’s desire, now
descended to the sick-bay, where the patient was languishing. The
examination concluded, they returned to the half-deck, and the
consultation was renewed.

“Gentlemen,” began Cuticle, again seating himself, “you have now just
inspected the limb; you have seen that there is no resource but
amputation; and now, gentlemen, what do you say? Surgeon Bandage, of
the Mohawk, will you express your opinion?”

“The wound is a very serious one,” said Bandage—a corpulent man, with a
high German forehead—shaking his head solemnly.

“Can anything save him but amputation?” demanded Cuticle.

“His constitutional debility is extreme,” observed Bandage, “but I have
seen more dangerous cases.”

“Surgeon Wedge, of the Malay,” said Cuticle, in a pet, “be pleased to
give _your_ opinion; and let it be definitive, I entreat:” this was
said with a severe glance toward Bandage.

“If I thought,” began Wedge, a very spare, tall man, elevating himself
still higher on his toes, “that the ball had shattered and divided the
whole _femur_, including the _Greater_ and _Lesser Trochanter_ the
_Linear aspera_ the _Digital fossa_, and the _Intertrochanteric_, I
should certainly be in favour of amputation; but that, sir, permit me
to observe, is not my opinion.”

“Surgeon Sawyer, of the Buccaneer,” said Cuticle, drawing in his thin
lower lip with vexation, and turning to a round-faced, florid, frank,
sensible-looking man, whose uniform coat very handsomely fitted him,
and was adorned with an unusual quantity of gold lace; “Surgeon Sawyer,
of the Buccaneer, let us now hear _your_ opinion, if you please. Is not
amputation the only resource, sir?”

“Excuse me,” said Sawyer, “I am decidedly opposed to it; for if
hitherto the patient has not been strong enough to undergo the
extraction of the ball, I do not see how he can be expected to endure a
far more severe operation. As there is no immediate danger of
mortification, and you say the ball cannot be reached without making
large incisions, I should support him, I think, for the present, with
tonics, and gentle antiphlogistics, locally applied. On no account
would I proceed to amputation until further symptoms are exhibited.”

“Surgeon Patella, of the Algerine,” said Cuticle, in an ill-suppressed
passion, abruptly turning round on the person addressed, “will _you_
have the kindness to say whether _you_ do not think that amputation is
the only resource?”

Now Patella was the youngest of the company, a modest man, filled with
a profound reverence for the science of Cuticle, and desirous of
gaining his good opinion, yet not wishing to commit himself altogether
by a decided reply, though, like Surgeon Sawyer, in his own mind he
might have been clearly against the operation.

“What you have remarked, Mr. Surgeon of the Fleet,” said Patella,
respectfully hemming, “concerning the dangerous condition of the limb,
seems obvious enough; amputation would certainly be a cure to the
wound; but then, as, notwithstanding his present debility, the patient
seems to have a strong constitution, he might rally as it is, and by
your scientific treatment, Mr. Surgeon of the Fleet”—bowing—“be
entirely made whole, without risking an amputation. Still, it is a very
critical case, and amputation may be indispensable; and if it is to be
performed, there ought to be no delay whatever. That is my view of the
case, Mr. Surgeon of the Fleet.”

“Surgeon Patella, then, gentlemen,” said Cuticle, turning round
triumphantly, “is clearly of opinion that amputation should be
immediately performed. For my own part—individually, I mean, and
without respect to the patient—I am sorry to have it so decided. But
this settles the question, gentlemen—in my own mind, however, it was
settled before. At ten o’clock to-morrow morning the operation will be
performed. I shall be happy to see you all on the occasion, and also
your juniors” (alluding to the absent _Assistant Surgeons_).
“Good-morning, gentlemen; at ten o’clock, remember.”

And Cuticle retreated to the Ward-room.


Next morning, at the appointed hour, the surgeons arrived in a body.
They were accompanied by their juniors, young men ranging in age from
nineteen years to thirty. Like the senior surgeons, these young
gentlemen were arrayed in their blue navy uniforms, displaying a
profusion of bright buttons, and several broad bars of gold lace about
the wristbands. As in honour of the occasion, they had put on their
best coats; they looked exceedingly brilliant.

The whole party immediately descended to the half-deck, where
preparations had been made for the operation. A large garrison-ensign
was stretched across the ship by the main-mast, so as completely to
screen the space behind. This space included the whole extent aft to
the bulk-head of the Commodore’s cabin, at the door of which the
marine-orderly paced, in plain sight, cutlass in hand.

Upon two gun-carriages, dragged amidships, the Death-board (used for
burials at sea) was horizontally placed, covered with an old
royal-stun’-sail. Upon this occasion, to do duty as an
amputation-table, it was widened by an additional plank. Two
match-tubs, near by, placed one upon another, at either end supported
another plank, distinct from the table, whereon was exhibited an array
of saws and knives of various and peculiar shapes and sizes; also, a
sort of steel, something like the dinner-table implement, together with
long needles, crooked at the end for taking up the arteries, and large
darning-needles, thread and bee’s-wax, for sewing up a wound.

At the end nearest the larger table was a tin basin of water,
surrounded by small sponges, placed at mathematical intervals. From the
long horizontal pole of a great-gun rammer—fixed in its usual place
overhead—hung a number of towels, with “U.S.” marked in the corners.

All these arrangements had been made by the “Surgeon’s steward,” a
person whose important functions in a man-of-war will, in a future
chapter, be entered upon at large. Upon the present occasion, he was
bustling about, adjusting and readjusting the knives, needles, and
carver, like an over-conscientious butler fidgeting over a dinner-table
just before the convivialists enter.

But by far the most striking object to be seen behind the ensign was a
human skeleton, whose every joint articulated with wires. By a rivet at
the apex of the skull, it hung dangling from a hammock-hook fixed in a
beam above. Why this object was here, will presently be seen; but why
it was placed immediately at the foot of the amputation-table, only
Surgeon Cuticle can tell.

While the final preparations were being made, Cuticle stood conversing
with the assembled Surgeons and Assistant Surgeons, his invited guests.

“Gentlemen,” said he, taking up one of the glittering knives and
artistically drawing the steel across it; “Gentlemen, though these
scenes are very unpleasant, and in some moods, I may say, repulsive to
me—yet how much better for our patient to have the contusions and
lacerations of his present wound—with all its dangerous
symptoms—converted into a clean incision, free from these objections,
and occasioning so much less subsequent anxiety to himself and the
Surgeon. Yes,” he added, tenderly feeling the edge of his knife,
“amputation is our only resource. Is it not so, Surgeon Patella?”
turning toward that gentleman, as if relying upon some sort of an
assent, however clogged with conditions.

“Certainly,” said Patella, “amputation is your only resource, Mr.
Surgeon of the Fleet; that is, I mean, if you are fully persuaded of
its necessity.”

The other surgeons said nothing, maintaining a somewhat reserved air,
as if conscious that they had no positive authority in the case,
whatever might be their own private opinions; but they seemed willing
to behold, and, if called upon, to assist at the operation, since it
could not now be averted.

The young men, their Assistants, looked very eager, and cast frequent
glances of awe upon so distinguished a practitioner as the venerable

“They say he can drop a leg in one minute and ten seconds from the
moment the knife touches it,” whispered one of them to another.

“We shall see,” was the reply, and the speaker clapped his hand to his
fob, to see if his watch would be forthcoming when wanted.

“Are you all ready here?” demanded Cuticle, now advancing to his
steward; “have not those fellows got through yet?” pointing to three
men of the carpenter’s gang, who were placing bits of wood under the
gun-carriages supporting the central table.

“They are just through, sir,” respectfully answered the steward,
touching his hand to his forehead, as if there were a cap-front there.

“Bring up the patient, then,” said Cuticle.

“Young gentlemen,” he added, turning to the row of Assistant Surgeons,
“seeing you here reminds me of the classes of students once under my
instruction at the Philadelphia College of Physicians and Surgeons. Ah,
those were happy days!” he sighed, applying the extreme corner of his
handkerchief to his glass-eye. “Excuse an old man’s emotions, young
gentlemen; but when I think of the numerous rare cases that then came
under my treatment, I cannot but give way to my feelings. The town, the
city, the metropolis, young gentlemen, is the place for you students;
at least in these dull times of peace, when the army and navy furnish
no inducements for a youth ambitious of rising in our honourable
profession. Take an old man’s advice, and if the war now threatening
between the States and Mexico should break out, exchange your navy
commissions for commissions in the army. From having no military marine
herself, Mexico has always been backward in furnishing subjects for the
amputation-tables of foreign navies. The cause of science has
languished in her hands. The army, young gentlemen, is your best
school; depend upon it. You will hardly believe it, Surgeon Bandage,”
turning to that gentleman, “but this is my first important case of
surgery in a nearly three years’ cruise. I have been almost wholly
confined in this ship to doctor’s practice prescribing for fevers and
fluxes. True, the other day a man fell from the mizzen-top-sail-yard;
but that was merely an aggravated case of dislocations and bones
splintered and broken. No one, sir, could have made an amputation of
it, without severely contusing his conscience. And mine—I may say it,
gentlemen, without ostentation is—peculiarly susceptible.”

And so saying, the knife and carver touchingly dropped to his sides,
and he stood for a moment fixed in a tender reverie but a commotion
being heard beyond the curtain, he started, and, briskly crossing and
recrossing the knife and carver, exclaimed, “Ali, here comes our
patient; surgeons, this side of the table, if you please; young
gentlemen, a little further off, I beg. Steward, take off my coat—so;
my neckerchief now; I must be perfectly unencumbered, Surgeon Patella,
or I can do nothing whatever.”

These articles being removed, he snatched off his wig, placing it on
the gun-deck capstan; then took out his set of false teeth, and placed
it by the side of the wig; and, lastly, putting his forefinger to the
inner angle of his blind eye, spirited out the glass optic with
professional dexterity, and deposited that, also, next to the wig and
false teeth.

Thus divested of nearly all inorganic appurtenances, what was left of
the Surgeon slightly shook itself, to see whether anything more could
be spared to advantage.

“Carpenter’s mates,” he now cried, “will you never get through with
that job?”

“Almost through, sir—just through,” they replied, staring round in
search of the strange, unearthly voice that addressed them; for the
absence of his teeth had not at all improved the conversational tones
of the Surgeon of the Fleet.

With natural curiosity, these men had purposely been lingering, to see
all they could; but now, having no further excuse, they snatched up
their hammers and chisels, and—like the stage-builders decamping from a
public meeting at the eleventh hour, after just completing the rostrum
in time for the first speaker—the Carpenter’s gang withdrew.

The broad ensign now lifted, revealing a glimpse of the crowd of
man-of-war’s-men outside, and the patient, borne in the arms of two of
his mess-mates, entered the place. He was much emaciated, weak as an
infant, and every limb visibly trembled, or rather jarred, like the
head of a man with the palsy. As if an organic and involuntary
apprehension of death had seized the wounded leg, its nervous motions
were so violent that one of the mess-mates was obliged to keep his hand
upon it.

The top-man was immediately stretched upon the table, the attendants
steadying his limbs, when, slowly opening his eyes, he glanced about at
the glittering knives and saws, the towels and sponges, the armed
sentry at the Commodore’s cabin-door, the row of eager-eyed students,
the meagre death’s-head of a Cuticle, now with his shirt sleeves rolled
up upon his withered arms, and knife in hand, and, finally, his eyes
settled in horror upon the skeleton, slowly vibrating and jingling
before him, with the slow, slight roll of the frigate in the water.

“I would advise perfect repose of your every limb, my man,” said
Cuticle, addressing him; “the precision of an operation is often
impaired by the inconsiderate restlessness of the patient. But if you
consider, my good fellow,” he added, in a patronising and almost
sympathetic tone, and slightly pressing his hand on the limb, “if you
consider how much better it is to live with three limbs than to die
with four, and especially if you but knew to what torments both sailors
and soldiers were subjected before the time of Celsus, owing to the
lamentable ignorance of surgery then prevailing, you would certainly
thank God from the bottom of your heart that _your_ operation has been
postponed to the period of this enlightened age, blessed with a Bell, a
Brodie, and a Lally. My man, before Celsus’s time, such was the general
ignorance of our noble science, that, in order to prevent the excessive
effusion of blood, it was deemed indispensable to operate with a
red-hot knife”—making a professional movement toward the thigh—“and
pour scalding oil upon the parts”—elevating his elbow, as if with a
tea-pot in his hand—“still further to sear them, after amputation had
been performed.”

“He is fainting!” said one of his mess-mates; “quick! some water!” The
steward immediately hurried to the top-man with the basin.

Cuticle took the top-man by the wrist, and feeling it a while,
observed, “Don’t be alarmed, men,” addressing the two mess-mates;
“he’ll recover presently; this fainting very generally takes place.”
And he stood for a moment, tranquilly eyeing the patient.

Now the Surgeon of the Fleet and the top-man presented a spectacle
which, to a reflecting mind, was better than a church-yard sermon on
the mortality of man.

Here was a sailor, who four days previous, had stood erect—a pillar of
life—with an arm like a royal-mast and a thigh like a windlass. But the
slightest conceivable finger-touch of a bit of crooked trigger had
eventuated in stretching him out, more helpless than an hour-old babe,
with a blasted thigh, utterly drained of its brawn. And who was it that
now stood over him like a superior being, and, as if clothed himself
with the attributes of immortality, indifferently discoursed of carving
up his broken flesh, and thus piecing out his abbreviated days. Who was
it, that in capacity of Surgeon, seemed enacting the part of a
Regenerator of life? The withered, shrunken, one-eyed, toothless,
hairless Cuticle; with a trunk half dead—a _memento mori_ to behold!

And while, in those soul-sinking and panic-striking premonitions of
speedy death which almost invariably accompany a severe gun-shot wound,
even with the most intrepid spirits; while thus drooping and dying,
this once robust top-man’s eye was now waning in his head like a
Lapland moon being eclipsed in clouds—Cuticle, who for years had still
lived in his withered tabernacle of a body—Cuticle, no doubt sharing in
the common self-delusion of old age—Cuticle must have felt his hold of
life as secure as the grim hug of a grizzly bear. Verily, Life is more
awful than Death; and let no man, though his live heart beat in him
like a cannon—let him not hug his life to himself; for, in the
predestinated necessities of things, that bounding life of his is not a
whit more secure than the life of a man on his death-bed. To-day we
inhale the air with expanding lungs, and life runs through us like a
thousand Niles; but to-morrow we may collapse in death, and all our
veins be dry as the Brook Kedron in a drought.

“And now, young gentlemen,” said Cuticle, turning to the Assistant
Surgeons, “while the patient is coming to, permit me to describe to you
the highly-interesting operation I am about to perform.”

“Mr. Surgeon of the Fleet,” said Surgeon Bandage, “if you are about to
lecture, permit me to present you with your teeth; they will make your
discourse more readily understood.” And so saying, Bandage, with a bow,
placed the two semicircles of ivory into Cuticle’s hands.

“Thank you, Surgeon Bandage,” said Cuticle, and slipped the ivory into
its place.

“In the first place, now, young gentlemen, let me direct your attention
to the excellent preparation before you. I have had it unpacked from
its case, and set up here from my state-room, where it occupies the
spare berth; and all this for your express benefit, young gentlemen.
This skeleton I procured in person from the Hunterian department of the
Royal College of Surgeons in London. It is a masterpiece of art. But we
have no time to examine it now. Delicacy forbids that I should amplify
at a juncture like this”—casting an almost benignant glance toward the
patient, now beginning to open his eyes; “but let me point out to you
upon this thigh-bone”—disengaging it from the skeleton, with a gentle
twist—“the precise place where I propose to perform the operation.
_Here_, young gentlemen, _here_ is the place. You perceive it is very
near the point of articulation with the trunk.”

“Yes,” interposed Surgeon Wedge, rising on his toes, “yes, young
gentlemen, the point of articulation with the _acetabulum_ of the _os

“Where’s your Bell on Bones, Dick?” whispered one of the assistants to
the student next him. “Wedge has been spending the whole morning over
it, getting out the hard names.”

“Surgeon Wedge,” said Cuticle, looking round severely, “we will
dispense with your commentaries, if you please, at present. Now, young
gentlemen, you cannot but perceive, that the point of operation being
so near the trunk and the vitals, it becomes an unusually beautiful
one, demanding a steady hand and a true eye; and, after all, the
patient may die under my hands.”

“Quick, Steward! water, water; he’s fainting again!” cried the two

“Don’t be alarmed for your comrade; men,” said Cuticle, turning round.
“I tell you it is not an uncommon thing for the patient to betray some
emotion upon these occasions—most usually manifested by swooning; it is
quite natural it should be so. But we must not delay the operation.
Steward, that knife—no, the next one—there, that’s it. He is coming to,
I think”—feeling the top-man’s wrist. “Are you all ready, sir?”

This last observation was addressed to one of the Neversink’s assistant
surgeons, a tall, lank, cadaverous young man, arrayed in a sort of
shroud of white canvas, pinned about his throat, and completely
enveloping his person. He was seated on a match-tub—the skeleton
swinging near his head—at the foot of the table, in readiness to grasp
the limb, as when a plank is being severed by a carpenter and his

“The sponges, Steward,” said Cuticle, for the last time taking out his
teeth, and drawing up his shirt sleeves still further. Then, taking the
patient by the wrist, “Stand by, now, you mess-mates; keep hold of his
arms; pin him down. Steward, put your hand on the artery; I shall
commence as soon as his pulse begins to—_now, now!_” Letting fall the
wrist, feeling the thigh carefully, and bowing over it an instant, he
drew the fatal knife unerringly across the flesh. As it first touched
the part, the row of surgeons simultaneously dropped their eyes to the
watches in their hands while the patient lay, with eyes horribly
distended, in a kind of waking trance. Not a breath was heard; but as
the quivering flesh parted in a long, lingering gash, a spring of blood
welled up between the living walls of the wounds, and two thick
streams, in opposite directions, coursed down the thigh. The sponges
were instantly dipped in the purple pool; every face present was
pinched to a point with suspense; the limb writhed; the man shrieked;
his mess-mates pinioned him; while round and round the leg went the
unpitying cut.

“The saw!” said Cuticle.

Instantly it was in his hand.

Full of the operation, he was about to apply it, when, looking up, and
turning to the assistant surgeons, he said, “Would any of you young
gentlemen like to apply the saw? A splendid subject!”

Several volunteered; when, selecting one, Cuticle surrendered the
instrument to him, saying, “Don’t be hurried, now; be steady.”

While the rest of the assistants looked upon their comrade with glances
of envy, he went rather timidly to work; and Cuticle, who was earnestly
regarding him, suddenly snatched the saw from his hand. “Away, butcher!
you disgrace the profession. Look at _me!_”

For a few moments the thrilling, rasping sound was heard; and then the
top-man seemed parted in twain at the hip, as the leg slowly slid into
the arms of the pale, gaunt man in the shroud, who at once made away
with it, and tucked it out of sight under one of the guns.

“Surgeon Sawyer,” now said Cuticle, courteously turning to the surgeon
of the Mohawk, “would you like to take up the arteries? They are quite
at your service, sir.”

“Do, Sawyer; be prevailed upon,” said Surgeon Bandage.

Sawyer complied; and while, with some modesty he was conducting the
operation, Cuticle, turning to the row of assistants said, “Young
gentlemen, we will now proceed with our Illustration. Hand me that
bone, Steward.” And taking the thigh-bone in his still bloody hands,
and holding it conspicuously before his auditors, the Surgeon of the
Fleet began:

“Young gentlemen, you will perceive that precisely at this
spot—_here_—to which I previously directed your attention—at the
corresponding spot precisely—the operation has been performed. About
here, young gentlemen, here”—lifting his hand some inches from the
bone—“about _here_ the great artery was. But you noticed that I did not
use the tourniquet; I never do. The forefinger of my steward is far
better than a tourniquet, being so much more manageable, and leaving
the smaller veins uncompressed. But I have been told, young gentlemen,
that a certain Seignior Seignioroni, a surgeon of Seville, has recently
invented an admirable substitute for the clumsy, old-fashioned
tourniquet. As I understand it, it is something like a pair of
_calipers_, working with a small Archimedes screw—a very clever
invention, according to all accounts. For the padded points at the end
of the arches”—arching his forefinger and thumb—“can be so worked as to
approximate in such a way, as to—but you don’t attend to me, young
gentlemen,” he added, all at once starting.

Being more interested in the active proceedings of Surgeon Sawyer, who
was now threading a needle to sew up the overlapping of the stump, the
young gentlemen had not scrupled to turn away their attention
altogether from the lecturer.

A few moments more, and the top-man, in a swoon, was removed below into
the sick-bay. As the curtain settled again after the patient had
disappeared, Cuticle, still holding the thigh-bone of the skeleton in
his ensanguined hands, proceeded with his remarks upon it; and having
concluded them, added, “Now, young gentlemen, not the least interesting
consequence of this operation will be the finding of the ball, which,
in case of non-amputation, might have long eluded the most careful
search. That ball, young gentlemen, must have taken a most circuitous
route. Nor, in cases where the direction is oblique, is this at all
unusual. Indeed, the learned Henner gives us a most remarkable—I had
almost said an incredible—case of a soldier’s neck, where the bullet,
entering at the part called Adam’s Apple—”

“Yes,” said Surgeon Wedge, elevating himself, “the _pomum Adami_.”

“Entering the point called _Adam’s Apple_,” continued Cuticle, severely
emphasising the last two words, “ran completely round the neck, and,
emerging at the same hole it had entered, shot the next man in the
ranks. It was afterward extracted, says Renner, from the second man,
and pieces of the other’s skin were found adhering to it. But examples
of foreign substances being received into the body with a ball, young
gentlemen, are frequently observed. Being attached to a United States
ship at the time, I happened to be near the spot of the battle of
Ayacucho, in Peru. The day after the action, I saw in the barracks of
the wounded a trooper, who, having been severely injured in the brain,
went crazy, and, with his own holster-pistol, committed suicide in the
hospital. The ball drove inward a portion of his woollen night-cap——”

“In the form of a _cul-de-sac_, doubtless,” said the undaunted Wedge.

“For once, Surgeon Wedge, you use the only term that can be employed;
and let me avail myself of this opportunity to say to you, young
gentlemen, that a man of true science”—expanding his shallow chest a
little—“uses but few hard words, and those only when none other will
answer his purpose; whereas the smatterer in science”—slightly glancing
toward Wedge—“thinks, that by mouthing hard words, he proves that he
understands hard things. Let this sink deep in your minds, young
gentlemen; and, Surgeon Wedge “—with a stiff bow—“permit me to submit
the reflection to yourself. Well, young gentlemen, the bullet was
afterward extracted by pulling upon the external parts of the
_cul-de-sac_—a simple, but exceedingly beautiful operation. There is a
fine example, somewhat similar, related in Guthrie; but, of course, you
must have met with it, in so well-known a work as his Treatise upon
Gun-shot Wounds. When, upward of twenty years ago, I was with Lord
Cochrane, then Admiral of the fleets of this very country”—pointing
shoreward, out of a port-hole—“a sailor of the vessel to which I was
attached, during the blockade of Bahia, had his leg——” But by this time
the fidgets had completely taken possession of his auditors, especially
of the senior surgeons; and turning upon them abruptly, he added, “But
I will not detain you longer, gentlemen”—turning round upon all the
surgeons—“your dinners must be waiting you on board your respective
ships. But, Surgeon Sawyer, perhaps you may desire to wash your hands
before you go. There is the basin, sir; you will find a clean towel on
the rammer. For myself, I seldom use them”—taking out his handkerchief.
“I must leave you now, gentlemen”—bowing. “To-morrow, at ten, the limb
will be upon the table, and I shall be happy to see you all upon the
occasion. Who’s there?” turning to the curtain, which then rustled.

“Please, sir,” said the Steward, entering, “the patient is dead.”

“The body also, gentlemen, at ten precisely,” said Cuticle, once more
turning round upon his guests. “I predicted that the operation might
prove fatal; he was very much run down. Good-morning;” and Cuticle

“He does not, surely, mean to touch the body?” exclaimed Surgeon
Sawyer, with much excitement.

“Oh, no!” said Patella, “that’s only his way; he means, doubtless, that
it may be inspected previous to being taken ashore for burial.”

The assemblage of gold-laced surgeons now ascended to the quarter-deck;
the second cutter was called away by the bugler, and, one by one, they
were dropped aboard of their respective ships.

The following evening the mess-mates of the top-man rowed his remains
ashore, and buried them in the ever-vernal Protestant cemetery, hard by
the Beach of the Flamingoes, in plain sight from the bay.


When the second cutter pulled about among the ships, dropping the
surgeons aboard the American men-of-war here and there—as a pilot-boat
distributes her pilots at the mouth of the harbour—she passed several
foreign frigates, two of which, an Englishman and a Frenchman, had
excited not a little remark on board the Neversink. These vessels often
loosed their sails and exercised yards simultaneously with ourselves,
as if desirous of comparing the respective efficiency of the crews.

When we were nearly ready for sea, the English frigate, weighing her
anchor, made all sail with the sea-breeze, and began showing off her
paces by gliding about among all the men-of-war in harbour, and
particularly by running down under the Neversink’s stern. Every time
she drew near, we complimented her by lowering our ensign a little, and
invariably she courteously returned the salute. She was inviting us to
a sailing-match; and it was rumoured that, when we should leave the
bay, our Captain would have no objections to gratify her; for, be it
known, the Neversink was accounted the fleetest keeled craft sailing
under the American long-pennant. Perhaps this was the reason why the
stranger challenged us.

It may have been that a portion of our crew were the more anxious to
race with this frigate, from a little circumstance which a few of them
deemed rather galling. Not many cables’-length distant from our
Commodore’s cabin lay the frigate President, with the red cross of St.
George flying from her peak. As its name imported, this fine craft was
an American born; but having been captured during the last war with
Britain, she now sailed the salt seas as a trophy.

Think of it, my gallant countrymen, one and all, down the sea-coast and
along the endless banks of the Ohio and Columbia—think of the twinges
we sea-patriots must have felt to behold the live-oak of the Floridas
and the pines of green Maine built into the oaken walls of Old England!
But, to some of the sailors, there was a counterbalancing thought, as
grateful as the other was galling, and that was, that somewhere,
sailing under the stars and stripes, was the frigate Macedonian, a
British-born craft which had once sported the battle-banner of Britain.

It has ever been the custom to spend almost any amount of money in
repairing a captured vessel, in order that she may long survive to
commemorate the heroism of the conqueror. Thus, in the English Navy,
there are many Monsieurs of seventy-fours won from the Gaul. But we
Americans can show but few similar trophies, though, no doubt, we would
much like to be able so to do.

But I never have beheld any of thee floating trophies without being
reminded of a scene once witnessed in a pioneer village on the western
bank of the Mississippi. Not far from this village, where the stumps of
aboriginal trees yet stand in the market-place, some years ago lived a
portion of the remnant tribes of the Sioux Indians, who frequently
visited the white settlements to purchase trinkets and cloths.

One florid crimson evening in July, when the red-hot sun was going down
in a blaze, and I was leaning against a corner in my huntsman’s frock,
lo! there came stalking out of the crimson West a gigantic red-man,
erect as a pine, with his glittering tomahawk, big as a broad-ax,
folded in martial repose across his chest, Moodily wrapped in his
blanket, and striding like a king on the stage, he promenaded up and
down the rustic streets, exhibiting on the back of his blanket a crowd
of human hands, rudely delineated in red; one of them seemed recently

“Who is this warrior?” asked I; “and why marches he here? and for what
are these bloody hands?”

“That warrior is the _Red-Hot Coal_,” said a pioneer in moccasins, by
my side. “He marches here to show-off his last trophy; every one of
those hands attests a foe scalped by his tomahawk; and he has just
emerged from Ben Brown’s, the painter, who has sketched the last red
hand that you see; for last night this _Red-Hot Coal_ outburned the
_Yellow Torch_, the chief of a band of the Foxes.”

Poor savage thought I; and is this the cause of your lofty gait? Do you
straighten yourself to think that you have committed a murder, when a
chance-falling stone has often done the same? Is it a proud thing to
topple down six feet perpendicular of immortal manhood, though that
lofty living tower needed perhaps thirty good growing summers to bring
it to maturity? Poor savage! And you account it so glorious, do you, to
mutilate and destroy what God himself was more than a quarter of a
century in building?

And yet, fellow-Christians, what is the American frigate Macedonian, or
the English frigate President, but as two bloody red hands painted on
this poor savage’s blanket?

Are there no Moravians in the Moon, that not a missionary has yet
visited this poor pagan planet of ours, to civilise civilisation and
christianise Christendom?


We lay in Rio so long—for what reason the Commodore only knows—that a
saying went abroad among the impatient sailors that our frigate would
at last ground on the beef-bones daily thrown overboard by the cooks.

But at last good tidings came. “All hands up anchor, ahoy!” And bright
and early in the morning up came our old iron, as the sun rose in the

The land-breezes at Rio—by which alone vessels may emerge from the
bay—is ever languid and faint. It comes from gardens of citrons and
cloves, spiced with all the spices of the Tropic of Capricorn. And,
like that old exquisite, Mohammed, who so much loved to snuff perfumes
and essences, and used to lounge out of the conservatories of Khadija,
his wife, to give battle to the robust sons of Koriesh; even so this
Rio land-breeze comes jaded with sweet-smelling savours, to wrestle
with the wild Tartar breezes of the sea.

Slowly we dropped and dropped down the bay, glided like a stately swan
through the outlet, and were gradually rolled by the smooth, sliding
billows broad out upon the deep. Straight in our wake came the tall
main-mast of the English fighting-frigate, terminating, like a steepled
cathedral, in the bannered cross of the religion of peace; and straight
after _her_ came the rainbow banner of France, sporting God’s token
that no more would he make war on the earth.

Both Englishmen and Frenchmen were resolved upon a race; and we Yankees
swore by our top-sails and royals to sink their blazing banners that
night among the Southern constellations we should daily be
extinguishing behind us in our run to the North.

“Ay,” said Mad Jack, “St. George’s banner shall be as the _Southern
Cross_, out of sight, leagues down the horizon, while our gallant
stars, my brave boys, shall burn all alone in the North, like the Great
Bear at the Pole! Come on, Rainbow and Cross!”

But the wind was long languid and faint, not yet recovered from its
night’s dissipation ashore, and noon advanced, with the Sugar-Loaf
pinnacle in sight.

Now it is not with ships as with horses; for though, if a horse walk
well and fast, it generally furnishes good token that he is not bad at
a gallop, yet the ship that in a light breeze is outstripped, may sweep
the stakes, so soon as a t’gallant breeze enables her to strike into a
canter. Thus fared it with us. First, the Englishman glided ahead, and
bluffly passed on; then the Frenchman politely bade us adieu, while the
old Neversink lingered behind, railing at the effeminate breeze. At one
time, all three frigates were irregularly abreast, forming a diagonal
line; and so near were all three, that the stately officers on the
poops stiffly saluted by touching their caps, though refraining from
any further civilities. At this juncture, it was a noble sight to
behold those fine frigates, with dripping breast-hooks, all rearing and
nodding in concert, and to look through their tall spars and wilderness
of rigging, that seemed like inextricably-entangled, gigantic cobwebs
against the sky.

Toward sundown the ocean pawed its white hoofs to the spur of its
helter-skelter rider, a strong blast from the Eastward, and, giving
three cheers from decks, yards, and tops, we crowded all sail on St.
George and St. Denis.

But it is harder to overtake than outstrip; night fell upon us, still
in the rear—still where the little boat was, which, at the eleventh
hour, according to a Rabbinical tradition, pushed after the ark of old

It was a misty, cloudy night; and though at first our look-outs kept
the chase in dim sight, yet at last so thick became the atmosphere,
that no sign of a strange spar was to be seen. But the worst of it was
that, when last discerned, the Frenchman was broad on our weather-bow,
and the Englishman gallantly leading his van.

The breeze blew fresher and fresher; but, with even our main-royal set,
we dashed along through a cream-coloured ocean of illuminated foam.
White-Jacket was then in the top; and it was glorious to look down and
see our black hull butting the white sea with its broad bows like a

“We must beat them with such a breeze, dear Jack,” said I to our noble
Captain of the Top.

“But the same breeze blows for John Bull, remember,” replied Jack, who,
being a Briton, perhaps favoured the Englishman more than the

“But how we boom through the billows!” cried Jack, gazing over the
top-rail; then, flinging forth his arm, recited,

  “‘Aslope, and gliding on the leeward side,
    The bounding vessel cuts the roaring tide.’

Camoens! White-Jacket, Camoens! Did you ever read him? The Lusiad, I
mean? It’s the man-of-war epic of the world, my lad. Give me Gama for a
Commodore, say I—Noble Gama! And Mickle, White-Jacket, did you ever
read of him? William Julius Mickle? Camoens’s Translator? A
disappointed man though, White-Jacket. Besides his version of the
Lusiad, he wrote many forgotten things. Did you ever see his ballad of
Cumnor Hall?—No?—Why, it gave Sir Walter Scott the hint of Kenilworth.
My father knew Mickle when he went to sea on board the old Romney
man-of-war. How many great men have been sailors, White-Jacket! They
say Homer himself was once a tar, even as his hero, Ulysses, was both a
sailor and a shipwright. I’ll swear Shakspeare was once a captain of
the forecastle. Do you mind the first scene in _The Tempest_,
White-Jacket? And the world-finder, Christopher Columbus, was a sailor!
and so was Camoens, who went to sea with Gama, else we had never had
the Lusiad, White-Jacket. Yes, I’ve sailed over the very track that
Camoens sailed—round the East Cape into the Indian Ocean. I’ve been in
Don Jose’s garden, too, in Macao, and bathed my feet in the blessed dew
of the walks where Camoens wandered before me. Yes, White-Jacket, and I
have seen and sat in the cave at the end of the flowery, winding way,
where Camoens, according to tradition, composed certain parts of his
Lusiad. Ay, Camoens was a sailor once! Then, there’s Falconer, whose
‘Ship-wreck’ will never founder, though he himself, poor fellow, was
lost at sea in the Aurora frigate. Old Noah was the first sailor. And
St. Paul, too, knew how to box the compass, my lad! mind you that
chapter in Acts? I couldn’t spin the yarn better myself. Were you ever
in Malta? They called it Melita in the Apostle’s day. I have been in
Paul’s cave there, White-Jacket. They say a piece of it is good for a
charm against shipwreck; but I never tried it. There’s Shelley, he was
quite a sailor. Shelley—poor lad! a Percy, too—but they ought to have
let him sleep in his sailor’s grave—he was drowned in the
Mediterranean, you know, near Leghorn—and not burn his body, as they
did, as if he had been a bloody Turk. But many people thought him so,
White-Jacket, because he didn’t go to mass, and because he wrote Queen
Mab. Trelawney was by at the burning; and he was an ocean-rover, too!
Ay, and Byron helped put a piece of a keel on the fire; for it was made
of bits of a wreck, they say; one wreck burning another! And was not
Byron a sailor? an amateur forecastle-man, White-Jacket, so he was;
else how bid the ocean heave and fall in that grand, majestic way? I
say, White-Jacket, d’ye mind me? there never was a very great man yet
who spent all his life inland. A snuff of the sea, my boy, is
inspiration; and having been once out of sight of land, has been the
making of many a true poet and the blasting of many pretenders; for,
d’ye see, there’s no gammon about the ocean; it knocks the false keel
right off a pretender’s bows; it tells him just what he is, and makes
him feel it, too. A sailor’s life, I say, is the thing to bring us
mortals out. What does the blessed Bible say? Don’t it say that we
main-top-men alone see the marvellous sights and wonders? Don’t deny
the blessed Bible, now! don’t do it! How it rocks up here, my boy!”
holding on to a shroud; “but it only proves what I’ve been saying—the
sea is the place to cradle genius! Heave and fall, old sea!”

“And _you_, also, noble Jack,” said I, “what are you but a sailor?”

“You’re merry, my boy,” said Jack, looking up with a glance like that
of a sentimental archangel doomed to drag out his eternity in disgrace.
“But mind you, White-Jacket, there are many great men in the world
besides Commodores and Captains. I’ve that here, White-Jacket”—touching
his forehead—“which, under happier skies—perhaps in you solitary star
there, peeping down from those clouds—might have made a Homer of me.
But Fate is Fate, White-Jacket; and we Homers who happen to be captains
of tops must write our odes in our hearts, and publish them in our
heads. But look! the Captain’s on the poop.”

It was now midnight; but all the officers were on deck.

“Jib-boom, there!” cried the Lieutenant of the Watch, going forward and
hailing the headmost look-out. “D’ye see anything of those fellows

“See nothing, sir.”

“See nothing, sir,” said the Lieutenant, approaching the Captain, and
touching his cap.

“Call all hands!” roared the Captain. “This keel sha’n’t be beat while
I stride it.”

All hands were called, and the hammocks stowed in the nettings for the
rest of the night, so that no one could lie between blankets.

Now, in order to explain the means adopted by the Captain to insure us
the race, it needs to be said of the Neversink, that, for some years
after being launched, she was accounted one of the slowest vessels in
the American Navy. But it chanced upon a time, that, being on a cruise
in the Mediterranean, she happened to sail out of Port Mahon in what
was then supposed to be very bad trim for the sea. Her bows were
rooting in the water, and her stern kicking up its heels in the air.
But, wonderful to tell, it was soon discovered that in this comical
posture she sailed like a shooting-star; she outstripped every vessel
on the station. Thenceforward all her Captains, on all cruises,
_trimmed her by the head;_ and the Neversink gained the name of a

To return. All hands being called, they were now made use of by Captain
Claret as make-weights, to trim the ship, scientifically, to her most
approved bearings. Some were sent forward on the spar-deck, with
twenty-four-pound shot in their hands, and were judiciously scattered
about here and there, with strict orders not to budge an inch from
their stations, for fear of marring the Captain’s plans. Others were
distributed along the gun and berth-decks, with similar orders; and, to
crown all, several carronade guns were unshipped from their carriages,
and swung in their breechings from the beams of the main-deck, so as to
impart a sort of vibratory briskness and oscillating buoyancy to the

And thus we five hundred make-weights stood out that whole night, some
of us exposed to a drenching rain, in order that the Neversink might
not be beaten. But the comfort and consolation of all make-weights is
as dust in the balance in the estimation of the rulers of our
man-of-war world.

The long, anxious night at last came to an end, and, with the first
peep of day, the look-out on the jib-boom was hailed; but nothing was
in sight. At last it was broad day; yet still not a bow was to be seen
in our rear, nor a stern in our van.

“Where are they?” cried the Captain.

“Out of sight, astern, to be sure, sir,” said the officer of the deck.

“Out of sight, _ahead_, to be sure, sir,” muttered Jack Chase, in the

Precisely thus stood the question: whether we beat them, or whether
they beat us, no mortal can tell to this hour, since we never saw them
again; but for one, White-Jacket will lay his two hands on the bow
chasers of the Neversink, and take his ship’s oath that we Yankees
carried the day.


After the race (our man-of-war Derby) we had many days fine weather,
during which we continued running before the Trades toward the north.
Exhilarated by the thought of being homeward-bound, many of the seamen
became joyous, and the discipline of the ship, if anything, became a
little relaxed. Many pastimes served to while away the _Dog-Watches_ in
particular. These _Dog-Watches_ (embracing two hours in the early part
of the evening) form the only authorised play-time for the crews of
most ships at sea.

Among other diversions at present licensed by authority in the
Neversink, were those of single-stick, sparring, hammer-and-anvil, and
head-bumping. All these were under the direct patronage of the Captain,
otherwise—seeing the consequences they sometimes led to—they would
undoubtedly have been strictly prohibited. It is a curious coincidence,
that when a navy captain does not happen to be an admirer of the
_Fistiana_ his crew seldom amuse themselves in that way.

_Single-stick_, as every one knows, is a delightful pastime, which
consists in two men standing a few feet apart, and rapping each other
over the head with long poles. There is a good deal of fun in it, so
long as you are not hit; but a hit—in the judgment of discreet
persons—spoils the sport completely. When this pastime is practiced by
connoisseurs ashore, they wear heavy, wired helmets, to break the force
of the blows. But the only helmets of our tars were those with which
nature had furnished them. They played with great gun-rammers.

_Sparring_ consists in playing single-stick with bone poles instead of
wooden ones. Two men stand apart, and pommel each other with their
fists (a hard bunch of knuckles permanently attached to the arms, and
made globular, or extended into a palm, at the pleasure of the
proprietor), till one of them, finding himself sufficiently thrashed,
cries _enough_.

_Hammer-and-anvil_ is thus practised by amateurs: Patient No. 1 gets on
all-fours, and stays so; while patient No. 2 is taken up by his arms
and legs, and his base is swung against the base of patient No. 1, till
patient No. 1, with the force of the final blow, is sent flying along
the deck.

_Head-bumping_, as patronised by Captain Claret, consists in two
negroes (whites will not answer) butting at each other like rams. This
pastime was an especial favourite with the Captain. In the dog-watches,
Rose-water and May-day were repeatedly summoned into the lee waist to
tilt at each other, for the benefit of the Captain’s health.

May-day was a full-blooded “_bull-negro_,” so the sailors called him,
with a skull like an iron tea-kettle, wherefore May-day much fancied
the sport. But Rose-water, he was a slender and rather handsome
mulatto, and abhorred the pastime. Nevertheless, the Captain must be
obeyed; so at the word poor Rose-water was fain to put himself in a
posture of defence, else May-day would incontinently have bumped him
out of a port-hole into the sea. I used to pity poor Rose-water from
the bottom of my heart. But my pity was almost aroused into indignation
at a sad sequel to one of these gladiatorial scenes.

It seems that, lifted up by the unaffected, though verbally unexpressed
applause of the Captain, May-day had begun to despise Rose-water as a
poltroon—a fellow all brains and no skull; whereas he himself was a
great warrior, all skull and no brains.

Accordingly, after they had been bumping one evening to the Captain’s
content, May-day confidentially told Rose-water that he considered him
a “_nigger_,” which, among some blacks, is held a great term of
reproach. Fired at the insult, Rose-water gave May-day to understand
that he utterly erred; for his mother, a black slave, had been one of
the mistresses of a Virginia planter belonging to one of the oldest
families in that state. Another insulting remark followed this innocent
disclosure; retort followed retort; in a word, at last they came
together in mortal combat.

The master-at-arms caught them in the act, and brought them up to the
mast. The Captain advanced.

“Please, sir,” said poor Rose-water, “it all came of dat ’ar bumping;
May-day, here, aggrawated me ’bout it.”

“Master-at-arms,” said the Captain, “did you see them fighting?”

“Ay, sir,” said the master-at-arms, touching his cap.

“Rig the gratings,” said the Captain. “I’ll teach you two men that,
though I now and then permit you to _play_, I will have no _fighting_.
Do your duty, boatswain’s mate!” And the negroes were flogged.

Justice commands that the fact of the Captain’s not showing any
leniency to May-day—a decided favourite of his, at least while in the
ring—should not be passed over. He flogged both culprits in the most
impartial manner.

As in the matter of the scene at the gangway, shortly after the Cape
Horn theatricals, when my attention had been directed to the fact that
the officers had _shipped their quarter-deck faces_—upon that occasion,
I say, it was seen with what facility a sea-officer assumes his wonted
severity of demeanour after a casual relaxation of it. This was
especially the case with Captain Claret upon the present occasion. For
any landsman to have beheld him in the lee waist, of a pleasant
dog-watch, with a genial, good-humoured countenance, observing the
gladiators in the ring, and now and then indulging in a playful
remark—that landsman would have deemed Captain Claret the indulgent
father of his crew, perhaps permitting the excess of his
kind-heartedness to encroach upon the appropriate dignity of his
station. He would have deemed Captain Claret a fine illustration of
those two well-known poetical comparisons between a sea-captain and a
father, and between a sea-captain and the master of apprentices,
instituted by those eminent maritime jurists, the noble Lords Tenterden
and Stowell.

But surely, if there is anything hateful, it is this _shipping of the
quarter-deck face_ after wearing a merry and good-natured one. How can
they have the heart? Methinks, if but once I smiled upon a man—never
mind how much beneath me—I could not bring myself to condemn him to the
shocking misery of the lash. Oh officers! all round the world, if this
quarter-deck face you wear at all, then never unship it for another, to
be merely sported for a moment. Of all insults, the temporary
condescension of a master to a slave is the most outrageous and
galling. That potentate who most condescends, mark him well; for that
potentate, if occasion come, will prove your uttermost tyrant.


When with five hundred others I made one of the compelled spectators at
the scourging of poor Rose-water, I little thought what Fate had
ordained for myself the next day.

Poor mulatto! thought I, one of an oppressed race, they degrade you
like a hound. Thank God! I am a white. Yet I had seen whites also
scourged; for, black or white, all my shipmates were liable to that.
Still, there is something in us, somehow, that in the most degraded
condition, we snatch at a chance to deceive ourselves into a fancied
superiority to others, whom we suppose lower in the scale than

Poor Rose-water! thought I; poor mulatto! Heaven send you a release
from your humiliation!

To make plain the thing about to be related, it needs to repeat what
has somewhere been previously mentioned, that in _tacking ship_ every
seaman in a man-of-war has a particular station assigned him. What that
station is, should be made known to him by the First Lieutenant; and
when the word is passed to _tack_ or _wear_, it is every seaman’s duty
to be found at his post. But among the various _numbers and stations_
given to me by the senior Lieutenant, when I first came on board the
frigate, he had altogether omitted informing me of my particular place
at those times, and, up to the precise period now written of, I had
hardly known that I should have had any special place then at all. For
the rest of the men, they seemed to me to catch hold of the first rope
that offered, as in a merchant-man upon similar occasions. Indeed, I
subsequently discovered, that such was the state of discipline—in this
one particular, at least—that very few of the seamen could tell where
their proper stations were, at _tacking or wearing_.

“All hands tack ship, ahoy!” such was the announcement made by the
boatswain’s mates at the hatchways the morning after the hard fate of
Rose-water. It was just eight bells—noon, and springing from my white
jacket, which I had spread between the guns for a bed on the main-deck,
I ran up the ladders, and, as usual, seized hold of the main-brace,
which fifty hands were streaming along forward. When _main-top-sail
haul!_ was given through the trumpet, I pulled at this brace with such
heartiness and good-will, that I almost flattered myself that my
instrumentality in getting the frigate round on the other tack,
deserved a public vote of thanks, and a silver tankard from Congress.

But something happened to be in the way aloft when the yards swung
round; a little confusion ensued; and, with anger on his brow, Captain
Claret came forward to see what occasioned it. No one to let go the
weather-lift of the main-yard! The rope was cast off, however, by a
hand, and the yards unobstructed, came round.

When the last rope was coiled, away, the Captain desired to know of the
First Lieutenant who it might be that was stationed at the weather
(then the starboard) main-lift. With a vexed expression of countenance
the First Lieutenant sent a midshipman for the Station Bill, when, upon
glancing it over, my own name was found put down at the post in

At the time I was on the gun-deck below, and did not know of these
proceedings; but a moment after, I heard the boatswain’s mates bawling
my name at all the hatch-ways, and along all three decks. It was the
first time I had ever heard it so sent through the furthest recesses of
the ship, and well knowing what this generally betokened to other
seamen, my heart jumped to my throat, and I hurriedly asked Flute, the
boatswain’s-mate at the fore-hatchway, what was wanted of me.

“Captain wants ye at the mast,” he replied. “Going to flog ye, I

“What for?”

“My eyes! you’ve been chalking your face, hain’t ye?”

“What am I wanted for?” I repeated.

But at that instant my name was again thundered forth by the other
boatswain’s mate, and Flute hurried me away, hinting that I would soon
find out what the Captain desired of me.

I swallowed down my heart in me as I touched the spar-deck, for a
single instant balanced myself on my best centre, and then, wholly
ignorant of what was going to be alleged against me, advanced to the
dread tribunal of the frigate.

As I passed through the gangway, I saw the quarter-master rigging the
gratings; the boatswain with his green bag of scourges; the
master-at-arms ready to help off some one’s shirt.

Again I made a desperate swallow of my whole soul in me, and found
myself standing before Captain Claret. His flushed face obviously
showed him in ill-humour. Among the group of officers by his side was
the First Lieutenant, who, as I came aft, eyed me in such a manner,
that I plainly perceived him to be extremely vexed at me for having
been the innocent means of reflecting upon the manner in which he kept
up the discipline of the ship.

“Why were you not at your station, sir?” asked the Captain.

“What station do you mean, sir?” said I.

It is generally the custom with man-of-war’s-men to stand obsequiously
touching their hat at every sentence they address to the Captain. But
as this was not obligatory upon me by the Articles of War, I did not do
so upon the present occasion, and previously, I had never had the
dangerous honour of a personal interview with Captain Claret.

He quickly noticed my omission of the homage usually rendered him, and
instinct told me, that to a certain extent, it set his heart against

“What station, sir, do you mean?” said I.

“You pretend ignorance,” he replied; “it will not help you, sir.”

Glancing at the Captain, the First Lieutenant now produced the Station
Bill, and read my name in connection with that of the starboard

“Captain Claret,” said I, “it is the first time I ever heard of my
being assigned to that post.”

“How is this, Mr. Bridewell?” he said, turning to the First Lieutenant,
with a fault-finding expression.

“It is impossible, sir,” said that officer, striving to hide his
vexation, “but this man must have known his station.”

“I have never known it before this moment, Captain Claret,” said I.

“Do you contradict my officer?” he returned. “I shall flog you.”

I had now been on board the frigate upward of a year, and remained
unscourged; the ship was homeward-bound, and in a few weeks, at most, I
would be a free man. And now, after making a hermit of myself in some
things, in order to avoid the possibility of the scourge, here it was
hanging over me for a thing utterly unforeseen, for a crime of which I
was as utterly innocent. But all that was as naught. I saw that my case
was hopeless; my solemn disclaimer was thrown in my teeth, and the
boatswain’s mate stood curling his fingers through the _cat_.

There are times when wild thoughts enter a man’s heart, when he seems
almost irresponsible for his act and his deed. The Captain stood on the
weather-side of the deck. Sideways, on an unobstructed line with him,
was the opening of the lee-gangway, where the side-ladders are
suspended in port. Nothing but a slight bit of sinnate-stuff served to
rail in this opening, which was cut right down to the level of the
Captain’s feet, showing the far sea beyond. I stood a little to
windward of him, and, though he was a large, powerful man, it was
certain that a sudden rush against him, along the slanting deck, would
infallibly pitch him headforemost into the ocean, though he who so
rushed must needs go over with him. My blood seemed clotting in my
veins; I felt icy cold at the tips of my fingers, and a dimness was
before my eyes. But through that dimness the boatswain’s mate, scourge
in hand, loomed like a giant, and Captain Claret, and the blue sea seen
through the opening at the gangway, showed with an awful vividness. I
cannot analyse my heart, though it then stood still within me. But the
thing that swayed me to my purpose was not altogether the thought that
Captain Claret was about to degrade me, and that I had taken an oath
with my soul that he should not. No, I felt my man’s manhood so
bottomless within me, that no word, no blow, no scourge of Captain
Claret could cut me deep enough for that. I but swung to an instinct in
me—the instinct diffused through all animated nature, the same that
prompts even a worm to turn under the heel. Locking souls-with him, I
meant to drag Captain Claret from this earthly tribunal of his to that
of Jehovah and let Him decide between us. No other way could I escape
the scourge.

Nature has not implanted any power in man that was not meant to be
exercised at times, though too often our powers have been abused. The
privilege, inborn and inalienable, that every man has of dying himself,
and inflicting death upon another, was not given to us without a
purpose. These are the last resources of an insulted and unendurable

“To the gratings, sir!” said Captain Claret; “do you hear?”

My eye was measuring the distance between him and the sea.

“Captain Claret,” said a voice advancing from the crowd. I turned to
see who this might be, that audaciously interposed at a juncture like
this. It was the same remarkably handsome and gentlemanly corporal of
marines, Colbrook, who has been previously alluded to, in the chapter
describing killing time in a man-of-war.

“I know that man,” said Colbrook, touching his cap, and speaking in a
mild, firm, but extremely deferential manner; “and I know that he would
not be found absent from his station, if he knew where it was.”

This speech was almost unprecedented. Seldom or never before had a
marine dared to speak to the Captain of a frigate in behalf of a seaman
at the mast. But there was something so unostentatiously commanding in
the calm manner of the man, that the Captain, though astounded, did not
in any way reprimand him. The very unusualness of his interference
seemed Colbrook’s protection.

Taking heart, perhaps, from Colbrook’s example, Jack Chase interposed,
and in a manly but carefully respectful manner, in substance repeated
the corporal’s remark, adding that he had never found me wanting in the

The Captain looked from Chase to Colbrook, and from Colbrook to
Chase—one the foremost man among the seamen, the other the foremost man
among the soldiers—then all round upon the packed and silent crew, and,
as if a slave to Fate, though supreme Captain of a frigate, he turned
to the First Lieutenant, made some indifferent remark, and saying to me
_you may go_, sauntered aft into his cabin; while I, who, in the
desperation of my soul, had but just escaped being a murderer and a
suicide, almost burst into tears of thanks-giving where I stood.


Let us forget the scourge and the gangway a while, and jot down in our
memories a few little things pertaining to our man-of-war world. I let
nothing slip, however small; and feel myself actuated by the same
motive which has prompted many worthy old chroniclers, to set down the
merest trifles concerning things that are destined to pass away
entirely from the earth, and which, if not preserved in the nick of
time, must infallibly perish from the memories of man. Who knows that
this humble narrative may not hereafter prove the history of an
obsolete barbarism? Who knows that, when men-of-war shall be no more,
“White-Jacket” may not be quoted to show to the people in the
Millennium what a man-of-war was? God hasten the time! Lo! ye years,
escort it hither, and bless our eyes ere we die.

There is no part of a frigate where you will see more going and coming
of strangers, and overhear more greetings and gossipings of
acquaintances, than in the immediate vicinity of the scuttle-butt, just
forward of the main-hatchway, on the gun-deck.

The scuttle-butt is a goodly, round, painted cask, standing on end, and
with its upper head removed, showing a narrow, circular shelf within,
where rest a number of tin cups for the accommodation of drinkers.
Central, within the scuttle-butt itself, stands an iron pump, which,
connecting with the immense water-tanks in the hold, furnishes an
unfailing supply of the much-admired Pale Ale, first brewed in the
brooks of the garden of Eden, and stamped with the _brand_ of our old
father Adam, who never knew what wine was. We are indebted to the old
vintner Noah for that. The scuttle-butt is the only fountain in the
ship; and here alone can you drink, unless at your meals. Night and day
an armed sentry paces before it, bayonet in hand, to see that no water
is taken away, except according to law. I wonder that they station no
sentries at the port-holes, to see that no air is breathed, except
according to Navy regulations.

As five hundred men come to drink at this scuttle-butt; as it is often
surrounded by officers’ servants drawing water for their masters to
wash; by the cooks of the range, who hither come to fill their
coffee-pots; and by the cooks of the ship’s messes to procure water for
their _duffs_; the scuttle-butt may be denominated the town-pump of the
ship. And would that my fine countryman, Hawthorne of Salem, had but
served on board a man-of-war in his time, that he might give us the
reading of a “_rill_” from the scuttle-butt.

As in all extensive establishments—abbeys, arsenals, colleges,
treasuries, metropolitan post-offices, and monasteries—there are many
snug little niches, wherein are ensconced certain superannuated old
pensioner officials; and, more especially, as in most ecclesiastical
establishments, a few choice prebendary stalls are to be found,
furnished with well-filled mangers and racks; so, in a man-of-war,
there are a variety of similar snuggeries for the benefit of decrepit
or rheumatic old tars. Chief among these is the office of _mast-man_.

There is a stout rail on deck, at the base of each mast, where a number
of _braces, lifts_, and _buntlines_ are belayed to the pins. It is the
sole duty of the mast-man to see that these ropes are always kept
clear, to preserve his premises in a state of the greatest attainable
neatness, and every Sunday morning to dispose his ropes in neat
_Flemish coils_.

The _main-mast-man_ of the Neversink was a very aged seaman, who well
deserved his comfortable berth. He had seen more than half a century of
the most active service, and, through all, had proved himself a good
and faithful man. He furnished one of the very rare examples of a
sailor in a green old age; for, with most sailors, old age comes in
youth, and Hardship and Vice carry them on an early bier to the grave.

As in the evening of life, and at the close of the day, old Abraham sat
at the door of his tent, biding his time to die, so sits our old
mast-man on the _coat of the mast_, glancing round him with patriarchal
benignity. And that mild expression of his sets off very strangely a
face that has been burned almost black by the torrid suns that shone
fifty years ago—a face that is seamed with three sabre cuts. You would
almost think this old mast-man had been blown out of Vesuvius, to look
alone at his scarred, blackened forehead, chin, and cheeks. But gaze
down into his eye, and though all the snows of Time have drifted higher
and higher upon his brow, yet deep down in that eye you behold an
infantile, sinless look, the same that answered the glance of this old
man’s mother when first she cried for the babe to be laid by her side.
That look is the fadeless, ever infantile immortality within.

The Lord Nelsons of the sea, though but Barons in the state, yet
oftentimes prove more potent than their royal masters; and at such
scenes as Trafalgar—dethroning this Emperor and reinstating that—enact
on the ocean the proud part of mighty Richard Neville, the king-making
Earl of the land. And as Richard Neville entrenched himself in his
moated old man-of-war castle of Warwick, which, underground, was
traversed with vaults, hewn out of the solid rock, and intricate as the
wards of the old keys of Calais surrendered to Edward III.; even so do
these King-Commodores house themselves in their water-rimmed,
cannon-sentried frigates, oaken dug, deck under deck, as cell under
cell. And as the old Middle-Age warders of Warwick, every night at
curfew, patrolled the battlements, and dove down into the vaults to see
that all lights were extinguished, even so do the master-at-arms and
ship’s corporals of a frigate perambulate all the decks of a
man-of-war, blowing out all tapers but those burning in the legalized
battle-lanterns. Yea, in these things, so potent is the authority of
these sea-wardens, that, though almost the lowest subalterns in the
ship, yet should they find the Senior Lieutenant himself sitting up
late in his state-room, reading Bowditch’s Navigator, or D’Anton “_On
Gunpowder and Fire-arms_,” they would infallibly blow the light out
under his very nose; nor durst that Grand-Vizier resent the indignity.

But, unwittingly, I have ennobled, by grand historical comparisons,
this prying, pettifogging, Irish-informer of a master-at-arms.

You have seen some slim, slip-shod housekeeper, at midnight ferreting
over a rambling old house in the country, startling at fancied witches
and ghosts, yet intent on seeing every door bolted, every smouldering
ember in the fireplaces smothered, every loitering domestic abed, and
every light made dark. This is the master-at-arms taking his
night-rounds in a frigate.

It may be thought that but little is seen of the Commodore in these
chapters, and that, since he so seldom appears on the stage, he cannot
be so august a personage, after all. But the mightiest potentates keep
the most behind the veil. You might tarry in Constantinople a month,
and never catch a glimpse of the Sultan. The grand Lama of Thibet,
according to some accounts, is never beheld by the people. But if any
one doubts the majesty of a Commodore, let him know that, according to
XLII. of the Articles of War, he is invested with a prerogative which,
according to monarchical jurists, is inseparable from the throne—the
plenary pardoning power. He may pardon all offences committed in the
squadron under his command.

But this prerogative is only his while at sea, or on a foreign station.
A circumstance peculiarly significant of the great difference between
the stately absolutism of a Commodore enthroned on his poop in a
foreign harbour, and an unlaced Commodore negligently reclining in an
easy-chair in the bosom of his family at home.


The training-days, or general quarters, now and then taking place in
our frigate, have already been described, also the Sunday devotions on
the half-deck; but nothing has yet been said concerning the daily
morning and evening quarters, when the men silently stand at their
guns, and the chaplain simply offers up a prayer.

Let us now enlarge upon this matter. We have plenty of time; the
occasion invites; for behold! the homeward-bound Neversink bowls along
over a jubilant sea.

Shortly after breakfast the drum beats to quarters; and among five
hundred men, scattered over all three decks, and engaged in all manner
of ways, that sudden rolling march is magical as the monitory sound to
which every good Mussulman at sunset drops to the ground whatsoever his
hands might have found to do, and, throughout all Turkey, the people in
concert kneel toward their holy Mecca.

The sailors run to and fro-some up the deck-ladders, some down—to gain
their respective stations in the shortest possible time. In three
minutes all is composed. One by one, the various officers stationed
over the separate divisions of the ship then approach the First
Lieutenant on the quarter-deck, and report their respective men at
their quarters. It is curious to watch their countenances at this time.
A profound silence prevails; and, emerging through the hatchway, from
one of the lower decks, a slender young officer appears, hugging his
sword to his thigh, and advances through the long lanes of sailors at
their guns, his serious eye all the time fixed upon the First
Lieutenant’s—his polar star. Sometimes he essays a stately and
graduated step, an erect and martial bearing, and seems full of the
vast national importance of what he is about to communicate.

But when at last he gains his destination, you are amazed to perceive
that all he has to say is imparted by a Freemason touch of his cap, and
a bow. He then turns and makes off to his division, perhaps passing
several brother Lieutenants, all bound on the same errand he himself
has just achieved. For about five minutes these officers are coming and
going, bringing in thrilling intelligence from all quarters of the
frigate; most stoically received, however, by the First Lieutenant.
With his legs apart, so as to give a broad foundation for the
superstructure of his dignity, this gentleman stands stiff as a
pike-staff on the quarter-deck. One hand holds his sabre—an
appurtenance altogether unnecessary at the time; and which he
accordingly tucks, point backward, under his arm, like an umbrella on a
sun-shiny day. The other hand is continually bobbing up and down to the
leather front of his cap, in response to the reports and salute of his
subordinates, to whom he never deigns to vouchsafe a syllable, merely
going through the motions of accepting their news, without bestowing
thanks for their pains.

This continual touching of caps between officers on board a man-of-war
is the reason why you invariably notice that the glazed fronts of their
caps look jaded, lack-lustre, and worn; sometimes slightly
oleaginous—though, in other respects, the cap may appear glossy and
fresh. But as for the First Lieutenant, he ought to have extra pay
allowed to him, on account of his extraordinary outlays in cap fronts;
for he it is to whom, all day long, reports of various kinds are
incessantly being made by the junior Lieutenants; and no report is made
by them, however trivial, but caps are touched on the occasion. It is
obvious that these individual salutes must be greatly multiplied and
aggregated upon the senior Lieutenant, who must return them all.
Indeed, when a subordinate officer is first promoted to that rank, he
generally complains of the same exhaustion about the shoulder and elbow
that La Fayette mourned over, when, in visiting America, he did little
else but shake the sturdy hands of patriotic farmers from sunrise to

The various officers of divisions having presented their respects, and
made good their return to their stations, the First Lieutenant turns
round, and, marching aft, endeavours to catch the eye of the Captain,
in order to touch his own cap to that personage, and thereby, without
adding a word of explanation, communicate the fact of all hands being
at their gun’s. He is a sort of retort, or receiver-general, to
concentrate the whole sum of the information imparted to him, and
discharge it upon his superior at one touch of his cap front.

But sometimes the Captain feels out of sorts, or in ill-humour, or is
pleased to be somewhat capricious, or has a fancy to show a touch of
his omnipotent supremacy; or, peradventure, it has so happened that the
First Lieutenant has, in some way, piqued or offended him, and he is
not unwilling to show a slight specimen of his dominion over him, even
before the eyes of all hands; at all events, only by some one of these
suppositions can the singular circumstance be accounted for, that
frequently Captain Claret would pertinaciously promenade up and down
the poop, purposely averting his eye from the First Lieutenant, who
would stand below in the most awkward suspense, waiting the first wink
from his superior’s eye.

“Now I have him!” he must have said to himself, as the Captain would
turn toward him in his walk; “now’s my time!” and up would go his hand
to his cap; but, alas! the Captain was off again; and the men at the
guns would cast sly winks at each other as the embarrassed Lieutenant
would bite his lips with suppressed vexation.

Upon some occasions this scene would be repeated several times, till at
last Captain Claret, thinking, that in the eyes of all hands, his
dignity must by this time be pretty well bolstered, would stalk towards
his subordinate, looking him full in the eyes; whereupon up goes his
hand to the cap front, and the Captain, nodding his acceptance of the
report, descends from his perch to the quarter-deck.

By this time the stately Commodore slowly emerges from his cabin, and
soon stands leaning alone against the brass rails of the
after-hatchway. In passing him, the Captain makes a profound
salutation, which his superior returns, in token that the Captain is at
perfect liberty to proceed with the ceremonies of the hour.

Marching on, Captain Claret at last halts near the main-mast, at the
head of a group of the ward-room officers, and by the side of the
Chaplain. At a sign from his finger, the brass band strikes up the
Portuguese hymn. This over, from Commodore to hammock-boy, all hands
uncover, and the Chaplain reads a prayer. Upon its conclusion, the drum
beats the retreat, and the ship’s company disappear from the guns. At
sea or in harbour, this ceremony is repeated every morning and evening.

By those stationed on the quarter-deck the Chaplain is distinctly
heard; but the quarter-deck gun division embraces but a tenth part of
the ship’s company, many of whom are below, on the main-deck, where not
one syllable of the prayer can be heard. This seemed a great
misfortune; for I well knew myself how blessed and soothing it was to
mingle twice every day in these peaceful devotions, and, with the
Commodore, and Captain, and smallest boy, unite in acknowledging
Almighty God. There was also a touch of the temporary equality of the
Church about it, exceedingly grateful to a man-of-war’s-man like me.

My carronade-gun happened to be directly opposite the brass railing
against which the Commodore invariably leaned at prayers. Brought so
close together, twice every day, for more than a year, we could not but
become intimately acquainted with each other’s faces. To this fortunate
circumstance it is to be ascribed, that some time after reaching home,
we were able to recognise each other when we chanced to meet in
Washington, at a ball given by the Russian Minister, the Baron de
Bodisco. And though, while on board the frigate, the Commodore never in
any manner personally addressed me—nor did I him—yet, at the Minister’s
social entertainment, we _there_ became exceedingly chatty; nor did I
fail to observe, among that crowd of foreign dignitaries and magnates
from all parts of America, that my worthy friend did not appear so
exalted as when leaning, in solitary state, against the brass railing
of the Neversink’s quarter-deck. Like many other gentlemen, he appeared
to the best advantage, and was treated with the most deference in the
bosom of his home, the frigate.

Our morning and evening quarters were agreeably diversified for some
weeks by a little circumstance, which to some of us at least, always
seemed very pleasing.

At Callao, half of the Commodore’s cabin had been hospitably yielded to
the family of a certain aristocratic-looking magnate, who was going
ambassador from Peru to the Court of the Brazils, at Rio. This
dignified diplomatist sported a long, twirling mustache, that almost
enveloped his mouth. The sailors said he looked like a rat with his
teeth through a bunch of oakum, or a St. Jago monkey peeping through a
prickly-pear bush.

He was accompanied by a very beautiful wife, and a still more beautiful
little daughter, about six years old. Between this dark-eyed little
gipsy and our chaplain there soon sprung up a cordial love and good
feeling, so much so, that they were seldom apart. And whenever the drum
beat to quarters, and the sailors were hurrying to their stations, this
little signorita would outrun them all to gain her own quarters at the
capstan, where she would stand by the chaplain’s side, grasping his
hand, and looking up archly in his face.

It was a sweet relief from the domineering sternness of our martial
discipline—a sternness not relaxed even at our devotions before the
altar of the common God of commodore and cabin-boy—to see that lovely
little girl standing among the thirty-two pounders, and now and then
casting a wondering, commiserating glance at the array of grim seamen
around her.


Besides general quarters, and the regular morning and evening quarters
for prayers on board the Neversink, on the first Sunday of every month
we had a grand “_muster round the capstan_,” when we passed in solemn
review before the Captain and officers, who closely scanned our frocks
and trowsers, to see whether they were according to the Navy cut. In
some ships, every man is required to bring his bag and hammock along
for inspection.

This ceremony acquires its chief solemnity, and, to a novice, is
rendered even terrible, by the reading of the Articles of War by the
Captain’s clerk before the assembled ship’s company, who in testimony
of their enforced reverence for the code, stand bareheaded till the
last sentence is pronounced.

To a mere amateur reader the quiet perusal of these Articles of War
would be attended with some nervous emotions. Imagine, then, what _my_
feelings must have been, when, with my hat deferentially in my hand, I
stood before my lord and master, Captain Claret, and heard these
Articles read as the law and gospel, the infallible, unappealable
dispensation and code, whereby I lived, and moved, and had my being on
board of the United States ship Neversink.

Of some twenty offences—made penal—that a seaman may commit, and which
are specified in this code, thirteen are punishable by death.

“_Shall suffer death!_” This was the burden of nearly every Article
read by the Captain’s clerk; for he seemed to have been instructed to
omit the longer Articles, and only present those which were brief and
to the point.

“_Shall suffer death!_” The repeated announcement falls on your ear
like the intermitting discharge of artillery. After it has been
repeated again and again, you listen to the reader as he deliberately
begins a new paragraph; you hear him reciting the involved, but
comprehensive and clear arrangement of the sentence, detailing all
possible particulars of the offence described, and you breathlessly
await, whether _that_ clause also is going to be concluded by the
discharge of the terrible minute-gun. When, lo! it again booms on your
ear—_shall suffer death!_ No reservations, no contingencies; not the
remotest promise of pardon or reprieve; not a glimpse of commutation of
the sentence; all hope and consolation is shut out—_shall suffer
death!_ that is the simple fact for you to digest; and it is a tougher
morsel, believe White-Jacket when he says it, than a forty-two-pound

But there is a glimmering of an alternative to the sailor who infringes
these Articles. Some of them thus terminates: “_Shall suffer death, or
such punishment as a court-martial shall adjudge_.” But hints this at a
penalty still more serious? Perhaps it means “_death, or worse

Your honours of the Spanish Inquisition, Loyola and Torquemada!
produce, reverend gentlemen, your most secret code, and match these
Articles of War, if you can. Jack Ketch, _you_ also are experienced in
these things! Thou most benevolent of mortals, who standest by us, and
hangest round our necks, when all the rest of this world are against
us—tell us, hangman, what punishment is this, horribly hinted at as
being worse than death? Is it, upon an empty stomach, to read the
Articles of War every morning, for the term of one’s natural life? Or
is it to be imprisoned in a cell, with its walls papered from floor to
ceiling with printed copies, in italics, of these Articles of War?

But it needs not to dilate upon the pure, bubbling milk of human
kindness, and Christian charity, and forgiveness of injuries which
pervade this charming document, so thoroughly imbued, as a Christian
code, with the benignant spirit of the Sermon on the Mount. But as it
is very nearly alike in the foremost states of Christendom, and as it
is nationally set forth by those states, it indirectly becomes an index
to the true condition of the present civilization of the world.

As, month after month, I would stand bareheaded among my shipmates, and
hear this document read, I have thought to myself, Well, well,
White-Jacket, you are in a sad box, indeed. But prick your ears, there
goes another minute-gun. It admonishes you to take all bad usage in
good part, and never to join in any public meeting that may be held on
the gun-deck for a redress of grievances. Listen:

Art. XIII. “If any person in the navy shall make, or attempt to make,
any mutinous assembly, he shall, on conviction thereof by a court
martial, suffer death.”

Bless me, White-Jacket, are you a great gun yourself, that you so
recoil, to the extremity of your breechings, at that discharge?

But give ear again. Here goes another minute-gun. It indirectly
admonishes you to receive the grossest insult, and stand still under

Art. XIV. “No private in the navy shall disobey the lawful orders of
his superior officer, or strike him, or draw, or offer to draw, or
raise any weapon against him, while in the execution of the duties of
his office, on pain of death.”

Do not hang back there by the bulwarks, White-Jacket; come up to the
mark once more; for here goes still another minute-gun, which
admonishes you never to be caught napping:

Part of Art. XX. “If any person in the navy shall sleep upon his watch,
he shall suffer death.”

Murderous! But then, in time of peace, they do not enforce these
blood-thirsty laws? Do they not, indeed? What happened to those three
sailors on board an American armed vessel a few years ago, quite within
your memory, White-Jacket; yea, while you yourself were yet serving on
board this very frigate, the Neversink? What happened to those three
Americans, White-Jacket—those three sailors, even as you, who once were
alive, but now are dead? “_Shall suffer death!_” those were the three
words that hung those three sailors.

Have a care, then, have a care, lest you come to a sad end, even the
end of a rope; lest, with a black-and-blue throat, you turn a dumb
diver after pearl-shells; put to bed for ever, and tucked in, in your
own hammock, at the bottom of the sea. And there you will lie,
White-Jacket, while hostile navies are playing cannon-ball billiards
over your grave.

By the main-mast! then, in a time of profound peace, I am subject to
the cut-throat martial law. And when my own brother, who happens to be
dwelling ashore, and does not serve his country as I am now doing—when
_he_ is at liberty to call personally upon the President of the United
States, and express his disapprobation of the whole national
administration, here am I, liable at any time to be run up at the
yard-arm, with a necklace, made by no jeweler, round my neck!

A hard case, truly, White-Jacket; but it cannot be helped. Yes; you
live under this same martial law. Does not everything around you din
the fact in your ears? Twice every day do you not jump to your quarters
at the sound of a drum? Every morning, in port, are you not roused from
your hammock by the _reveille_, and sent to it again at nightfall by
the _tattoo?_ Every Sunday are you not commanded in the mere matter of
the very dress you shall wear through that blessed day? Can your
shipmates so much as drink their “tot of grog?” nay, can they even
drink but a cup of water at the scuttle-butt, without an armed sentry
standing over them? Does not every officer wear a sword instead of a
cane? You live and move among twenty-four-pounders. White-Jacket; the
very cannon-balls are deemed an ornament around you, serving to
embellish the hatchways; and should you come to die at sea,
White-Jacket, still two cannon-balls would bear you company when you
would be committed to the deep. Yea, by all methods, and devices, and
inventions, you are momentarily admonished of the fact that you live
under the Articles of War. And by virtue of them it is, White-Jacket,
that, without a hearing and without a trial, you may, at a wink from
the Captain, be condemned to the scourge.

Speak you true? Then let me fly!

Nay, White-Jacket, the landless horizon hoops you in.

Some tempest, then, surge all the sea against us! hidden reefs and
rocks, arise and dash the ships to chips! I was not born a serf, and
will not live a slave! Quick! cork-screw whirlpools, suck us down!
world’s end whelm us!

Nay, White-Jacket, though this frigate laid her broken bones upon the
Antarctic shores of Palmer’s Land; though not two planks adhered;
though all her guns were spiked by sword-fish blades, and at her
yawning hatchways mouth-yawning sharks swam in and out; yet, should you
escape the wreck and scramble to the beach, this Martial Law would meet
you still, and snatch you by the throat. Hark!

Art. XLII. Part of Sec. 3.-“In all cases where the crews of the ships
or vessels of the United States shall be separated from their vessels
by the latter being wrecked, lost, or destroyed, all the command,
power, and authority given to the officers of such ships or vessels
shall remain, and be in full force, as effectually as if such ship or
vessel were not so wrecked, lost or destroyed.”

Hear you that, White-Jacket! I tell you there is no escape. Afloat or
wrecked the Martial Law relaxes not its gripe. And though, by that
self-same warrant, for some offence therein set down, you were indeed
to “suffer death,” even then the Martial Law might hunt you straight
through the other world, and out again at its other end, following you
through all eternity, like an endless thread on the inevitable track of
its own point, passing unnumbered needles through.


As the Articles of War form the ark and constitution of the penal laws
of the American Navy, in all sobriety and earnestness it may be well to
glance at their origin. Whence came they? And how is it that one arm of
the national defences of a Republic comes to be ruled by a Turkish
code, whose every section almost, like each of the tubes of a revolving
pistol, fires nothing short of death into the heart of an offender? How
comes it that, by virtue of a law solemnly ratified by a Congress of
freemen, the representatives of freemen, thousands of Americans are
subjected to the most despotic usages, and, from the dockyards of a
republic, absolute monarchies are launched, with the “glorious stars
and stripes” for an ensign? By what unparalleled anomaly, by what
monstrous grafting of tyranny upon freedom did these Articles of War
ever come to be so much as heard of in the American Navy?

Whence came they? They cannot be the indigenous growth of those
political institutions, which are based upon that arch-democrat Thomas
Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence? No; they are an importation
from abroad, even from Britain, whose laws we Americans hurled off as
tyrannical, and yet retained the most tyrannical of all.

But we stop not here; for these Articles of War had their congenial
origin in a period of the history of Britain when the Puritan Republic
had yielded to a monarchy restored; when a hangman Judge Jeffreys
sentenced a world’s champion like Algernon Sidney to the block; when
one of a race by some deemed accursed of God—even a Stuart, was on the
throne; and a Stuart, also, was at the head of the Navy, as Lord High
Admiral. One, the son of a King beheaded for encroachments upon the
rights of his people, and the other, his own brother, afterward a king,
James II., who was hurled from the throne for his tyranny. This is the
origin of the Articles of War; and it carries with it an unmistakable
clew to their despotism.[4]

 [4] The first Naval Articles of War in the English language were
 passed in the thirteenth year of the reign of Charles the Second,
 under the title of “_An act for establishing Articles and Orders for
 the regulating and better Government of his Majesty’s Navies,
 Ships-of-War, and Forces by Sea_.” This act was repealed, and, so far
 as concerned the officers, a modification of it substituted, in the
 twenty-second year of the reign of George the Second, shortly after
 the Peace of Aix la Chapelle, just one century ago. This last act, it
 is believed, comprises, in substance, the Articles of War at this day
 in force in the British Navy. It is not a little curious, nor without
 meaning, that neither of these acts explicitly empowers an officer to
 inflict the lash. It would almost seem as if, in this case, the
 British lawgivers were willing to leave such a stigma out of an
 organic statute, and bestow the power of the lash in some less solemn,
 and perhaps less public manner. Indeed, the only broad enactments
 directly sanctioning naval scourging at sea are to be found in the
 United States Statute Book and in the “Sea Laws” of the absolute
 monarch, Louis le Grand, of France.[5]
    Taking for their basis the above-mentioned British Naval Code, and
    ingrafting upon it the positive scourging laws, which Britain was
    loth to recognise as organic statutes, our American lawgivers, in
    the year 1800, framed the Articles of War now governing the
    American Navy. They may be found in the second volume of the
    “United States Statutes at Large,” under chapter xxxiii.—“An act
    for the _better_ government of the Navy of the United States.”

 [5] For reference to the latter (L’Ord. de la Marine), _vide_ Curtis’s
 _Treatise on the Rights and Duties of Merchant-Seamen, according to
 the General Maritime Law_, Part ii., c. i.

Nor is it a dumb thing that the men who, in democratic Cromwell’s time,
first proved to the nations the toughness of the British oak and the
hardihood of the British sailor—that in Cromwell’s time, whose fleets
struck terror into the cruisers of France, Spain, Portugal, and
Holland, and the corsairs of Algiers and the Levant; in Cromwell’s
time, when Robert Blake swept the Narrow Seas of all the keels of a
Dutch Admiral who insultingly carried a broom at his fore-mast; it is
not a dumb thing that, at a period deemed so glorious to the British
Navy, these Articles of War were unknown.

Nevertheless, it is granted that some laws or other must have governed
Blake’s sailors at that period; but they must have been far less severe
than those laid down in the written code which superseded them, since,
according to the father-in-law of James II., the Historian of the
Rebellion, the English Navy, prior to the enforcement of the new code,
was full of officers and sailors who, of all men, were the most
republican. Moreover, the same author informs us that the first work
undertaken by his respected son-in-law, then Duke of York, upon
entering on the duties of Lord High Admiral, was to have a grand
re-christening of the men-of-war, which still carried on their sterns
names too democratic to suit his high-tory ears.

But if these Articles of War were unknown in Blake’s time, and also
during the most brilliant period of Admiral Benbow’s career, what
inference must follow? That such tyrannical ordinances are not
indispensable—even during war—to the highest possible efficiency of a
military marine.

OF THE SCIENCE OF GOOD CUSTOMS.”—_The Consulate of the Sea_.

The present usages of the American Navy are such that, though there is
no government enactment to that effect, yet, in many respect, its
Commanders seem virtually invested with the power to observe or
violate, as seems to them fit, several of the Articles of War.

According to Article XV., “_No person in the Navy shall quarrel with
any other person in the Navy, nor use provoking or reproachful words,
gestures, or menaces, on pain of such punishment as a court-martial
shall adjudge_.”

“_Provoking or reproachful words!_” Officers of the Navy, answer me!
Have you not, many of you, a thousand times violated this law, and
addressed to men, whose tongues were tied by this very Article,
language which no landsman would ever hearken to without flying at the
throat of his insulter? I know that worse words than _you_ ever used
are to be heard addressed by a merchant-captain to his crew; but the
merchant-captain does not live under this XVth Article of War.

Not to make an example of him, nor to gratify any personal feeling, but
to furnish one certain illustration of what is here asserted, I
honestly declare that Captain Claret, of the Neversink, repeatedly
violated this law in his own proper person.

According to Article III., no officer, or other person in the Navy,
shall be guilty of “oppression, fraud, profane swearing, drunkenness,
or any other scandalous conduct.”

Again let me ask you, officers of the Navy, whether many of you have
not repeatedly, and in more than one particular, violated this law? And
here, again, as a certain illustration, I must once more cite Captain
Claret as an offender, especially in the matter of profane swearing. I
must also cite four of the lieutenants, some eight of the midshipmen,
and nearly all the seamen.

Additional Articles might be quoted that are habitually violated by the
officers, while nearly all those _exclusively_ referring to the sailors
are unscrupulously enforced. Yet those Articles, by which the sailor is
scourged at the gangway, are not one whit more laws than those _other_
Articles, binding upon the officers, that have become obsolete from
immemorial disuse; while still other Articles, to which the sailors
alone are obnoxious, are observed or violated at the caprice of the
Captain. Now, if it be not so much the severity as the certainty of
punishment that deters from transgression, how fatal to all proper
reverence for the enactments of Congress must be this disregard of its

Still more. This violation of the law, on the part of the officers, in
many cases involves oppression to the sailor. But throughout the whole
naval code, which so hems in the mariner by law upon law, and which
invests the Captain with so much judicial and administrative authority
over him—in most cases entirely discretionary—not one solitary clause
is to be found which in any way provides means for a seaman deeming
himself aggrieved to obtain redress. Indeed, both the written and
unwritten laws of the American Navy are as destitute of individual
guarantees to the mass of seamen as the Statute Book of the despotic
Empire of Russia.

Who put this great gulf between the American Captain and the American
sailor? Or is the Captain a creature of like passions with ourselves?
Or is he an infallible archangel, incapable of the shadow of error? Or
has a sailor no mark of humanity, no attribute of manhood, that, bound
hand and foot, he is cast into an American frigate shorn of all rights
and defences, while the notorious lawlessness of the Commander has
passed into a proverb, familiar to man-of-war’s-men, _the law was not
made for the Captain!_ Indeed, he may almost be said to put off the
citizen when he touches his quarter-deck; and, almost exempt from the
law of the land himself, he comes down upon others with a judicial
severity unknown on the national soil. With the Articles of War in one
hand, and the cat-o’-nine-tails in the other, he stands an undignified
parody upon Mohammed enforcing Moslemism with the sword and the Koran.

The concluding sections of the Articles of War treat of the naval
courts-martial before which officers are tried for serious offences as
well as the seamen. The oath administered to members of these
courts—which sometimes sit upon matters of life and death—explicitly
enjoins that the members shall not “at any time divulge the vote or
opinion of any particular member of the court, unless required so to do
before a court of justice in due course of law.”

Here, then, is a Council of Ten and a Star Chamber indeed! Remember,
also, that though the sailor is sometimes tried for his life before a
tribunal like this, in no case do his fellow-sailors, his peers, form
part of the court. Yet that a man should be tried by his peers is the
fundamental principle of all civilised jurisprudence. And not only
tried by his peers, but his peers must be unanimous to render a
verdict; whereas, in a court-martial, the concurrence of a majority of
conventional and social superiors is all that is requisite.

In the English Navy, it is said, they had a law which authorised the
sailor to appeal, if he chose, from the decision of the Captain—even in
a comparatively trivial case—to the higher tribunal of a court-martial.
It was an English seaman who related this to me. When I said that such
a law must be a fatal clog to the exercise of the penal power in the
Captain, he, in substance, told me the following story.

A top-man guilty of drunkenness being sent to the gratings, and the
scourge about to be inflicted, he turned round and demanded a
court-martial. The Captain smiled, and ordered him to be taken down and
put into the “brig,” There he was kept in irons some weeks, when,
despairing of being liberated, he offered to compromise at two dozen
lashes. “Sick of your bargain, then, are you?” said the Captain. “No,
no! a court-martial you demanded, and a court-martial you shall have!”
Being at last tried before the bar of quarter-deck officers, he was
condemned to two hundred lashes. What for? for his having been drunk?
No! for his having had the insolence to appeal from an authority, in
maintaining which the men who tried and condemned him had so strong a
sympathetic interest.

Whether this story be wholly true or not, or whether the particular law
involved prevails, or ever did prevail, in the English Navy, the thing,
nevertheless, illustrates the ideas that man-of-war’s-men themselves
have touching the tribunals in question.

What can be expected from a court whose deeds are done in the darkness
of the recluse courts of the Spanish Inquisition? when that darkness is
solemnised by an oath on the Bible? when an oligarchy of epaulets sits
upon the bench, and a plebeian top-man, without a jury, stands
judicially naked at the bar?

In view of these things, and especially in view of the fact that, in
several cases, the degree of punishment inflicted upon a
man-of-war’s-man is absolutely left to the discretion of the court,
what shame should American legislators take to themselves, that with
perfect truth we may apply to the entire body of the American
man-of-war’s-men that infallible principle of Sir Edward Coke: “It is
one of the genuine marks of servitude to have the law either concealed
or precarious.” But still better may we subscribe to the saying of Sir
Matthew Hale in his History of the Common Law, that “the Martial Law,
being based upon no settled principles, is, in truth and reality, no
law, but something indulged rather than allowed as a law.”

I know it may be said that the whole nature of this naval code is
purposely adapted to the war exigencies of the Navy. But waiving the
grave question that might be raised concerning the moral, not judicial,
lawfulness of this arbitrary code, even in time of war; be it asked,
why it is in force during a time of peace? The United States has now
existed as a nation upward of seventy years, and in all that time the
alleged necessity for the operation of the naval code—in cases deemed
capital—has only existed during a period of two or three years at most.

Some may urge that the severest operations of the code are tacitly made
null in time of peace. But though with respect to several of the
Articles this holds true, yet at any time any and all of them may be
legally enforced. Nor have there been wanting recent instances,
illustrating the spirit of this code, even in cases where the letter of
the code was not altogether observed. The well-known case of a United
States brig furnishes a memorable example, which at any moment may be
repeated. Three men, in a time of peace, were then hung at the
yard-arm, merely because, in the Captain’s judgment, it became
necessary to hang them. To this day the question of their complete
guilt is socially discussed.

How shall we characterise such a deed? Says Blackstone, “If any one
that hath commission of martial authority doth, in time of peace, hang,
or otherwise execute any man by colour of martial law, this is murder;
for it is against Magna Charta.”* [* Commentaries, b. i., c. xiii.]

Magna Charta! We moderns, who may be landsmen, may justly boast of
civil immunities not possessed by our forefathers; but our remoter
forefathers who happened to be mariners may straighten themselves even
in their ashes to think that their lawgivers were wiser and more humane
in their generation than our lawgivers in ours. Compare the sea-laws of
our Navy with the Roman and Rhodian ocean ordinances; compare them with
the “Consulate of the Sea;” compare them with the Laws of the Hanse
Towns; compare them with the ancient Wisbury laws. In the last we find
that they were ocean democrats in those days. “If he strikes, he ought
to receive blow for blow.” Thus speak out the Wisbury laws concerning a
Gothland sea-captain.

In final reference to all that has been said in previous chapters
touching the severity and unusualness of the laws of the American Navy,
and the large authority vested in its commanding officers, be it here
observed, that White-Jacket is not unaware of the fact, that the
responsibility of an officer commanding at sea—whether in the merchant
service or the national marine—is unparalleled by that of any other
relation in which man may stand to man. Nor is he unmindful that both
wisdom and humanity dictate that, from the peculiarity of his position,
a sea-officer in command should be clothed with a degree of authority
and discretion inadmissible in any master ashore. But, at the same
time, these principles—recognised by all writers on maritime law—have
undoubtedly furnished warrant for clothing modern sea-commanders and
naval courts-martial with powers which exceed the due limits of reason
and necessity. Nor is this the only instance where right and salutary
principles, in themselves almost self-evident and infallible, have been
advanced in justification of things, which in themselves are just as
self-evidently wrong and pernicious.

Be it here, once and for all, understood, that no sentimental and
theoretic love for the common sailor; no romantic belief in that
peculiar noble-heartedness and exaggerated generosity of disposition
fictitiously imputed to him in novels; and no prevailing desire to gain
the reputation of being his friend, have actuated me in anything I have
said, in any part of this work, touching the gross oppression under
which I know that the sailors suffers. Indifferent as to who may be the
parties concerned, I but desire to see wrong things righted, and equal
justice administered to all.

Nor, as has been elsewhere hinted, is the general ignorance or
depravity of any race of men to be alleged as an apology for tyranny
over them. On the contrary, it cannot admit of a reasonable doubt, in
any unbiased mind conversant with the interior life of a man-of-war,
that most of the sailor iniquities practised therein are indirectly to
be ascribed to the morally debasing effects of the unjust, despotic,
and degrading laws under which the man-of-war’s-man lives.


Mention has been made that the game of draughts, or checkers, was
permitted to be played on board the Neversink. At the present time,
while there was little or no shipwork to be done, and all hands, in
high spirits, were sailing homeward over the warm smooth sea of the
tropics; so numerous became the players, scattered about the decks,
that our First Lieutenant used ironically to say that it was a pity
they were not tesselated with squares of white and black marble, for
the express benefit and convenience of the players. Had this gentleman
had his way, our checker-boards would very soon have been pitched out
of the ports. But the Captain—usually lenient in some things—permitted
them, and so Mr. Bridewell was fain to hold his peace.

But, although this one game was allowable in the frigate, all kinds of
gambling were strictly interdicted, under the penalty of the gangway;
nor were cards or dice tolerated in any way whatever. This regulation
was indispensable, for, of all human beings, man-of-war’s-men are
perhaps the most inclined to gambling. The reason must be obvious to
any one who reflects upon their condition on shipboard. And
gambling—the most mischievous of vices anywhere—in a man-of-war
operates still more perniciously than on shore. But quite as often as
the law against smuggling spirits is transgressed by the unscrupulous
sailors, the statutes against cards and dice are evaded.

Sable night, which, since the beginning of the world, has winked and
looked on at so many deeds of iniquity—night is the time usually
selected for their operations by man-of-war gamblers. The place pitched
upon is generally the berth-deck, where the hammocks are swung, and
which is lighted so stintedly as not to disturb the sleeping seamen
with any obtruding glare. In so spacious an area the two lanterns
swinging from the stanchions diffuse a subdued illumination, like a
night-taper in the apartment of some invalid. Owing to their position,
also, these lanterns are far from shedding an impartial light, however
dim, but fling long angular rays here and there, like burglar’s
dark-lanterns in the fifty-acre vaults of the West India Docks on the

It may well be imagined, therefore, how well adapted is this mysterious
and subterranean Hall of Eblis to the clandestine proceedings of
gamblers, especially as the hammocks not only hang thickly, but many of
them swing very low, within two feet of the floor, thus forming
innumerable little canvas glens, grottoes, nooks, corners, and
crannies, where a good deal of wickedness may be practiced by the wary
with considerable impunity.

Now the master-at-arms, assisted by his mates, the ship’s corporals,
reigns supreme in these bowels of the ship. Throughout the night these
policemen relieve each other at standing guard over the premises; and,
except when the watches are called, they sit in the midst of a profound
silence, only invaded by trumpeters’ snores, or the ramblings of some
old sheet-anchor-man in his sleep.

The two ship’s corporals went among the sailors by the names of Leggs
and Pounce; Pounce had been a policeman, it was said, in Liverpool;
Leggs, a turnkey attached to “The Tombs” in New York. Hence their
education eminently fitted them for their stations; and Bland, the
master-at-arms, ravished with their dexterity in prying out offenders,
used to call them his two right hands.

When man-of-war’s-men desire to gamble, they appoint the hour, and
select some certain corner, in some certain shadow, behind some certain
hammock. They then contribute a small sum toward a joint fund, to be
invested in a bribe for some argus-eyed shipmate, who shall play the
part of a spy upon the master-at-arms and corporals while the gaming is
in progress. In nine cases out of ten these arrangements are so cunning
and comprehensive, that the gamblers, eluding all vigilance, conclude
their game unmolested. But now and then, seduced into unwariness, or
perhaps, from parsimony, being unwilling to employ the services of a
spy, they are suddenly lighted upon by the constables, remorselessly
collared, and dragged into the brig there to await a dozen lashes in
the morning.

Several times at midnight I have been startled out of a sound sleep by
a sudden, violent rush under my hammock, caused by the abrupt breaking
up of some nest of gamblers, who have scattered in all directions,
brushing under the tiers of swinging pallets, and setting them all in a
rocking commotion.

It is, however, while laying in port that gambling most thrives in a
man-of-war. Then the men frequently practice their dark deeds in the
light of the day, and the additional guards which, at such times, they
deem indispensable, are not unworthy of note. More especially, their
extra precautions in engaging the services of several spies,
necessitate a considerable expenditure, so that, in port, the diversion
of gambling rises to the dignity of a nabob luxury.

During the day the master-at-arms and his corporals are continually
prowling about on all three decks, eager to spy out iniquities. At one
time, for example, you see Leggs switching his magisterial rattan, and
lurking round the fore-mast on the spar-deck; the next moment, perhaps,
he is three decks down, out of sight, prowling among the cable-tiers.
Just so with his master, and Pounce his coadjutor; they are here,
there, and everywhere, seemingly gifted with ubiquity.

In order successfully to carry on their proceedings by day, the
gamblers must see to it that each of these constables is relentlessly
dogged wherever he goes; so that, in case of his approach toward the
spot where themselves are engaged, they may be warned of the fact in
time to make good their escape. Accordingly, light and active scouts
are selected to follow the constable about. From their youthful
alertness and activity, the boys of the mizzen-top are generally chosen
for this purpose.

But this is not all. Onboard of most men-of-war there is a set of sly,
knavish foxes among the crew, destitute of every principle of honour,
and on a par with Irish informers. In man-of-war parlance, they come
under the denomination of _fancy-men_ and _white-mice_, They are called
_fancy-men_ because, from their zeal in craftily reporting offenders,
they are presumed to be regarded with high favour by some of the
officers. Though it is seldom that these informers can be certainly
individualised, so secret and subtle are they in laying their
information, yet certain of the crew, and especially certain of the
marines, are invariably suspected to be _fancy-men_ and _white-mice_,
and are accordingly more or less hated by their comrades.

Now, in addition to having an eye on the master-at-arms and his aids,
the day-gamblers must see to it, that every person suspected of being a
_white-mouse_ or _fancy-man_, is like-wise dogged wherever he goes.
Additional scouts are retained constantly to snuff at their trail. But
the mysteries of man-of-war vice are wonderful; and it is now to be
recorded, that, from long habit and observation, and familiarity with
the _guardo moves_ and _manoeuvres_ of a frigate, the master-at-arms
and his aids can almost invariably tell when any gambling is going on
by day; though, in the crowded vessel, abounding in decks, tops, dark
places, and outlandish corners of all sorts, they may not be able to
pounce upon the identical spot where the gamblers are hidden.

During the period that Bland was suspended from his office as
master-at-arms, a person who, among the sailors, went by the name of
Sneak, having been long suspected to have been a _white-mouse_, was put
in Bland’s place. He proved a hangdog, sidelong catch-thief, but gifted
with a marvellous perseverance in ferreting out culprits; following in
their track like an inevitable Cuba blood-hound, with his noiseless
nose. When disconcerted, however, you sometimes heard his bay.

“The muffled dice are somewhere around,” Sneak would say to his aids;
“there are them three chaps, there, been dogging me about for the last
half-hour. I say, Pounce, has any one been scouting around _you_ this

“Four on ’em,” says Pounce. “I know’d it; I know’d the muffled dice was

“Leggs!” says the master-at-arms to his other aid, “Leggs, how is it
with _you_—any spies?”

“Ten on’ em,” says Leggs. “There’s one on ’em now—that fellow stitching
a hat.”

“Halloo, you, sir!” cried the master-at-arms, “top your boom and sail
large, now. If I see you about me again, I’ll have you up to the mast.”

“What am I a-doin’ now?” says the hat-stitcher, with a face as long as
a rope-walk. “Can’t a feller be workin’ here, without being ’spected of
Tom Coxe’s traverse, up one ladder and down t’other?”

“Oh, I know the moves, sir; I have been on board a _guardo_. Top your
boom, I say, and be off, or I’ll have you hauled up and riveted in a
clinch—both fore-tacks over the main-yard, and no bloody knife to cut
the seizing. Sheer! or I’ll pitch into you like a shin of beef into a
beggar’s wallet.”

It is often observable, that, in vessels of all kinds, the men who talk
the most sailor lingo are the least sailor-like in reality. You may
sometimes hear even marines jerk out more salt phrases than the Captain
of the Forecastle himself. On the other hand, when not actively engaged
in his vocation, you would take the best specimen of a seaman for a
landsman. When you see a fellow yawning about the docks like a
homeward-bound Indiaman, a long Commodore’s pennant of black ribbon
flying from his mast-head, and fetching up at a grog-shop with a slew
of his hull, as if an Admiral were coming alongside a three-decker in
his barge; you may put that man down for what man-of-war’s-men call a
_damn-my-eyes-tar_, that is, a humbug. And many damn-my-eyes humbugs
there are in this man-of-war world of ours.


The whole of our run from Rio to the Line was one delightful yachting,
so far as fine weather and the ship’s sailing were concerned. It was
especially pleasant when our quarter-watch lounged in the main-top,
diverting ourselves in many agreeable ways. Removed from the immediate
presence of the officers, we there harmlessly enjoyed ourselves, more
than in any other part of the ship. By day, many of us were very
industrious, making hats or mending our clothes. But by night we became
more romantically inclined.

Often Jack Chase, an enthusiastic admirer of sea-scenery, would direct
our attention to the moonlight on the waves, by fine snatches from his
catalogue of poets. I shall never forget the lyric air with which, one
morning, at dawn of day, when all the East was flushed with red and
gold, he stood leaning against the top-mast shrouds, and stretching his
bold hand over the sea, exclaimed, “Here comes Aurora: top-mates, see!”
And, in a liquid, long-lingering tone, he recited the lines,

     “With gentle hand, as seeming oft to pause,
      The purple curtains of the morn she draws.”

“Commodore Camoens, White-Jacket.—But bear a hand there; we must rig
out that stun’-sail boom—the wind is shifting.”

From our lofty perch, of a moonlight night, the frigate itself was a
glorious sight. She was going large before the wind, her stun’-sails
set on both sides, so that the canvas on the main-mast and fore-mast
presented the appearance of majestic, tapering pyramids, more than a
hundred feet broad at the base, and terminating in the clouds with the
light copestone of the royals. That immense area of snow-white canvas
sliding along the sea was indeed a magnificent spectacle. The three
shrouded masts looked like the apparitions of three gigantic Turkish
Emirs striding over the ocean.

Nor, at times, was the sound of music wanting, to augment the poetry of
the scene. The whole band would be assembled on the poop, regaling the
officers, and incidentally ourselves, with their fine old airs. To
these, some of us would occasionally dance in the _top_, which was
almost as large as an ordinary sized parlour. When the instrumental
melody of the band was not to be had, our nightingales mustered their
voices, and gave us a song.

Upon these occasions Jack Chase was often called out, and regaled us,
in his own free and noble style, with the “_Spanish Ladies_”—a
favourite thing with British man-of-war’s-men—and many other salt-sea
ballads and ditties, including,

     “Sir Patrick Spens was the best sailor
      That ever sailed the sea.”


     “And three times around spun our gallant ship;
          Three times around spun she;
      Three times around spun our gallant ship,
          And she went to the bottom of the sea—
              The sea, the sea, the sea,
      And she went to the bottom of the sea!”

These songs would be varied by sundry _yarns_ and _twisters_ of the
top-men. And it was at these times that I always endeavoured to draw
out the oldest Tritons into narratives of the war-service they had
seen. There were but few of them, it is true, who had been in action;
but that only made their narratives the more valuable.

There was an old negro, who went by the name of Tawney, a
sheet-anchor-man, whom we often invited into our top of tranquil
nights, to hear him discourse. He was a staid and sober seaman, very
intelligent, with a fine, frank bearing, one of the best men in the
ship, and held in high estimation by every one.

It seems that, during the last war between England and America, he had,
with several others, been “impressed” upon the high seas, out of a New
England merchantman. The ship that impressed him was an English
frigate, the Macedonian, afterward taken by the Neversink, the ship in
which we were sailing.

It was the holy Sabbath, according to Tawney, and, as the Briton bore
down on the American—her men at their quarters—Tawney and his
countrymen, who happened to be stationed at the quarter-deck battery,
respectfully accosted the captain—an old man by the name of Cardan—as
he passed them, in his rapid promenade, his spy-glass under his arm.
Again they assured him that they were not Englishmen, and that it was a
most bitter thing to lift their hands against the flag of that country
which harboured the mothers that bore them. They conjured him to
release them from their guns, and allow them to remain neutral during
the conflict. But when a ship of any nation is running into action, it
is no time for argument, small time for justice, and not much time for
humanity. Snatching a pistol from the belt of a boarder standing by,
the Captain levelled it at the heads of the three sailors, and
commanded them instantly to their quarters, under penalty of being shot
on the spot. So, side by side with his country’s foes, Tawney and his
companions toiled at the guns, and fought out the fight to the last;
with the exception of one of them, who was killed at his post by one of
his own country’s balls.

At length, having lost her fore and main-top-masts, and her mizzen-mast
having been shot away to the deck, and her fore-yard lying in two
pieces on her shattered forecastle, and in a hundred places having been
_hulled_ with round shot, the English frigate was reduced to the last
extremity. Captain Cardan ordered his signal quarter-master to strike
the flag.

Tawney was one of those who, at last, helped pull him on board the
Neversink. As he touched the deck, Cardan saluted Decatur, the hostile
commander, and offered his sword; but it was courteously declined.
Perhaps the victor remembered the dinner parties that he and the
Englishman had enjoyed together in Norfolk, just previous to the
breaking out of hostilities—and while both were in command of the very
frigates now crippled on the sea. The Macedonian, it seems, had gone
into Norfolk with dispatches. _Then_ they had laughed and joked over
their wine, and a wager of a beaver hat was said to have been made
between them upon the event of the hostile meeting of their ships.

Gazing upon the heavy batteries before him, Cardan said to Decatur,
“This is a seventy-four, not a frigate; no wonder the day is yours!”

This remark was founded upon the Neversink’s superiority in guns. The
Neversink’s main-deck-batteries then consisted, as now, of
twenty-four-pounders; the Macedonian’s of only eighteens. In all, the
Neversink numbered fifty-four guns and four hundred and fifty men; the
Macedonian, forty-nine guns and three hundred men; a very great
disparity, which, united to the other circumstances of this action,
deprives the victory of all claims to glory beyond those that might be
set up by a river-horse getting the better of a seal.

But if Tawney spoke truth—and he was a truth-telling man this fact
seemed counterbalanced by a circumstance he related. When the guns of
the Englishman were examined, after the engagement, in more than one
instance the wad was found rammed against the cartridge, without
intercepting the ball. And though, in a frantic sea-fight, such a thing
might be imputed to hurry and remissness, yet Tawney, a stickler for
his tribe, always ascribed it to quite a different and less honourable
cause. But, even granting the cause he assigned to have been the true
one, it does not involve anything inimical to the general valour
displayed by the British crew. Yet, from all that may be learned from
candid persons who have been in sea-fights, there can be but little
doubt that on board of all ships, of whatever nation, in time of
action, no very small number of the men are exceedingly nervous, to say
the least, at the guns; ramming and sponging at a venture. And what
special patriotic interest could an impressed man, for instance, take
in a fight, into which he had been dragged from the arms of his wife?
Or is it to be wondered at that impressed English seamen have not
scrupled, in time of war, to cripple the arm that has enslaved them?

During the same general war which prevailed at and previous to the
period of the frigate-action here spoken of, a British flag-officer, in
writing to the Admiralty, said, “Everything appears to be quiet in the
fleet; but, in preparing for battle last week, several of the guns in
the after part of the ship were found to be spiked;” that is to say,
rendered useless. Who had spiked them? The dissatisfied seamen. Is it
altogether improbable, then, that the guns to which Tawney referred
were manned by men who purposely refrained from making them tell on the
foe; that, in this one action, the victory America gained was partly
won for her by the sulky insubordination of the enemy himself?

During this same period of general war, it was frequently the case that
the guns of English armed ships were found in the mornings with their
breechings cut over night. This maiming of the guns, and for the time
incapacitating them, was only to be imputed to that secret spirit of
hatred to the service which induced the spiking above referred to. But
even in cases where no deep-seated dissatisfaction was presumed to
prevail among the crew, and where a seaman, in time of action, impelled
by pure fear, “shirked from his gun;” it seems but flying in the face
of Him who made such a seaman what he constitutionally was, to sew
_coward_ upon his back, and degrade and agonise the already trembling
wretch in numberless other ways. Nor seems it a practice warranted by
the Sermon on the Mount, for the officer of a battery, in time of
battle, to stand over the men with his drawn sword (as was done in the
Macedonian), and run through on the spot the first seaman who showed a
semblance of fear. Tawney told me that he distinctly heard this order
given by the English Captain to his officers of divisions. Were the
secret history of all sea-fights written, the laurels of sea-heroes
would turn to ashes on their brows.

And how nationally disgraceful, in every conceivable point of view, is
the IV. of our American Articles of War: “If any person in the Navy
shall pusillanimously cry for quarter, he shall suffer death.” Thus,
with death before his face from the foe, and death behind his back from
his countrymen, the best valour of a man-of-war’s-man can never assume
the merit of a noble spontaneousness. In this, as in every other case,
the Articles of War hold out no reward for good conduct, but only
compel the sailor to fight, like a hired murderer, for his pay, by
digging his grave before his eyes if he hesitates.

But this Article IV. is open to still graver objections. Courage is the
most common and vulgar of the virtues; the only one shared with us by
the beasts of the field; the one most apt, by excess, to run into
viciousness. And since Nature generally takes away with one hand to
counter-balance her gifts with the other, excessive animal courage, in
many cases, only finds room in a character vacated of loftier things.
But in a naval officer, animal courage is exalted to the loftiest
merit, and often procures him a distinguished command.

Hence, if some brainless bravo be Captain of a frigate in action, he
may fight her against invincible odds, and seek to crown himself with
the glory of the shambles, by permitting his hopeless crew to be
butchered before his eyes, while at the same time that crew must
consent to be slaughtered by the foe, under penalty of being murdered
by the law. Look at the engagement between the American frigate Essex
with the two English cruisers, the Phoebe and Cherub, off the Bay of
Valparaiso, during the late war. It is admitted on all hands that the
American Captain continued to fight his crippled ship against a greatly
superior force; and when, at last, it became physically impossible that
he could ever be otherwise than vanquished in the end; and when, from
peculiarly unfortunate circumstances, his men merely stood up to their
nearly useless batteries to be dismembered and blown to pieces by the
incessant fire of the enemy’s long guns. Nor, by thus continuing to
fight, did this American frigate, one iota, promote the true interests
of her country. I seek not to underrate any reputation which the
American Captain may have gained by this battle. He was a brave man;
_that_ no sailor will deny. But the whole world is made up of brave
men. Yet I would not be at all understood as impugning his special good
name. Nevertheless, it is not to be doubted, that if there were any
common-sense sailors at the guns of the Essex, however valiant they may
have been, those common-sense sailors must have greatly preferred to
strike their flag, when they saw the day was fairly lost, than postpone
that inevitable act till there were few American arms left to assist in
hauling it down. Yet had these men, under these circumstances,
“pusillanimously cried for quarter,” by the IV. Article of War they
might have been legally hung.

According to the negro, Tawney, when the Captain of the
Macedonian—seeing that the Neversink had his vessel completely in her
power—gave the word to strike the flag, one of his officers, a man
hated by the seamen for his tyranny, howled out the most terrific
remonstrances, swearing that, for his part, he would not give up, but
was for sinking the Macedonian alongside the enemy. Had he been
Captain, doubtless he would have done so; thereby gaining the name of a
hero in this world;—but what would they have called him in the next?

But as the whole matter of war is a thing that smites common-sense and
Christianity in the face; so everything connected with it is utterly
foolish, unchristian, barbarous, brutal, and savouring of the Feejee
Islands, cannibalism, saltpetre, and the devil.

It is generally the case in a man-of-war when she strikes her flag that
all discipline is at an end, and the men for a time are ungovernable.
This was so on board of the English frigate. The spirit-room was broken
open, and buckets of grog were passed along the decks, where many of
the wounded were lying between the guns. These mariners seized the
buckets, and, spite of all remonstrances, gulped down the burning
spirits, till, as Tawney said, the blood suddenly spirted out of their
wounds, and they fell dead to the deck.

The negro had many more stories to tell of this fight; and frequently
he would escort me along our main-deck batteries—still mounting the
same guns used in the battle—pointing out their ineffaceable
indentations and scars. Coated over with the accumulated paint of more
than thirty years, they were almost invisible to a casual eye; but
Tawney knew them all by heart; for he had returned home in the
Neversink, and had beheld these scars shortly after the engagement.

One afternoon, I was walking with him along the gun-deck, when he
paused abreast of the main-mast. “This part of the ship,” said he, “we
called the _slaughter-house_ on board the Macedonian. Here the men
fell, five and six at a time. An enemy always directs its shot here, in
order to hurl over the mast, if possible. The beams and carlines
overhead in the Macedonian _slaughter-house_ were spattered with blood
and brains. About the hatchways it looked like a butcher’s stall; bits
of human flesh sticking in the ring-bolts. A pig that ran about the
decks escaped unharmed, but his hide was so clotted with blood, from
rooting among the pools of gore, that when the ship struck the sailors
hove the animal overboard, swearing that it would be rank cannibalism
to eat him.”

Another quadruped, a goat, lost its fore legs in this fight.

The sailors who were killed—according to the usual custom—were ordered
to be thrown overboard as soon as they fell; no doubt, as the negro
said, that the sight of so many corpses lying around might not appall
the survivors at the guns. Among other instances, he related the
following. A shot entering one of the port-holes, dashed dead two
thirds of a gun’s crew. The captain of the next gun, dropping his
lock-string, which he had just pulled, turned over the heap of bodies
to see who they were; when, perceiving an old messmate, who had sailed
with him in many cruises, he burst into tears, and, taking the corpse
up in his arms, and going with it to the side, held it over the water a
moment, and eying it, cried, “Oh God! Tom!”—“D——n your prayers over
that thing! overboard with it, and down to your gun!” roared a wounded
Lieutenant. The order was obeyed, and the heart-stricken sailor
returned to his post.

Tawney’s recitals were enough to snap this man-of-war world’s sword in
its scabbard. And thinking of all the cruel carnal glory wrought out by
naval heroes in scenes like these, I asked myself whether, indeed, that
was a glorious coffin in which Lord Nelson was entombed—a coffin
presented to him, during life, by Captain Hallowell; it had been dug
out of the main-most of the French line-of-battle ship L’Orient, which,
burning up with British fire, destroyed hundreds of Frenchmen at the
battle of the Nile.

Peace to Lord Nelson where he sleeps in his mouldering mast! but rather
would I be urned in the trunk of some green tree, and even in death
have the vital sap circulating round me, giving of my dead body to the
living foliage that shaded my peaceful tomb.

“SINK, BURN, AND DESTROY.”—_Printed Admiralty orders in time of war_.

Among innumerable “_yarns and twisters_” reeled off in our main-top
during our pleasant run to the North, none could match those of Jack
Chase, our captain.

Never was there better company than ever-glorious Jack. The things
which most men only read of, or dream about, he had seen and
experienced. He had been a dashing smuggler in his day, and could tell
of a long nine-pounder rammed home with wads of French silks; of
cartridges stuffed with the finest gunpowder tea; of cannister-shot
full of West India sweetmeats; of sailor frocks and trowsers, quilted
inside with costly laces; and table legs, hollow as musket barrels,
compactly stowed with rare drugs and spices. He could tell of a wicked
widow, too—a beautiful receiver of smuggled goods upon the English
coast—who smiled so sweetly upon the smugglers when they sold her silks
and laces, cheap as tape and ginghams. She called them gallant fellows,
hearts of game; and bade them bring her more.

He could tell of desperate fights with his British majesty’s cutters,
in midnight coves upon a stormy coast; of the capture of a reckless
band, and their being drafted on board a man-of-war; of their swearing
that their chief was slain; of a writ of habeas corpus sent on board
for one of them for a debt—a reserved and handsome man—and his going
ashore, strongly suspected of being the slaughtered captain, and this a
successful scheme for his escape.

But more than all, Jack could tell of the battle of Navarino, for he
had been a captain of one of the main-deck guns on board Admiral
Codrington’s flag-ship, the Asia. Were mine the style of stout old
Chapman’s Homer, even then I would scarce venture to give noble Jack’s
own version of this fight, wherein, on the 20th of October, A. D. 1827,
thirty-two sail of Englishmen, Frenchmen, and Russians, attacked and
vanquished in the Levant an Ottoman fleet of three ships-of-the line,
twenty-five frigates, and a swarm of fire ships and hornet craft.

“We bayed to be at them,” said Jack; “and when we _did_ open fire, we
were like dolphin among the flying-fish. ‘Every man take his bird’ was
the cry, when we trained our guns. And those guns all smoked like rows
of Dutch pipe-bowls, my hearties! My gun’s crew carried small flags in
their bosoms, to nail to the mast in case the ship’s colours were shot
away. Stripped to the waistbands, we fought like skinned tigers, and
bowled down the Turkish frigates like nine-pins. Among their
shrouds—swarming thick with small-arm men, like flights of pigeons
lighted on pine-trees—our marines sent their leaden pease and
goose-berries, like a shower of hail-stones in Labrador. It was a
stormy time, my hearties! The blasted Turks pitched into the old Asia’s
hull a whole quarry of marble shot, each ball one hundred and fifty
pounds. They knocked three port-holes into one. But we gave them better
than they sent. ‘Up and at them, my bull-dog!’ said I, patting my gun
on the breech; ‘tear open hatchways in their Moslem sides!
White-Jacket, my lad, you ought to have been there. The bay was covered
with masts and yards, as I have seen a raft of snags in the Arkansas
River. Showers of burned rice and olives from the exploding foe fell
upon us like manna in the wilderness. ‘_Allah! Allah! Mohammed!
Mohammed!_’ split the air; some cried it out from the Turkish
port-holes; others shrieked it forth from the drowning waters, their
top-knots floating on their shaven skulls, like black snakes on
half-tide rocks. By those top-knots they believed that their Prophet
would drag them up to Paradise, but they sank fifty fathoms, my
hearties, to the bottom of the bay. ‘Ain’t the bloody ’Hometons going
to strike yet?’ cried my first loader, a Guernsey man, thrusting his
neck out of the port-hole, and looking at the Turkish
line-of-battle-ship near by. That instant his head blew by me like a
bursting Paixhan shot, and the flag of Neb Knowles himself was hauled
down for ever. We dragged his hull to one side, and avenged him with
the cooper’s anvil, which, endways, we rammed home; a mess-mate shoved
in the dead man’s bloody Scotch cap for the wad, and sent it flying
into the line-of-battle ship. By the god of war! boys, we hardly left
enough of that craft to boil a pot of water with. It was a hard day’s
work—a sad day’s work, my hearties. That night, when all was over, I
slept sound enough, with a box of cannister shot for my pillow! But you
ought to have seen the boat-load of Turkish flags one of our captains
carried home; he swore to dress his father’s orchard in colours with
them, just as our spars are dressed for a gala day.”

“Though you tormented the Turks at Navarino, noble Jack, yet you came
off yourself with only the loss of a splinter, it seems,” said a
top-man, glancing at our captain’s maimed hand.

“Yes; but I and one of the Lieutenants had a narrower escape than that.
A shot struck the side of my port-hole, and sent the splinters right
and left. One took off my hat rim clean to my brow; another _razed_ the
Lieutenant’s left boot, by slicing off the heel; a third shot killed my
powder-monkey without touching him.”

“How, Jack?”

“It _whizzed_ the poor babe dead. He was seated on a _cheese of wads_
at the time, and after the dust of the powdered bulwarks had blown
away, I noticed he yet sat still, his eyes wide open. ‘_My little
hero!_’ cried I, and I clapped him on the back; but he fell on his face
at my feet. I touched his heart, and found he was dead. There was not a
little finger mark on him.”

Silence now fell upon the listeners for a time, broken at last by the
Second Captain of the Top.

“Noble Jack, I know you never brag, but tell us what you did yourself
that day?”

“Why, my hearties, I did not do quite as much as my gun. But I flatter
myself it was that gun that brought clown the Turkish Admiral’s
main-mast; and the stump left wasn’t long enough to make a wooden leg
for Lord Nelson.”

“How? but I thought, by the way you pull a lock-string on board here,
and look along the sight, that you can steer a shot about right—hey,

“It was the Admiral of the fleet—God Almighty—who directed the shot
that dismasted the Turkish Admiral,” said Jack; “I only pointed the

“But how did you feel, Jack, when the musket-ball carried away one of
your hooks there?”

“Feel! only a finger the lighter. I have seven more left, besides
thumbs; and they did good service, too, in the torn rigging the day
after the fight; for you must know, my hearties, that the hardest work
comes after the guns are run in. Three days I helped work, with one
hand, in the rigging, in the same trowsers that I wore in the action;
the blood had dried and stiffened; they looked like glazed red

Now, this Jack Chase had a heart in him like a mastodon’s. I have seen
him weep when a man has been flogged at the gangway; yet, in relating
the story of the Battle of Navarino, he plainly showed that he held the
God of the blessed Bible to have been the British Commodore in the
Levant, on the bloody 20th of October, A. D. 1827. And thus it would
seem that war almost makes blasphemers of the best of men, and brings
them all down to the Feejee standard of humanity. Some man-of-war’s-men
have confessed to me, that as a battle has raged more and more, their
hearts have hardened in infernal harmony; and, like their own guns,
they have fought without a thought.

Soldier or sailor, the fighting man is but a fiend; and the staff and
body-guard of the Devil musters many a baton. But war at times is
inevitable. Must the national honour be trampled under foot by an
insolent foe?

Say on, say on; but know you this, and lay it to heart, war-voting
Bench of Bishops, that He on whom we believe _himself_ has enjoined us
to turn the left cheek if the right be smitten. Never mind what
follows. That passage you can not expunge from the Bible; that passage
is as binding upon us as any other; that passage embodies the soul and
substance of the Christian faith; without it, Christianity were like
any other faith. And that passage will yet, by the blessing of God,
turn the world. But in some things we must turn Quakers first.

But though unlike most scenes of carnage, which have proved useless
murders of men, Admiral Codrington’s victory undoubtedly achieved the
emancipation of Greece, and terminated the Turkish atrocities in that
tomahawked state, yet who shall lift his hand and swear that a Divine
Providence led the van of the combined fleets of England, France, and
Russia at the battle of Navarino? For if this be so, then it led the
van against the Church’s own elect—the persecuted Waldenses in
Switzerland—and kindled the Smithfield fires in bloody Mary’s time.

But all events are mixed in a fusion indistinguishable. What we call
Fate is even, heartless, and impartial; not a fiend to kindle bigot
flames, nor a philanthropist to espouse the cause of Greece. We may
fret, fume, and fight; but the thing called Fate everlastingly sustains
an armed neutrality.

Yet though all this be so, nevertheless, in our own hearts, we mould
the whole world’s hereafters; and in our own hearts we fashion our own
gods. Each mortal casts his vote for whom he will to rule the worlds; I
have a voice that helps to shape eternity; and my volitions stir the
orbits of the furthest suns. In two senses, we are precisely what we
worship. Ourselves are Fate.


When wearied with the tumult and occasional contention of the gun-deck
of our frigate, I have often retreated to a port-hole, and calmed
myself down by gazing broad off upon a placid sea. After the battle-din
of the last two chapters, let us now do the like, and, in the
sequestered fore-chains of the Neversink, tranquillise ourselves, if we

Notwithstanding the domestic communism to which the seamen in a
man-of-war are condemned, and the publicity in which actions the most
diffident and retiring in their nature must be performed, there is yet
an odd corner or two where you may sometimes steal away, and, for a few
moments, almost be private.

Chief among these places is the _chains_, to which I would sometimes
hie during our pleasant homeward-bound glide over those pensive
tropical latitudes. After hearing my fill of the wild yarns of our top,
here would I recline—if not disturbed—serenely concocting information
into wisdom.

The chains designates the small platform outside of the hull, at the
base of the large shrouds leading down from the three mast-heads to the
bulwarks. At present they seem to be getting out of vogue among
merchant-vessels, along with the fine, old-fashioned quarter-galleries,
little turret-like ap-purtenances, which, in the days of the old
Admirals, set off the angles of an armed ship’s stern. Here a naval
officer might lounge away an hour after action, smoking a cigar, to
drive out of his whiskers the villainous smoke of the gun-powder. The
picturesque, delightful stern-gallery, also, a broad balcony
overhanging the sea, and entered from the Captain’s cabin, much as you
might enter a bower from a lady’s chamber; this charming balcony,
where, sailing over summer seas in the days of the old Peruvian
viceroys, the Spanish cavalier Mendanna, of Lima, made love to the Lady
Isabella, as they voyaged in quest of the Solomon Islands, the fabulous
Ophir, the Grand Cyclades; and the Lady Isabella, at sunset, blushed
like the Orient, and gazed down to the gold-fish and silver-hued
flying-fish, that wove the woof and warp of their wakes in bright,
scaly tartans and plaids underneath where the Lady reclined; this
charming balcony—exquisite retreat—has been cut away by Vandalic
innovations. Ay, that claw-footed old gallery is no longer in fashion;
in Commodore’s eyes, is no longer genteel.

Out on all furniture fashions but those that are past! Give me my
grandfather’s old arm-chair, planted upon four carved frogs, as the
Hindoos fabled the world to be supported upon four tortoises; give me
his cane, with the gold-loaded top—a cane that, like the musket of
General Washington’s father and the broadsword of William Wallace,
would break down the back of the switch-carrying dandies of these
spindle-shank days; give me his broad-breasted vest, coming bravely
down over the hips, and furnished with two strong-boxes of pockets to
keep guineas in; toss this toppling cylinder of a beaver overboard, and
give me my grandfather’s gallant, gable-ended, cocked hat.

But though the quarter-galleries and the stern-gallery of a man-of-war
are departed, yet the _chains_ still linger; nor can there be imagined
a more agreeable retreat. The huge blocks and lanyards forming the
pedestals of the shrouds divide the chains into numerous little
chapels, alcoves, niches, and altars, where you lazily lounge—outside
of the ship, though on board. But there are plenty to divide a good
thing with you in this man-of-war world. Often, when snugly seated in
one of these little alcoves, gazing off to the horizon, and thinking of
Cathay, I have been startled from my repose by some old quarter-gunner,
who, having newly painted a parcel of match-tubs, wanted to set them to

At other times, one of the tattooing artists would crawl over the
bulwarks, followed by his sitter; and then a bare arm or leg would be
extended, and the disagreeable business of “_pricking_” commence, right
under my eyes; or an irruption of tars, with ditty-bags or
sea-reticules, and piles of old trowsers to mend, would break in upon
my seclusion, and, forming a sewing-circle, drive me off with their

But once—it was a Sunday afternoon—I was pleasantly reclining in a
particularly shady and secluded little niche between two lanyards, when
I heard a low, supplicating voice. Peeping through the narrow space
between the ropes, I perceived an aged seaman on his knees, his face
turned seaward, with closed eyes, buried in prayer. Softly rising, I
stole through a port-hole, and left the venerable worshipper alone.

He was a sheet-anchor-man, an earnest Baptist, and was well known, in
his own part of the ship, to be constant in his solitary devotions in
the _chains_. He reminded me of St. Anthony going out into the
wilderness to pray.

This man was captain of the starboard bow-chaser, one of the two long
twenty-four-pounders on the forecastle. In time of action, the command
of that iron Thalaba the Destroyer would devolve upon _him_. It would
be his business to “train” it properly; to see it well loaded; the
grape and cannister rammed home; also, to “prick the cartridge,” “take
the sight,” and give the word for the match-man to apply his wand;
bidding a sudden hell to flash forth from the muzzle, in wide
combustion and death.

Now, this captain of the bow-chaser was an upright old man, a sincere,
humble believer, and he but earned his bread in being captain of that
gun; but how, with those hands of his begrimed with powder, could he
break that _other_ and most peaceful and penitent bread of the Supper?
though in that hallowed sacrament, it seemed, he had often partaken
ashore. The omission of this rite in a man-of-war—though there is a
chaplain to preside over it, and at least a few communicants to
partake—must be ascribed to a sense of religious propriety, in the last
degree to be commended.

Ah! the best righteousness of our man-of-war world seems but an
unrealised ideal, after all; and those maxims which, in the hope of
bringing about a Millennium, we busily teach to the heathen, we
Christians ourselves disregard. In view of the whole present social
frame-work of our world, so ill adapted to the practical adoption of
the meekness of Christianity, there seems almost some ground for the
thought, that although our blessed Saviour was full of the wisdom of
heaven, yet his gospel seems lacking in the practical wisdom of
earth—in a due appreciation of the necessities of nations at times
demanding bloody massacres and wars; in a proper estimation of the
value of rank, title, and money. But all this only the more crowns the
divine consistency of Jesus; since Burnet and the best theologians
demonstrate, that his nature was not merely human—was not that of a
mere man of the world.


After running with a fine steady breeze up to the Line, it fell calm,
and there we lay, three days enchanted on the sea. We were a most
puissant man-of-war, no doubt, with our five hundred men, Commodore and
Captain, backed by our long batteries of thirty-two and twenty-four
pounders; yet, for all that, there we lay rocking, helpless as an
infant in the cradle. Had it only been a gale instead of a calm, gladly
would we have charged upon it with our gallant bowsprit, as with a
stout lance in rest; but, as with man-kind, this serene, passive
foe—unresisting and irresistible—lived it out, unconquered to the last.

All these three days the heat was excessive; the sun drew the tar from
the seams of the ship; the awnings were spread fore and aft; the decks
were kept constantly sprinkled with water. It was during this period
that a sad event occurred, though not an unusual one on shipboard. But
in order to prepare for its narration, some account of a part of the
ship called the “_sick-bay_” must needs be presented.

The “_sick-bay_” is that part of a man-of-war where the invalid seamen
are placed; in many respects it answers to a public hospital ashore. As
with most frigates, the sick-bay of the Neversink was on the
berth-deck—the third deck from above. It was in the extreme forward
part of that deck, embracing the triangular area in the bows of the
ship. It was, therefore, a subterranean vault, into which scarce a ray
of heaven’s glad light ever penetrated, even at noon.

In a sea-going frigate that has all her armament and stores on board,
the floor of the berth-deck is partly below the surface of the water.
But in a smooth harbour, some circulation of air is maintained by
opening large auger-holes in the upper portion of the sides, called
“air-ports,” not much above the water level. Before going to sea,
however, these air-ports must be closed, caulked, and the seams
hermetically sealed with pitch. These places for ventilation being
shut, the sick-bay is entirely barred against the free, natural
admission of fresh air. In the Neversink a few lungsful were forced
down by artificial means. But as the ordinary _wind-sail_ was the only
method adopted, the quantity of fresh air sent down was regulated by
the force of the wind. In a calm there was none to be had, while in a
severe gale the wind-sail had to be hauled up, on account of the
violent draught flowing full upon the cots of the sick. An open-work
partition divided our sick-bay from the rest of the deck, where the
hammocks of the watch were slung; it, therefore, was exposed to all the
uproar that ensued upon the watches being relieved.

An official, called the surgeon’s steward, assisted by subordinates,
presided over the place. He was the same individual alluded to as
officiating at the amputation of the top-man. He was always to be found
at his post, by night and by day.

This surgeon’s steward deserves a description. He was a small, pale,
hollow-eyed young man, with that peculiar Lazarus-like expression so
often noticed in hospital attendants. Seldom or never did you see him
on deck, and when he _did_ emerge into the light of the sun, it was
with an abashed look, and an uneasy, winking eye. The sun was not made
for _him_. His nervous organization was confounded by the sight of the
robust old sea-dogs on the forecastle and the general tumult of the
spar-deck, and he mostly buried himself below in an atmosphere which
long habit had made congenial.

This young man never indulged in frivolous conversation; he only talked
of the surgeon’s prescriptions; his every word was a bolus. He never
was known to smile; nor did he even look sober in the ordinary way; but
his countenance ever wore an aspect of cadaverous resignation to his
fate. Strange! that so many of those who would fain minister to our own
health should look so much like invalids themselves.

Connected with the sick-bay, over which the surgeon’s steward
presided—but removed from it in place, being next door to the
counting-room of the purser’s steward—was a regular apothecary’s shop,
of which he kept the key. It was fitted up precisely like an
apothecary’s on shore, displaying tiers of shelves on all four sides
filled with green bottles and gallipots; beneath were multitudinous
drawers bearing incomprehensible gilded inscriptions in abbreviated

He generally opened his shop for an hour or two every morning and
evening. There was a Venetian blind in the upper part of the door,
which he threw up when inside so as to admit a little air. And there
you would see him, with a green shade over his eyes, seated on a stool,
and pounding his pestle in a great iron mortar that looked like a
howitzer, mixing some jallapy compound. A smoky lamp shed a flickering,
yellow-fever tinge upon his pallid face and the closely-packed
regiments of gallipots.

Several times when I felt in need of a little medicine, but was not ill
enough to report myself to the surgeon at his levees, I would call of a
morning upon his steward at the Sign of the Mortar, and beg him to give
me what I wanted; when, without speaking a word, this cadaverous young
man would mix me my potion in a tin cup, and hand it out through the
little opening in his door, like the boxed-up treasurer giving you your
change at the ticket-office of a theatre.

But there was a little shelf against the wall of the door, and upon
this I would set the tin cup for a while, and survey it; for I never
was a Julius Caesar at taking medicine; and to take it in this way,
without a single attempt at disguising it; with no counteracting little
morsel to hurry down after it; in short to go to the very apothecary’s
in person, and there, at the counter, swallow down your dose, as if it
were a nice mint-julep taken at the bar of a hotel—_this_ was a bitter
bolus indeed. But, then, this pallid young apothecary charged nothing
for it, and _that_ was no small satisfaction; for is it not remarkable,
to say the least, that a shore apothecary should actually charge you
money—round dollars and cents—for giving you a horrible nausea?

My tin cup would wait a long time on that little shelf; yet “Pills,” as
the sailors called him, never heeded my lingering, but in sober, silent
sadness continued pounding his mortar or folding up his powders; until
at last some other customer would appear, and then in a sudden frenzy
of resolution, I would gulp down my sherry-cobbler, and carry its
unspeakable flavour with me far up into the frigate’s main-top. I do
not know whether it was the wide roll of the ship, as felt in that
giddy perch, that occasioned it, but I always got sea-sick after taking
medicine and going aloft with it. Seldom or never did it do me any
lasting good.

Now the Surgeon’s steward was only a subordinate of Surgeon Cuticle
himself, who lived in the ward-room among the Lieutenants,
Sailing-master, Chaplain, and Purser.

The Surgeon is, by law, charged with the business of overlooking the
general sanitary affairs of the ship. If anything is going on in any of
its departments which he judges to be detrimental to the healthfulness
of the crew, he has a right to protest against it formally to the
Captain. When a man is being scourged at the gangway, the Surgeon
stands by; and if he thinks that the punishment is becoming more than
the culprit’s constitution can well bear, he has a right to interfere
and demand its cessation for the time.

But though the Navy regulations nominally vest him with this high
discretionary authority over the very Commodore himself, how seldom
does he exercise it in cases where humanity demands it? Three years is
a long time to spend in one ship, and to be at swords’ points with its
Captain and Lieutenants during such a period, must be very unsocial and
every way irksome. No otherwise than thus, at least, can the remissness
of some surgeons in remonstrating against cruelty be accounted for.

Not to speak again of the continual dampness of the decks consequent
upon flooding them with salt water, when we were driving near to Cape
Horn, it needs only to be mentioned that, on board of the Neversink,
men known to be in consumptions gasped under the scourge of the
boatswain’s mate, when the Surgeon and his two attendants stood by and
never interposed. But where the unscrupulousness of martial discipline
is maintained, it is in vain to attempt softening its rigour by the
ordaining of humanitarian laws. Sooner might you tame the grizzly bear
of Missouri than humanise a thing so essentially cruel and heartless.

But the Surgeon has yet other duties to perform. Not a seaman enters
the Navy without undergoing a corporal examination, to test his
soundness in wind and limb.

One of the first places into which I was introduced when I first
entered on board the Neversink was the sick-bay, where I found one of
the Assistant Surgeons seated at a green-baize table. It was his turn
for visiting the apartment. Having been commanded by the deck officer
to report my business to the functionary before me, I accordingly
hemmed, to attract his attention, and then catching his eye, politely
intimated that I called upon him for the purpose of being accurately
laid out and surveyed.

“Strip!” was the answer, and, rolling up his gold-laced cuff, he
proceeded to manipulate me. He punched me in the ribs, smote me across
the chest, commanded me to stand on one leg and hold out the other
horizontally. He asked me whether any of my family were consumptive;
whether I ever felt a tendency to a rush of blood to the head; whether
I was gouty; how often I had been bled during my life; how long I had
been ashore; how long I had been afloat; with several other questions
which have altogether slipped my memory. He concluded his
interrogatories with this extraordinary and unwarranted one—“Are you

It was a leading question which somewhat staggered me, but I said not a
word; when, feeling of my calves, he looked up and incomprehensibly
said, “I am afraid you are not.”

At length he declared me a sound animal, and wrote a certificate to
that effect, with which I returned to the deck.

This Assistant Surgeon turned out to be a very singular character, and
when I became more acquainted with him, I ceased to marvel at the
curious question with which he had concluded his examination of my

He was a thin, knock-kneed man, with a sour, saturnine expression,
rendered the more peculiar from his shaving his beard so remorselessly,
that his chin and cheeks always looked blue, as if pinched with cold.
His long familiarity with nautical invalids seemed to have filled him
full of theological hypoes concerning the state of their souls. He was
at once the physician and priest of the sick, washing down his boluses
with ghostly consolation, and among the sailors went by the name of The
Pelican, a fowl whose hanging pouch imparts to it a most chop-fallen,
lugubrious expression.

The privilege of going off duty and lying by when you are sick, is one
of the few points in which a man-of-war is far better for the sailor
than a merchantman. But, as with every other matter in the Navy, the
whole thing is subject to the general discipline of the vessel, and is
conducted with a severe, unyielding method and regularity, making no
allowances for exceptions to rules.

During the half-hour preceding morning quarters, the Surgeon of a
frigate is to be found in the sick-bay, where, after going his rounds
among the invalids, he holds a levee for the benefit of all new
candidates for the sick-list. If, after looking at your tongue, and
feeling of your pulse, he pronounces you a proper candidate, his
secretary puts you down on his books, and you are thenceforth relieved
from all duty, and have abundant leisure in which to recover your
health. Let the boatswain blow; let the deck officer bellow; let the
captain of your gun hunt you up; yet, if it can be answered by your
mess-mates that you are “_down on the list_,” you ride it all out with
impunity. The Commodore himself has then no authority over you. But you
must not be too much elated, for your immunities are only secure while
you are immured in the dark hospital below. Should you venture to get a
mouthful of fresh air on the spar-deck, and be there discovered by an
officer, you will in vain plead your illness; for it is quite
impossible, it seems, that any true man-of-war invalid can be hearty
enough to crawl up the ladders. Besides, the raw sea air, as they will
tell you, is not good for the sick.

But, notwithstanding all this, notwithstanding the darkness and
closeness of the sick-bay, in which an alleged invalid must be content
to shut himself up till the Surgeon pronounces him cured, many
instances occur, especially in protracted bad weather, where pretended
invalids will submit to this dismal hospital durance, in order to
escape hard work and wet jackets.

There is a story told somewhere of the Devil taking down the
confessions of a woman on a strip of parchment, and being obliged to
stretch it longer and longer with his teeth, in order to find room for
all the lady had to say. Much thus was it with our Purser’s steward,
who had to lengthen out his manuscript sick-list, in order to
accommodate all the names which were presented to him while we were off
the pitch of Cape Horn. What sailors call the “_Cape Horn fever_,”
alarmingly prevailed; though it disappeared altogether when we got into
the weather, which, as with many other invalids, was solely to be
imputed to the wonder-working effects of an entire change of climate.

It seems very strange, but it is really true, that off Cape Horn some
“_sogers_” of sailors will stand cupping, and bleeding, and blistering,
before they will budge. On the other hand, there are cases where a man
actually sick and in need of medicine will refuse to go on the
sick-list, because in that case his allowance of _grog_ must be

On board of every American man-of-war, bound for sea, there is a goodly
supply of wines and various delicacies put on board—according to
law—for the benefit of the sick, whether officers or sailors. And one
of the chicken-coops is always reserved for the Government chickens,
destined for a similar purpose. But, on board of the Neversink, the
only delicacies given to invalid sailors was a little sago or
arrow-root, and they did not get _that_ unless severely ill; but, so
far as I could learn, no wine, in any quantity, was ever prescribed for
them, though the Government bottles often went into the ward-room, for
the benefit of indisposed officers.

And though the Government chicken-coop was replenished at every port,
yet not four pair of drum-sticks were ever boiled into broth for sick
sailors. Where the chickens went, some one must have known; but, as I
cannot vouch for it myself, I will not here back the hardy assertion of
the men, which was that the pious Pelican—true to his name—was
extremely fond of poultry. I am the still less disposed to believe this
scandal, from the continued leanness of the Pelican, which could hardly
have been the case did he nourish himself by so nutritious a dish as
the drum-sticks of fowls, a diet prescribed to pugilists in training.
But who can avoid being suspicious of a very suspicious person?
Pelican! I rather suspect you still.


It was on the first day of the long, hot calm which we had on the
Equator, that a mess-mate of mine, by the name of Shenly, who had been
for some weeks complaining, at length went on the sick-list.

An old gunner’s mate of the mess—Priming, the man with the hare-lip,
who, true to his tribe, was charged to the muzzle with bile, and,
moreover, rammed home on top of it a wad of sailor superstition—this
gunner’s mate indulged in some gloomy and savage remarks—strangely
tinged with genuine feeling and grief—at the announcement of the
sickness of Shenly, coming as it did not long after the almost fatal
accident befalling poor Baldy, captain of the mizzen-top, another
mess-mate of ours, and the dreadful fate of the amputated fore-top-man
whom we buried in Rio, also our mess-mate.

We were cross-legged seated at dinner, between the guns, when the sad
news concerning Shenly was first communicated.

“I know’d it, I know’d it,” said Priming, through his nose. “Blast ye,
I told ye so; poor fellow! But dam’me, I know’d it. This comes of
having _thirteen_ in the mess. I hope he arn’t dangerous, men? Poor
Shenly! But, blast it, it warn’t till White-Jacket there comed into the
mess that these here things began. I don’t believe there’ll be more nor
three of us left by the time we strike soundings, men. But how is he
now? Have you been down to see him, any on ye? Damn you, you Jonah! I
don’t see how you can sleep in your hammock, knowing as you do that by
making an odd number in the mess you have been the death of one poor
fellow, and ruined Baldy for life, and here’s poor Shenly keeled up.
Blast you, and your jacket, say I.”

“My dear mess-mate,” I cried, “don’t blast me any more, for Heaven’s
sale. Blast my jacket you may, and I’ll join you in _that;_ but don’t
blast _me;_ for if you do, I shouldn’t wonder if I myself was the next
man to keel up.”

“Gunner’s mate!” said Jack Chase, helping himself to a slice of beef,
and sandwiching it between two large biscuits—“Gunner’s mate!
White-Jacket there is my particular friend, and I would take it as a
particular favour if you would _knock off_ blasting him. It’s in bad
taste, rude, and unworthy a gentleman.”

“Take your back away from that ’ere gun-carriage, will ye now, Jack
Chase?” cried Priming, in reply, just then Jack happening to lean up
against it. “Must I be all the time cleaning after you fellows? Blast
ye! I spent an hour on that ’ere gun-carriage this very mornin’. But it
all comes of White-Jacket there. If it warn’t for having one too many,
there wouldn’t be any crowding and jamming in the mess. I’m blessed if
we ar’n’t about chock a’ block here! Move further up there, I’m sitting
on my leg!”

“For God’s sake, gunner’s mate,” cried I, “if it will content you, I
and my jacket will leave the mess.”

“I wish you would, and be —— to you!” he replied.

“And if he does, you will mess alone, gunner’s mate,” said Jack Chase.

“That you will,” cried all.

“And I wish to the Lord you’d let me!” growled Priming, irritably
rubbing his head with the handle of his sheath-knife.

“You are an old bear, gunner’s mate,” said Jack Chase.

“I am an old Turk,” he replied, drawing the flat blade of his knife
between his teeth, thereby producing a whetting, grating sound.

“Let him alone, let him alone, men,” said Jack Chase. “Only keep off
the tail of a rattlesnake, and he’ll not rattle.”

“Look out he don’t bite, though,” said Priming, snapping his teeth; and
with that he rolled off, growling as he went.

Though I did my best to carry off my vexation with an air of
indifference, need I say how I cursed my jacket, that it thus seemed
the means of fastening on me the murder of one of my shipmates, and the
probable murder of two more. For, had it not been for my jacket,
doubtless, I had yet been a member of my old mess, and so have escaped
making the luckless odd number among my present companions.

All I could say in private to Priming had no effect; though I often
took him aside, to convince him of the philosophical impossibility of
my having been accessary to the misfortunes of Baldy, the buried sailor
in Rio, and Shenly. But Priming knew better; nothing could move him;
and he ever afterward eyed me as virtuous citizens do some notorious
underhand villain going unhung of justice.

Jacket! jacket! thou hast much to answer for, jacket!


Shenly, my sick mess-mate, was a middle-aged, handsome, intelligent
seaman, whom some hard calamity, or perhaps some unfortunate excess,
must have driven into the Navy. He told me he had a wife and two
children in Portsmouth, in the state of New Hampshire. Upon being
examined by Cuticle, the surgeon, he was, on purely scientific grounds,
reprimanded by that functionary for not having previously appeared
before him. He was immediately consigned to one of the invalid cots as
a serious case. His complaint was of long standing; a pulmonary one,
now attended with general prostration.

The same evening he grew so much worse, that according to man-of-war
usage, we, his mess-mates, were officially notified that we must take
turns at sitting up with him through the night. We at once made our
arrangements, allotting two hours for a watch. Not till the third night
did my own turn come round. During the day preceding, it was stated at
the mess that our poor mess-mate was run down completely; the surgeon
had given him up.

At four bells (two o’clock in the morning), I went down to relieve one
of my mess-mates at the sick man’s cot. The profound quietude of the
calm pervaded the entire frigate through all her decks. The watch on
duty were dozing on the carronade-slides, far above the sick-bay; and
the watch below were fast asleep in their hammocks, on the same deck
with the invalid.

Groping my way under these two hundred sleepers, I entered the
hospital. A dim lamp was burning on the table, which was screwed down
to the floor. This light shed dreary shadows over the white-washed
walls of the place, making it look look a whited sepulchre underground.
The wind-sail had collapsed, and lay motionless on the deck. The low
groans of the sick were the only sounds to be heard; and as I advanced,
some of them rolled upon me their sleepless, silent, tormented eyes.

“Fan him, and keep his forehead wet with this sponge,” whispered my
mess-mate, whom I came to relieve, as I drew near to Shenly’s cot, “and
wash the foam from his mouth; nothing more can be done for him. If he
dies before your watch is out, call the Surgeon’s steward; he sleeps in
that hammock,” pointing it out. “Good-bye, good-bye, mess-mate,” he
then whispered, stooping over the sick man; and so saying, he left the

Shenly was lying on his back. His eyes were closed, forming two
dark-blue pits in his face; his breath was coming and going with a
slow, long-drawn, mechanical precision. It was the mere foundering hull
of a man that was before me; and though it presented the well-known
features of my mess-mate, yet I knew that the living soul of Shenly
never more would look out of those eyes.

So warm had it been during the day, that the Surgeon himself, when
visiting the sick-bay, had entered it in his shirt-sleeves; and so warm
was now the night that even in the lofty top I had worn but a loose
linen frock and trowsers. But in this subterranean sick-bay, buried in
the very bowels of the ship, and at sea cut off from all ventilation,
the heat of the night calm was intense. The sweat dripped from me as if
I had just emerged from a bath; and stripping myself naked to the
waist, I sat by the side of the cot, and with a bit of crumpled
paper—put into my hand by the sailor I had relieved—kept fanning the
motionless white face before me.

I could not help thinking, as I gazed, whether this man’s fate had not
been accelerated by his confinement in this heated furnace below; and
whether many a sick man round me might not soon improve, if but
permitted to swing his hammock in the airy vacancies of the half-deck
above, open to the port-holes, but reserved for the promenade of the

At last the heavy breathing grew more and more irregular, and gradually
dying away, left forever the unstirring form of Shenly.

Calling the Surgeon’s steward, he at once told me to rouse the
master-at-arms, and four or five of my mess-mates. The master-at-arms
approached, and immediately demanded the dead man’s bag, which was
accordingly dragged into the bay. Having been laid on the floor, and
washed with a bucket of water which I drew from the ocean, the body was
then dressed in a white frock, trowsers, and neckerchief, taken out of
the bag. While this was going on, the master-at-arms—standing over the
operation with his rattan, and directing myself and mess-mates—indulged
in much discursive levity, intended to manifest his fearlessness of

Pierre, who had been a “_chummy_” of Shenly’s, spent much time in tying
the neckerchief in an elaborate bow, and affectionately adjusting the
white frock and trowsers; but the master-at-arms put an end to this by
ordering us to carry the body up to the gun-deck. It was placed on the
death-board (used for that purpose), and we proceeded with it toward
the main hatchway, awkwardly crawling under the tiers of hammocks,
where the entire watch-below was sleeping. As, unavoidably, we rocked
their pallets, the man-of-war’s-men would cry out against us; through
the mutterings of curses, the corpse reached the hatchway. Here the
board slipped, and some time was spent in readjusting the body. At
length we deposited it on the gun-deck, between two guns, and a
union-jack being thrown over it for a pall, I was left again to watch
by its side.

I had not been seated on my shot-box three minutes, when the
messenger-boy passed me on his way forward; presently the slow, regular
stroke of the ship’s great bell was heard, proclaiming through the calm
the expiration of the watch; it was four o’clock in the morning.

Poor Shenly! thought I, that sounds like your knell! and here you lie
becalmed, in the last calm of all!

Hardly had the brazen din died away, when the Boatswain and his mates
mustered round the hatchway, within a yard or two of the corpse, and
the usual thundering call was given for the watch below to turn out.

“All the starboard-watch, ahoy! On deck there, below! Wide awake there,

But the dreamless sleeper by my side, who had so often sprung from his
hammock at that summons, moved not a limb; the blue sheet over him lay

A mess-mate of the other watch now came to relieve me; but I told him I
chose to remain where I was till daylight came.


Just before daybreak, two of the sail-maker’s gang drew near, each with
a lantern, carrying some canvas, two large shot, needles, and twine. I
knew their errand; for in men-of-war the sail-maker is the undertaker.

They laid the body on deck, and, after fitting the canvas to it, seated
themselves, cross-legged like tailors, one on each side, and, with
their lanterns before them, went to stitching away, as if mending an
old sail. Both were old men, with grizzled hair and beard, and shrunken
faces. They belonged to that small class of aged seamen who, for their
previous long and faithful services, are retained in the Navy more as
pensioners upon its merited bounty than anything else. They are set to
light and easy duties.

“Ar’n’t this the fore-top-man, Shenly?” asked the foremost, looking
full at the frozen face before him.

“Ay, ay, old Ringrope,” said the other, drawing his hand far back with
a long thread, “I thinks it’s him; and he’s further aloft now, I hope,
than ever he was at the fore-truck. But I only hopes; I’m afeard this
ar’n’t the last on him!”

“His hull here will soon be going out of sight below hatches, though,
old Thrummings,” replied Ringrope, placing two heavy cannon-balls in
the foot of the canvas shroud.

“I don’t know that, old man; I never yet sewed up a ship-mate but he
spooked me arterward. I tell ye, Ring-rope, these ’ere corpses is
cunning. You think they sinks deep, but they comes up again as soon as
you sails over ’em. They lose the number of their mess, and their
mess-mates sticks the spoons in the rack; but no good—no good, old
Ringrope; they ar’n’t dead yet. I tell ye, now, ten best—bower-anchors
wouldn’t sink this ’ere top-man. He’ll be soon coming in the wake of
the thirty-nine spooks what spooks me every night in my hammock—jist
afore the mid-watch is called. Small thanks I gets for my pains; and
every one on ’em looks so ’proachful-like, with a sail-maker’s needle
through his nose. I’ve been thinkin’, old Ringrope, it’s all wrong that
’ere last stitch we takes. Depend on’t, they don’t like it—none on

I was standing leaning over a gun, gazing at the two old men. The last
remark reminded me of a superstitious custom generally practised by
most sea-undertakers upon these occasions. I resolved that, if I could
help it, it should not take place upon the remains of Shenly.

“Thrummings,” said I, advancing to the last speaker, “you are right.
That last thing you do to the canvas is the very reason, be sure of it,
that brings the ghosts after you, as you say. So don’t do it to this
poor fellow, I entreat. Try once, now, how it goes not to do it.”

“What do you say to the youngster, old man?” said Thrummings, holding
up his lantern into his comrade’s wrinkled face, as if deciphering some
ancient parchment.

“I’m agin all innowations,” said Ringrope; “it’s a good old fashion,
that last stitch; it keeps ’em snug, d’ye see, youngster. I’m blest if
they could sleep sound, if it wa’n’t for that. No, no, Thrummings! no
innowations; I won’t hear on’t. I goes for the last stitch!”

“S’pose you was going to be sewed up yourself, old Ringrope, would you
like the last stitch then! You are an old, gun, Ringrope; you can’t
stand looking out at your port-hole much longer,” said Thrummings, as
his own palsied hands were quivering over the canvas.

“Better say that to yourself, old man,” replied Ringrope, stooping
close to the light to thread his coarse needle, which trembled in his
withered hands like the needle, in a compass of a Greenland ship near
the Pole. “You ain’t long for the sarvice. I wish I could give you some
o’ the blood in my veins, old man!”

“Ye ain’t got ne’er a teaspoonful to spare,” said Thrummings. “It will
go hard, and I wouldn’t want to do it; but I’m afeard I’ll have the
sewing on ye up afore long!”

“Sew me up? Me dead and you alive, old man?” shrieked Ringrope. “Well,
I’ve he’rd the parson of the old Independence say as how old age was
deceitful; but I never seed it so true afore this blessed night. I’m
sorry for ye, old man—to see you so innocent-like, and Death all the
while turning in and out with you in your hammock, for all the world
like a hammock-mate.”

“You lie! old man,” cried Thrummings, shaking with rage. “It’s _you_
that have Death for a hammock-mate; it’s _you_ that will make a hole in
the shot-locker soon.”

“Take that back!” cried Ringrope, huskily, leaning far over the corpse,
and, needle in hand, menacing his companion with his aguish fist. “Take
that back, or I’ll throttle your lean bag of wind fer ye!”

“Blast ye! old chaps, ain’t ye any more manners than to be fighting
over a dead man?” cried one of the sail-maker’s mates, coming down from
the spar-deck. “Bear a hand!—bear a hand! and get through with that

“Only one more stitch to take,” muttered Ringrope, creeping near the

“Drop your ‘_palm_,’ then and let Thrummings take it; follow me—the
foot of the main-sail wants mending—must do it afore a breeze springs
up. D’ye hear, old chap! I say, drop your _palm_, and follow me.”

At the reiterated command of his superior, Ringrope rose, and, turning
to his comrade, said, “I take it all back, Thrummings, and I’m sorry
for it, too. But mind ye, take that ’ere last stitch, now; if ye don’t,
there’s no tellin’ the consekenses.”

As the mate and his man departed, I stole up to Thrummings. “Don’t do
it—don’t do it, now, Thrummings—depend on it, it’s wrong!”

“Well, youngster, I’ll try this here one without it for jist this here
once; and if, arter that, he don’t spook me, I’ll be dead agin the last
stitch as long as my name is Thrummings.”

So, without mutilation, the remains were replaced between the guns, the
union jack again thrown over them, and I reseated myself on the


Quarters over in the morning, the boatswain and his four mates stood
round the main hatchway, and after giving the usual whistle, made the
customary announcement—“_All hands bury the dead, ahoy!_”

In a man-of-war, every thing, even to a man’s funeral and burial,
proceeds with the unrelenting promptitude of the martial code. And
whether it is _all hands bury the dead!_ or _all hands splice the
main-brace_, the order is given in the same hoarse tones.

Both officers and men assembled in the lee waist, and through that
bareheaded crowd the mess-mates of Shenly brought his body to the same
gangway where it had thrice winced under the scourge. But there is
something in death that ennobles even a pauper’s corpse; and the
Captain himself stood bareheaded before the remains of a man whom, with
his hat on, he had sentenced to the ignominious gratings when alive.

“_I am the resurrection and the life!_” solemnly began the Chaplain, in
full canonicals, the prayer-book in his hand.

“Damn you! off those booms!” roared a boatswain’s mate to a crowd of
top-men, who had elevated themselves to gain a better view of the

“_We commit this body to the deep!_” At the word, Shenly’s mess-mates
tilted the board, and the dead sailor sank in the sea.

“Look aloft,” whispered Jack Chase. “See that bird! it is the spirit of

Gazing upward, all beheld a snow-white, solitary fowl, which—whence
coming no one could tell—had been hovering over the main-mast during
the service, and was now sailing far up into the depths of the sky.


Upon examining Shenly’s bag, a will was found, scratched in pencil,
upon a blank leaf in the middle of his Bible; or, to use the phrase of
one of the seamen, in the midships, atween the Bible and Testament,
where the Pothecary (Apocrypha) uses to be.

The will was comprised in one solitary sentence, exclusive of the dates
and signatures: “_In case I die on the voyage, the Purser will please
pay over my wages to my wife, who lives in Portsmouth, New Hampshire_.”

Besides the testator’s, there were two signatures of witnesses.

This last will and testament being shown to the Purser, who, it seems,
had been a notary, or surrogate, or some sort of cosy chamber
practitioner in his time, he declared that it must be “proved.” So the
witnesses were called, and after recognising their hands to the paper;
for the purpose of additionally testing their honesty, they were
interrogated concerning the day on which they had signed—whether it was
_Banyan Day_, or _Duff Day_, or _Swampseed Day_; for among the sailors
on board a man-of-war, the land terms, _Monday_, _Tuesday_,
_Wednesday_, are almost unknown. In place of these they substitute
nautical names, some of which are significant of the daily bill of fare
at dinner for the week.

The two witnesses were somewhat puzzled by the attorney-like questions
of the Purser, till a third party came along, one of the ship’s
barbers, and declared, of his own knowledge, that Shenly executed the
instrument on a _Shaving Day_; for the deceased seaman had informed him
of the circumstance, when he came to have his beard reaped on the
morning of the event.

In the Purser’s opinion, this settled the question; and it is to be
hoped that the widow duly received her husband’s death-earned wages.

Shenly was dead and gone; and what was Shenly’s epitaph?

—“D. D.”—

opposite his name in the Purser’s books, in “_Black’s best Writing
Fluid_”—funereal name and funereal hue—meaning “Discharged, Dead.”


In our man-of-war world, Life comes in at one gangway and Death goes
overboard at the other. Under the man-of-war scourge, curses mix with
tears; and the sigh and the sob furnish the bass to the shrill octave
of those who laugh to drown buried griefs of their own. Checkers were
played in the waist at the time of Shenly’s burial; and as the body
plunged, a player swept the board. The bubbles had hardly burst, when
all hands were _piped down_ by the Boatswain, and the old jests were
heard again, as if Shenly himself were there to hear.

This man-of-war life has not left me unhardened. I cannot stop to weep
over Shenly now; that would be false to the life I depict; wearing no
mourning weeds, I resume the task of portraying our man-of-war world.

Among the various other vocations, all driven abreast on board of the
Neversink, was that of the schoolmaster. There were two academies in
the frigate. One comprised the apprentice boys, who, upon certain days
of the week, were indoctrinated in the mysteries of the primer by an
invalid corporal of marines, a slender, wizzen-cheeked man, who had
received a liberal infant-school education.

The other school was a far more pretentious affair—a sort of army and
navy seminary combined, where mystical mathematical problems were
solved by the midshipmen, and great ships-of-the-line were navigated
over imaginary shoals by unimaginable observations of the moon and the
stars, and learned lectures were delivered upon great guns, small arms,
and the curvilinear lines described by bombs in the air.

“_The Professor_” was the title bestowed upon the erudite gentleman who
conducted this seminary, and by that title alone was he known
throughout the ship. He was domiciled in the Ward-room, and circulated
there on a social par with the Purser, Surgeon, and other
_non-combatants_ and Quakers. By being advanced to the dignity of a
peerage in the Ward-room, Science and Learning were ennobled in the
person of this Professor, even as divinity was honoured in the Chaplain
enjoying the rank of a spiritual peer.

Every other afternoon, while at sea, the Professor assembled his pupils
on the half-deck, near the long twenty-four pounders. A bass drum-head
was his desk, his pupils forming a semicircle around him, seated on
shot-boxes and match-tubs.

They were in the jelly of youth, and this learned Professor poured into
their susceptible hearts all the gentle gunpowder maxims of war.
Presidents of Peace Societies and Superintendents of Sabbath-schools,
must it not have been a most interesting sight?

But the Professor himself was a noteworthy person. A tall, thin,
spectacled man, about forty years old, with a student’s stoop in his
shoulders, and wearing uncommonly scanty pantaloons, exhibiting an
undue proportion of his boots. In early life he had been a cadet in the
military academy of West Point; but, becoming very weak-sighted, and
thereby in a good manner disqualified for active service in the field,
he had declined entering the army, and accepted the office of Professor
in the Navy.

His studies at West Point had thoroughly grounded him in a knowledge of
gunnery; and, as he was not a little of a pedant, it was sometimes
amusing, when the sailors were at quarters, to hear him criticise their
evolutions at the batteries. He would quote Dr. Hutton’s Tracts on the
subject, also, in the original, “_The French Bombardier_,” and wind up
by Italian passages from the “_Prattica Manuale dell’ Artiglieria_.”

Though not required by the Navy regulations to instruct his scholars in
aught but the application of mathematics to navigation, yet besides
this, and besides instructing them in the theory of gunnery, he also
sought to root them in the theory of frigate and fleet tactics. To be
sure, he himself did not know how to splice a rope or furl a sail; and,
owing to his partiality for strong coffee, he was apt to be nervous
when we fired salutes; yet all this did not prevent him from delivering
lectures on cannonading and “breaking the enemy’s line.”

He had arrived at his knowledge of tactics by silent, solitary study,
and earnest meditation in the sequestered retreat of his state-room.
His case was somewhat parallel to the Scotchman’s—John Clerk, Esq., of
Eldin—who, though he had never been to sea, composed a quarto treatise
on fleet-fighting, which to this day remains a text-book; and he also
originated a nautical manoeuvre, which has given to England many a
victory over her foes.

Now there was a large black-board, something like a great-gun
target—only it was square—which during the professor’s lectures was
placed upright on the gun-deck, supported behind by three
boarding-pikes. And here he would chalk out diagrams of great fleet
engagements; making marks, like the soles of shoes, for the ships, and
drawing a dog-vane in one corner to denote the assumed direction of the
wind. This done, with a cutlass he would point out every spot of

“Now, young gentlemen, the board before you exhibits the disposition of
the British West Indian squadron under Rodney, when, early on the
morning of the 9th of April, in the year of our blessed Lord 1782, he
discovered part of the French fleet, commanded by the Count de Grasse,
lying under the north end of the Island of Dominica. It was at this
juncture that the Admiral gave the signal for the British line to
prepare for battle, and stand on. D’ye understand, young gentlemen?
Well, the British van having nearly fetched up with the centre of the
enemy—who, be it remembered, were then on the starboard tack—and
Rodney’s centre and rear being yet becalmed under the lee of the
land—the question I ask you is, What should Rodney now do?”

“Blaze away, by all means!” responded a rather confident reefer, who
had zealously been observing the diagram.

“But, sir, his centre and rear are still becalmed, and his van has not
yet closed with the enemy.”

“Wait till he _does_ come in range, and _then_ blaze away,” said the

“Permit me to remark, Mr. Pert, that ‘_blaze away_’ is not a strictly
technical term; and also permit me to hint, Mr. Pert, that you should
consider the subject rather more deeply before you hurry forward your

This rebuke not only abashed Mr. Pert, but for a time intimidated the
rest; and the professor was obliged to proceed, and extricate the
British fleet by himself. He concluded by awarding Admiral Rodney the
victory, which must have been exceedingly gratifying to the family
pride of the surviving relatives and connections of that distinguished

“Shall I clean the board, sir?” now asked Mr. Pert, brightening up.

“No, sir; not till you have saved that crippled French ship in the
corner. That ship, young gentlemen, is the Glorieuse: you perceive she
is cut off from her consorts, and the whole British fleet is giving
chase to her. Her bowsprit is gone; her rudder is torn away; she has
one hundred round shot in her hull, and two thirds of her men are dead
or dying. What’s to be done? the wind being at northeast by north?”

“Well, sir,” said Mr. Dash, a chivalric young gentleman from Virginia,
“I wouldn’t strike yet; I’d nail my colours to the main-royal-mast! I
would, by Jove!”

“That would not save your ship, sir; besides, your main-mast has gone
by the board.”

“I think, sir,” said Mr. Slim, a diffident youth, “I think, sir, I
would haul back the fore-top-sail.”

“And why so? of what service would _that_ be, I should like to know,
Mr. Slim?”

“I can’t tell exactly; but I think it would help her a little,” was the
timid reply.

“Not a whit, sir—not one particle; besides, you can’t haul back your
fore-top-sail—your fore-mast is lying across your forecastle.”

“Haul back the main-top-sail, then,” suggested another.

“Can’t be done; your main-mast, also, has gone by the board!”

“Mizzen-top-sail?” meekly suggested little Boat-Plug.

“Your mizzen-top-mast, let me inform you, sir, was shot down in the
first of the fight!”

“Well, sir,” cried Mr. Dash, “I’d tack ship, anyway; bid ’em good-by
with a broadside; nail my flag to the keel, if there was no other
place; and blow my brains out on the poop!”

“Idle, idle, sir! worse than idle! you are carried away, Mr. Dash, by
your ardent Southern temperament! Let me inform you, young gentlemen,
that this ship,” touching it with his cutlass, “_cannot_ be saved.”

Then, throwing down his cutlass, “Mr. Pert, have the goodness to hand
me one of those cannon-balls from the rack.”

Balancing the iron sphere in one hand, the learned professor began
fingering it with the other, like Columbus illustrating the rotundity
of the globe before the Royal Commission of Castilian Ecclesiastics.

“Young gentlemen, I resume my remarks on the passage of a shot _in
vacuo_, which remarks were interrupted yesterday by general quarters.
After quoting that admirable passage in ‘Spearman’s British Gunner,’ I
then laid it down, you remember, that the path of a shot _in vacuo_
describes a parabolic curve. I now add that, agreeably to the method
pursued by the illustrious Newton in treating the subject of
curvilinear motion, I consider the _trajectory_ or curve described by a
moving body in space as consisting of a series of right lines,
described in successive intervals of time, and constituting the
diagonals of parallelograms formed in a vertical plane between the
vertical deflections caused by gravity and the production of the line
of motion which has been described in each preceding interval of time.
This must be obvious; for, if you say that the passage _in vacuo_ of
this cannon-ball, now held in my hand, would describe otherwise than a
series of right lines, etc., then you are brought to the _Reductio ad
Absurdum_, that the diagonals of parallelograms are——”

“All hands reef top-sail!” was now thundered forth by the boatswain’s
mates. The shot fell from the professor’s palm; his spectacles dropped
on his nose, and the school tumultuously broke up, the pupils
scrambling up the ladders with the sailors, who had been overhearing
the lecture.


The allusion to one of the ship’s barbers in a previous chapter,
together with the recollection of how conspicuous a part they enacted
in a tragical drama soon to be related, leads me now to introduce them
to the reader.

Among the numerous artists and professors of polite trades in the Navy,
none are held in higher estimation or drive a more profitable business
than these barbers. And it may well be imagined that the five hundred
heads of hair and five hundred beards of a frigate should furnish no
small employment for those to whose faithful care they may be
intrusted. As everything connected with the domestic affairs of a
man-of-war comes under the supervision of the martial executive, so
certain barbers are formally licensed by the First Lieutenant. The
better to attend to the profitable duties of their calling, they are
exempted from all ship’s duty except that of standing night-watches at
sea, mustering at quarters, and coming on deck when all hands are
called. They are rated as _able seamen_ or _ordinary seamen_, and
receive their wages as such; but in addition to this, they are
liberally recompensed for their professional services. Herein their
rate of pay is fixed for every sailor manipulated—so much per quarter,
which is charged to the sailor, and credited to his barber on the books
of the Purser.

It has been seen that while a man-of-war barber is shaving his
customers at so much per chin, his wages as a seaman are still running
on, which makes him a sort of _sleeping partner_ of a sailor; nor are
the sailor wages he receives altogether to be reckoned as earnings.
Considering the circumstances, however, not much objection can be made
to the barbers on this score. But there were instances of men in the
Neversink receiving government money in part pay for work done for
private individuals. Among these were several accomplished tailors, who
nearly the whole cruise sat cross-legged on the half deck, making
coats, pantaloons, and vests for the quarter-deck officers. Some of
these men, though knowing little or nothing about sailor duties, and
seldom or never performing them, stood upon the ship’s books as
ordinary seamen, entitled to ten dollars a month. Why was this?
Previous to shipping they had divulged the fact of their being tailors.
True, the officers who employed them upon their wardrobes paid them for
their work, but some of them in such a way as to elicit much grumbling
from the tailors. At any rate, these makers and menders of clothes did
not receive from some of these officers an amount equal to what they
could have fairly earned ashore by doing the same work. It was a
considerable saving to the officers to have their clothes made on

The men belonging to the carpenter’s gang furnished another case in
point. There were some six or eight allotted to this department. All
the cruise they were hard at work. At what? Mostly making chests of
drawers, canes, little ships and schooners, swifts, and other
elaborated trifles, chiefly for the Captain. What did the Captain pay
them for their trouble? Nothing. But the United States government paid
them; two of them (the mates) at nineteen dollars a month, and the rest
receiving the pay of able seamen, twelve dollars.

To return.

The regular days upon which the barbers shall exercise their vocation
are set down on the ship’s calendar, and known as _shaving days_. On
board of the Neversink these days are Wednesdays and Saturdays; when,
immediately after breakfast, the barbers’ shops were opened to
customers. They were in different parts of the gun-deck, between the
long twenty-four pounders. Their furniture, however, was not very
elaborate, hardly equal to the sumptuous appointments of metropolitan
barbers. Indeed, it merely consisted of a match-tub, elevated upon a
shot-box, as a barber’s chair for the patient. No Psyche glasses; no
hand-mirror; no ewer and basin; no comfortable padded footstool;
nothing, in short, that makes a shore “_shave_” such a luxury.

Nor are the implements of these man-of-war barbers out of keeping with
the rude appearance of their shops. Their razors are of the simplest
patterns, and, from their jagged-ness, would seem better fitted for the
preparing and harrowing of the soil than for the ultimate reaping of
the crop. But this is no matter for wonder, since so many chins are to
be shaven, and a razor-case holds but two razors. For only two razors
does a man-of-war barber have, and, like the marine sentries at the
gangway in port, these razors go off and on duty in rotation. One
brush, too, brushes every chin, and one lather lathers them all. No
private brushes and boxes; no reservations whatever.

As it would be altogether too much trouble for a man-of-war’s-man to
keep his own shaving-tools and shave himself at sea, and since,
therefore, nearly the whole ship’s company patronise the ship’s
barbers, and as the seamen must be shaven by evening quarters of the
days appointed for the business, it may be readily imagined what a
scene of bustle and confusion there is when the razors are being
applied. First come, first served, is the motto; and often you have to
wait for hours together, sticking to your position (like one of an
Indian file of merchants’ clerks getting letters out of the
post-office), ere you have a chance to occupy the pedestal of the
match-tub. Often the crowd of quarrelsome candidates wrangle and fight
for precedency, while at all times the interval is employed by the
garrulous in every variety of ship-gossip.

As the shaving days are unalterable, they often fall upon days of high
seas and tempestuous winds, when the vessel pitches and rolls in a
frightful manner. In consequence, many valuable lives are jeopardised
from the razor being plied under such untoward circumstances. But these
sea-barbers pride themselves upon their sea-legs, and often you will
see them standing over their patients with their feet wide apart, and
scientifically swaying their bodies to the motion of the ship, as they
flourish their edge-tools about the lips, nostrils, and jugular.

As I looked upon the practitioner and patient at such times, I could
not help thinking that, if the sailor had any insurance on his life, it
would certainly be deemed forfeited should the president of the company
chance to lounge by and behold him in that imminent peril. For myself,
I accounted it an excellent preparation for going into a sea-fight,
where fortitude in standing up to your gun and running the risk of all
splinters, comprise part of the practical qualities that make up an
efficient man-of-war’s man.

It remains to be related, that these barbers of ours had their labours
considerably abridged by a fashion prevailing among many of the crew,
of wearing very large whiskers; so that, in most cases, the only parts
needing a shave were the upper lip and suburbs of the chin. This had
been more or less the custom during the whole three years’ cruise; but
for some time previous to our weathering Cape Horn, very many of the
seamen had redoubled their assiduity in cultivating their beards
preparatory to their return to America. There they anticipated creating
no small impression by their immense and magnificent
_homeward-bounders_—so they called the long fly-brushes at their chins.
In particular, the more aged sailors, embracing the Old Guard of sea
grenadiers on the forecastle, and the begrimed gunner’s mates and
quarter-gunners, sported most venerable beards of an exceeding length
and hoariness, like long, trailing moss hanging from the bough of some
aged oak. Above all, the Captain of the Forecastle, old Ushant—a fine
specimen of a sea sexagenarian—wore a wide, spreading beard, gizzled
and grey, that flowed over his breast and often became tangled and
knotted with tar. This Ushant, in all weathers, was ever alert at his
duty; intrepidly mounting the fore-yard in a gale, his long beard
streaming like Neptune’s. Off Cape Horn it looked like a miller’s,
being all over powdered with frost; sometimes it glittered with minute
icicles in the pale, cold, moonlit Patagonian nights. But though he was
so active in time of tempest, yet when his duty did not call for
exertion, he was a remarkably staid, reserved, silent, and majestic old
man, holding himself aloof from noisy revelry, and never participating
in the boisterous sports of the crew. He resolutely set his beard
against their boyish frolickings, and often held forth like an oracle
concerning the vanity thereof. Indeed, at times he was wont to talk
philosophy to his ancient companions—the old sheet-anchor-men around
him—as well as to the hare-brained tenants of the fore-top, and the
giddy lads in the mizzen.

Nor was his philosophy to be despised; it abounded in wisdom. For this
Ushant was an old man, of strong natural sense, who had seen nearly the
whole terraqueous globe, and could reason of civilized and savage, of
Gentile and Jew, of Christian and Moslem. The long night-watches of the
sailor are eminently adapted to draw out the reflective faculties of
any serious-minded man, however humble or uneducated. Judge, then, what
half a century of battling out watches on the ocean must have done for
this fine old tar. He was a sort of a sea-Socrates, in his old age
“pouring out his last philosophy and life,” as sweet Spenser has it;
and I never could look at him, and survey his right reverend beard,
without bestowing upon him that title which, in one of his satires,
Persius gives to the immortal quaffer of the hemlock—_Magister
Barbatus_—the bearded master.

Not a few of the ship’s company had also bestowed great pains upon
their hair, which some of them—especially the genteel young sailor
bucks of the After-guard—wore over their shoulders like the ringleted
Cavaliers. Many sailors, with naturally tendril locks, prided
themselves upon what they call _love curls_, worn at the side of the
head, just before the ear—a custom peculiar to tars, and which seems to
have filled the vacated place of the old-fashioned Lord Rodney cue,
which they used to wear some fifty years ago.

But there were others of the crew labouring under the misfortune of
long, lank, Winnebago locks, carroty bunches of hair, or rebellious
bristles of a sandy hue. Ambitious of redundant mops, these still
suffered their carrots to grow, spite of all ridicule. They looked like
Huns and Scandinavians; and one of them, a young Down Easter, the
unenvied proprietor of a thick crop of inflexible yellow bamboos, went
by the name of _Peter the Wild Boy_; for, like Peter the Wild Boy in
France, it was supposed that he must have been caught like a catamount
in the pine woods of Maine. But there were many fine, flowing heads of
hair to counter-balance such sorry exhibitions as Peter’s.

What with long whiskers and venerable beards, then, of every variety of
cut—Charles the Fifth’s and Aurelian’s—and endless _goatees_ and
_imperials;_ and what with abounding locks, our crew seemed a company
of Merovingians or Long-haired kings, mixed with savage Lombards or
Longobardi, so called from their lengthy beards.


The preceding chapter fitly paves the way for the present, wherein it
sadly befalls White-Jacket to chronicle a calamitous event, which
filled the Neversink with long lamentations, that echo through all her
decks and tops. After dwelling upon our redundant locks and
thrice-noble beards, fain would I cease, and let the sequel remain
undisclosed, but truth and fidelity forbid.

As I now deviously hover and lingeringly skirmish about the frontiers
of this melancholy recital, a feeling of sadness comes over me that I
cannot withstand. Such a heartless massacre of hair! Such a
Bartholomew’s Day and Sicilian Vespers of assassinated beards! Ah! who
would believe it! With intuitive sympathy I feel of my own brown beard
while I write, and thank my kind stars that each precious hair is for
ever beyond the reach of the ruthless barbers of a man-of-war!

It needs that this sad and most serious matter should be faithfully
detailed. Throughout the cruise, many of the officers had expressed
their abhorrence of the impunity with which the most extensive
plantations of hair were cultivated under their very noses; and they
frowned upon every beard with even greater dislike. They said it was
unseamanlike; not _ship-shape;_ in short, it was disgraceful to the
Navy. But as Captain Claret said nothing, and as the officers, of
themselves, had no authority to preach a crusade against whiskerandoes,
the Old Guard on the forecastle still complacently stroked their
beards, and the sweet youths of the After-guard still lovingly threaded
their fingers through their curls.

Perhaps the Captain’s generosity in thus far permitting our beards
sprung from the fact that he himself wore a small speck of a beard upon
his own imperial cheek; which if rumour said true, was to hide
something, as Plutarch relates of the Emperor Adrian. But, to do him
justice—as I always have done—the Captain’s beard did not exceed the
limits prescribed by the Navy Department.

According to a then recent ordinance at Washington, the beards of both
officers and seamen were to be accurately laid out and surveyed, and on
no account must come lower than the mouth, so as to correspond with the
Army standard—a regulation directly opposed to the theocratical law
laid down in the nineteenth chapter and twenty-seventh verse of
Leviticus, where it is expressly ordained, “_Thou shalt not mar the
corners of thy beard_.” But legislators do not always square their
statutes by those of the Bible.

At last, when we had crossed the Northern Tropic, and were standing up
to our guns at evening quarters, and when the setting sun, streaming in
at the port-holes, lit up every hair, till to an observer on the
quarter-deck, the two long, even lines of beards seemed one dense
grove; in that evil hour it must have been, that a cruel thought
entered into the heart of our Captain.

A pretty set of savages, thought he, am I taking home to America;
people will think them all catamounts and Turks. Besides, now that I
think of it, it’s against the law. It will never do. They must be
shaven and shorn—that’s flat.

There is no knowing, indeed, whether these were the very words in which
the Captain meditated that night; for it is yet a mooted point among
metaphysicians, whether we think in words or whether we think in
thoughts. But something like the above must have been the Captain’s
cogitations. At any rate, that very evening the ship’s company were
astounded by an extraordinary announcement made at the main-hatch-way
of the gun-deck, by the Boat-swain’s mate there stationed. He was
afterwards discovered to have been tipsy at the time.

“D’ye hear there, fore and aft? All you that have hair on your heads,
shave them off; and all you that have beards, trim ’em small!”

Shave off our Christian heads! And then, placing them between our
knees, trim small our worshipped beards! The Captain was mad.

But directly the Boatswain came rushing to the hatchway, and, after
soundly rating his tipsy mate, thundered forth a true version of the
order that had issued from the quarter-deck. As amended, it ran thus:

“D’ye hear there, fore and aft? All you that have long hair, cut it
short; and all you that have large whiskers, trim them down, according
to the Navy regulations.”

This was an amendment, to be sure; but what barbarity, after all! What!
not thirty days’ run from home, and lose our magnificent
homeward-bounders! The homeward-bounders we had been cultivating so
long! Lose them at one fell swoop? Were the vile barbers of the
gun-deck to reap our long, nodding harvests, and expose our innocent
chins to the chill air of the Yankee coast! And our viny locks! were
they also to be shorn? Was a grand sheep-shearing, such as they
annually have at Nantucket, to take place; and our ignoble barbers to
carry off the fleece?

Captain Claret! in cutting our beards and our hair, you cut us the
unkindest cut of all! Were we going into action, Captain Claret—going
to fight the foe with our hearts of flame and our arms of steel, then
would we gladly offer up our beards to the terrific God of War, and
_that_ we would account but a wise precaution against having them
tweaked by the foe. _Then_, Captain Claret, you would but be imitating
the example of Alexander, who had his Macedonians all shaven, that in
the hour of battle their beards might not be handles to the Persians.
But _now_, Captain Claret! when after our long, long cruise, we are
returning to our homes, tenderly stroking the fine tassels on our
chins; and thinking of father or mother, or sister or brother, or
daughter or son; to cut off our beards now—the very beards that were
frosted white off the pitch of Patagonia—_this_ is too bitterly bad,
Captain Claret! and, by Heaven, we will not submit. Train your guns
inboard, let the marines fix their bayonets, let the officers draw
their swords; we _will not_ let our beards be reaped—the last insult
inflicted upon a vanquished foe in the East!

Where are you, sheet-anchor-men! Captains of the tops! gunner’s mates!
mariners, all! Muster round the capstan your venerable beards, and
while you braid them together in token of brotherhood, cross hands and
swear that we will enact over again the mutiny of the Nore, and sooner
perish than yield up a hair!

The excitement was intense throughout that whole evening. Groups of
tens and twenties were scattered about all the decks, discussing the
mandate, and inveighing against its barbarous author. The long area of
the gun-deck was something like a populous street of brokers, when some
terrible commercial tidings have newly arrived. One and all, they
resolved not to succumb, and every man swore to stand by his beard and
his neighbour.

Twenty-four hours after—at the next evening quarters—the Captain’s eye
was observed to wander along the men at their guns—not a beard was

When the drum beat the retreat, the Boatswain—now attended by all four
of his mates, to give additional solemnity to the announcement—repeated
the previous day’s order, and concluded by saying, that twenty-four
hours would be given for all to acquiesce.

But the second day passed, and at quarters, untouched, every beard
bristled on its chin. Forthwith Captain Claret summoned the midshipmen,
who, receiving his orders, hurried to the various divisions of the
guns, and communicated them to the Lieutenants respectively stationed
over divisions.

The officer commanding mine turned upon us, and said, “Men, if tomorrow
night I find any of you with long hair, or whiskers of a standard
violating the Navy regulations, the names of such offenders shall be
put down on the report.”

The affair had now assumed a most serious aspect. The Captain was in
earnest. The excitement increased ten-fold; and a great many of the
older seamen, exasperated to the uttermost, talked about _knocking of
duty_ till the obnoxious mandate was revoked. I thought it impossible
that they would seriously think of such a folly; but there is no
knowing what man-of-war’s-men will sometimes do, under
provocation—witness Parker and the Nore.

That same night, when the first watch was set, the men in a body drove
the two boatswain’s mates from their stations at the fore and main
hatchways, and unshipped the ladders; thus cutting off all
communication between the gun and spar decks, forward of the main-mast.

Mad Jack had the trumpet; and no sooner was this incipient mutiny
reported to him, than he jumped right down among the mob, and
fearlessly mingling with them, exclaimed, “What do you mean, men? don’t
be fools! This is no way to get what you want. Turn to, my lads, turn
to! Boatswain’s mate, ship that ladder! So! up you tumble, now, my
hearties! away you go!”

His gallant, off-handed, confident manner, recognising no attempt at
mutiny, operated upon the sailors like magic.

They _tumbled up_, as commanded; and for the rest of that night
contented themselves with privately fulminating their displeasure
against the Captain, and publicly emblazoning every anchor-button on
the coat of admired Mad jack.

Captain Claret happened to be taking a nap in his cabin at the moment
of the disturbance; and it was quelled so soon that he knew nothing of
it till it was officially reported to him. It was afterward rumoured
through the ship that he reprimanded Mad Jack for acting as he did. He
maintained that he should at once have summoned the marines, and
charged upon the “mutineers.” But if the sayings imputed to the Captain
were true, he nevertheless refrained from subsequently noticing the
disturbance, or attempting to seek out and punish the ringleaders. This
was but wise; for there are times when even the most potent governor
must wink at transgression in order to preserve the laws inviolate for
the future. And great care is to be taken, by timely management, to
avert an incontestable act of mutiny, and so prevent men from being
roused, by their own consciousness of transgression, into all the fury
of an unbounded insurrection. _Then_ for the time, both soldiers and
sailors are irresistible; as even the valour of Caesar was made to
know, and the prudence of Germanicus, when their legions rebelled. And
not all the concessions of Earl Spencer, as First lord of the
Admiralty, nor the threats and entreaties of Lord Bridport, the Admiral
of the Fleet—no, nor his gracious Majesty’s plenary pardon in
prospective, could prevail upon the Spithead mutineers (when at last
fairly lashed up to the mark) to succumb, until deserted by their own
mess-mates, and a handful was left in the breach.

Therefore, Mad Jack! you did right, and no one else could have
acquitted himself better. By your crafty simplicity, good-natured
daring, and off-handed air (as if nothing was happening) you perhaps
quelled a very serious affair in the bud, and prevented the disgrace to
the American Navy of a tragical mutiny, growing out of whiskers,
soap-suds, and razors. Think of it, if future historians should devote
a long chapter to the great _Rebellion of the Beards_ on board the
United States ship Neversink. Why, through all time thereafter, barbers
would cut down their spiralised poles, and substitute miniature
main-masts for the emblems of their calling.

And here is ample scope for some pregnant instruction, how that events
of vast magnitude in our man-of-war world may originate in the pettiest
of trifles. But that is an old theme; we waive it, and proceed.

On the morning following, though it was not a regular shaving day, the
gun-deck barbers were observed to have their shops open, their
match-tub accommodations in readiness, and their razors displayed. With
their brushes, raising a mighty lather in their tin pots, they stood
eyeing the passing throng of seamen, silently inviting them to walk in
and be served. In addition to their usual implements, they now
flourished at intervals a huge pair of sheep-shears, by way of more
forcibly reminding the men of the edict which that day must be obeyed,
or woe betide them.

For some hours the seamen paced to and fro in no very good humour,
vowing not to sacrifice a hair. Beforehand, they denounced that man who
should abase himself by compliance. But habituation to discipline is
magical; and ere long an old forecastle-man was discovered elevated
upon a match-tub, while, with a malicious grin, his barber—a fellow
who, from his merciless rasping, was called Blue-Skin—seized him by his
long beard, and at one fell stroke cut it off and tossed it out of the
port-hole behind him. This forecastle-man was ever afterwards known by
a significant title—in the main equivalent to that name of reproach
fastened upon that Athenian who, in Alexander’s time, previous to which
all the Greeks sported beards, first submitted to the deprivation of
his own. But, spite of all the contempt hurled on our forecastle-man,
so prudent an example was soon followed; presently all the barbers were

Sad sight! at which any one but a barber or a Tartar would have wept!
Beards three years old; _goatees_ that would have graced a Chamois of
the Alps; _imperials_ that Count D’Orsay would have envied; and
_love-curls_ and man-of-war ringlets that would have measured, inch for
inch, with the longest tresses of The Fair One with the Golden
Locks—all went by the board! Captain Claret! how can you rest in your
hammock! by this brown beard which now waves from my chin—the
illustrious successor to that first, young, vigorous beard I yielded to
your tyranny—by this manly beard, I swear, it was barbarous!

My noble captain, Jack Chase, was indignant. Not even all the special
favours he had received from Captain Claret, and the plenary pardon
extended to him for his desertion into the Peruvian service, could
restrain the expression of his feelings. But in his cooler moments,
Jack was a wise man; he at last deemed it but wisdom to succumb.

When he went to the barber he almost drew tears from his eyes. Seating
himself mournfully on the match-tub, he looked sideways, and said to
the barber, who was _slithering_ his sheep-shears in readiness to
begin: “My friend, I trust your scissors are consecrated. Let them not
touch this beard if they have yet to be dipped in holy water; beards
are sacred things, barber. Have you no feeling for beards, my friend?
think of it;” and mournfully he laid his deep-dyed, russet cheek upon
his hand. “Two summers have gone by since my chin has been reaped. I
was in Coquimbo then, on the Spanish Main; and when the husband-man was
sowing his Autumnal grain on the Vega, I started this blessed beard;
and when the vine-dressers were trimming their vines in the vineyards,
I first trimmed it to the sound of a flute. Ah! barber, have you no
heart? This beard has been caressed by the snow-white hand of the
lovely Tomasita of Tombez—the Castilian belle of all lower Peru. Think
of _that_, barber! I have worn it as an officer on the quarter-deck of
a Peruvian man-of-war. I have sported it at brilliant fandangoes in
Lima. I have been alow and aloft with it at sea. Yea, barber! it has
streamed like an Admiral’s pennant at the mast-head of this same
gallant frigate, the Neversink! Oh! barber, barber! it stabs me to the
heart.—Talk not of hauling down your ensigns and standards when
vanquished—what is _that_, barber! to striking the flag that Nature
herself has nailed to the mast!”

Here noble Jack’s feelings overcame him: he dropped from the animated
attitude into which his enthusiasm had momentarily transported him; his
proud head sunk upon his chest, and his long, sad beard almost grazed
the deck.

“Ay! trail your beards in grief and dishonour, oh crew of the
Neversink!” sighed Jack. “Barber, come closer—now, tell me, my friend,
have you obtained absolution for this deed you are about to commit? You
have not? Then, barber, I will absolve you; your hands shall be washed
of this sin; it is not you, but another; and though you are about to
shear off my manhood, yet, barber, I freely forgive you; kneel, kneel,
barber! that I may bless you, in token that I cherish no malice!”

So when this barber, who was the only tender-hearted one of his tribe,
had kneeled, been absolved, and then blessed, Jack gave up his beard
into his hands, and the barber, clipping it off with a sigh, held it
high aloft, and, parodying the style of the boatswain’s mates, cried
aloud, “D’ye hear, fore and aft? This is the beard of our matchless
Jack Chase, the noble captain of this frigate’s main-top!”


Though many heads of hair were shorn, and many fine beards reaped that
day, yet several still held out, and vowed to defend their sacred hair
to the last gasp of their breath. These were chiefly old sailors—some
of them petty officers—who, presuming upon their age or rank, doubtless
thought that, after so many had complied with the Captain’s commands,
_they_, being but a handful, would be exempted from compliance, and
remain a monument of our master’s clemency.

That same evening, when the drum beat to quarters, the sailors went
sullenly to their guns, and the old tars who still sported their beards
stood up, grim, defying, and motionless, as the rows of sculptured
Assyrian kings, who, with their magnificent beards, have recently been
exhumed by Layard.

When the proper time arrived, their names were taken down by the
officers of divisions, and they were afterward summoned in a body to
the mast, where the Captain stood ready to receive them. The whole
ship’s company crowded to the spot, and, amid the breathless multitude,
the venerable rebels advanced and unhatted.

It was an imposing display. They were old and venerable mariners; their
cheeks had been burned brown in all latitudes, wherever the sun sends a
tropical ray. Reverend old tars, one and all; some of them might have
been grandsires, with grandchildren in every port round the world. They
ought to have commanded the veneration of the most frivolous or
magisterial beholder. Even Captain Claret they ought to have humiliated
into deference. But a Scythian is touched with no reverential
promptings; and, as the Roman student well knows, the august Senators
themselves, seated in the Senate-house, on the majestic hill of the
Capitol, had their holy beards tweaked by the insolent chief of the

Such an array of beards! spade-shaped, hammer-shaped, dagger-shaped,
triangular, square, peaked, round, hemispherical, and forked. But chief
among them all, was old Ushant’s, the ancient Captain of the
Forecastle. Of a Gothic venerableness, it fell upon his breast like a
continual iron-gray storm.

Ah! old Ushant, Nestor of the crew! it promoted my longevity to behold

He was a man-of-war’s-man of the old Benbow school. He wore a short
cue, which the wags of the mizzen-top called his “_plug of pig-tail_.”
About his waist was a broad boarder’s belt, which he wore, he said, to
brace his main-mast, meaning his backbone; for at times he complained
of rheumatic twinges in the spine, consequent upon sleeping on deck,
now and then, during the night-watches of upward of half a century. His
sheath-knife was an antique—a sort of old-fashioned pruning-hook; its
handle—a sperm whale’s tooth—was carved all over with ships, cannon,
and anchors. It was attached to his neck by a _lanyard_, elaborately
worked into “rose-knots” and “Turks’ heads” by his own venerable

Of all the crew, this Ushant was most beloved by my glorious captain,
Jack Chase, who one day pointed him out to me as the old man was slowly
coming down the rigging from the fore-top.

“There, White-Jacket! isn’t that old Chaucer’s shipman?

     “‘A dagger hanging by a las hadde he,
           About his nekke, under his arm adown;
           The hote sommer hadde made his beard all brown.
       Hardy he is, and wise; I undertake
       With many a tempest has his beard be shake.’

From the Canterbury Tales, White-Jacket! and must not old Ushant have
been living in Chaucer’s time, that Chaucer could draw his portrait so


The rebel beards, headed by old Ushant’s, streaming like a Commodore’s
_bougee_, now stood in silence at the mast.

“You knew the order!” said the Captain, eyeing them severely; “what
does that hair on your chins?”

“Sir,” said the Captain of the Forecastle, “did old Ushant ever refuse
doing his duty? did he ever yet miss his muster? But, sir, old Ushant’s
beard is his own!”

“What’s that, sir? Master-at-arms, put that man into the brig.”

“Sir,” said the old man, respectfully, “the three years for which I
shipped are expired; and though I am perhaps bound to work the ship
home, yet, as matters are, I think my beard might be allowed me. It is
but a few days, Captain Claret.”

“Put him into the brig!” cried the Captain; “and now, you old rascals!”
he added, turning round upon the rest, “I give you fifteen minutes to
have those beards taken off; if they then remain on your chins, I’ll
flog you—every mother’s son of you—though you were all my own

The band of beards went forward, summoned their barbers, and their
glorious pennants were no more. In obedience to orders, they then
paraded themselves at the mast, and, addressing the Captain, said,
“Sir, our _muzzle-lashings_ are cast off!”

Nor is it unworthy of being chronicled, that not a single sailor who
complied with the general order but refused to sport the vile
_regulation-whiskers_ prescribed by the Navy Department. No! like
heroes they cried, “Shave me clean! I will not wear a hair, since I
cannot wear all!”

On the morrow, after breakfast, Ushant was taken out of irons, and,
with the master-at-arms on one side and an armed sentry on the other,
was escorted along the gun-deck and up the ladder to the main-mast.
There the Captain stood, firm as before. They must have guarded the old
man thus to prevent his escape to the shore, something less than a
thousand miles distant at the time.

“Well, sir, will you have that beard taken off? you have slept over it
a whole night now; what do you say? I don’t want to flog an old man
like you, Ushant!”

“My beard is my own, sir!” said the old man, lowly.

“Will you take it off?”

“It is mine, sir?” said the old man, tremulously.

“Rig the gratings?” roared the Captain. “Master-at-arms, strip him!
quarter-masters, seize him up! boatswain’s mates, do your duty!”

While these executioners were employed, the Captain’s excitement had a
little time to abate; and when, at last, old Ushant was tied up by the
arms and legs and his venerable back was exposed—that back which had
bowed at the guns of the frigate Constitution when she captured the
Guerriere—the Captain seemed to relent.

“You are a very old man,” he said, “and I am sorry to flog you; but my
orders must be obeyed. I will give you one more chance; will you have
that beard taken off?”

“Captain Claret,” said the old man, turning round painfully in his
bonds, “you may flog me if you will; but, sir, in this one thing I
_cannot_ obey you.”

“Lay on! I’ll see his backbone!” roared the Captain in a sudden fury.

“By Heaven!” thrillingly whispered Jack Chase, who stood by, “it’s only
a halter; I’ll strike him!”

“Better not,” said a top-mate; “it’s death, or worse punishment,

“There goes the lash!” cried Jack. “Look at the old man! By G—-d, I
can’t stand it! Let me go, men!” and with moist eyes Jack forced his
way to one side.

“You, boatswain’s mate,” cried the Captain, “you are favouring that
man! Lay on soundly, sir, or I’ll have your own _cat_ laid soundly on

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven,
twelve lashes were laid on the back of that heroic old man. He only
bowed over his head, and stood as the Dying Gladiator lies.

“Cut him down,” said the Captain.

“And now go and cut your own throat,” hoarsely whispered an old
sheet-anchor-man, a mess-mate of Ushant’s.

When the master-at-arms advanced with the prisoner’s shirt, Ushant
waved him off with the dignified air of a Brahim, saying, “Do you
think, master-at-arms, that I am hurt? I will put on my own garment. I
am never the worse for it, man; and ’tis no dishonour when he who would
dishonour you, only dishonours himself.”

“What says he?” cried the Captain; “what says that tarry old
philosopher with the smoking back? Tell it to me, sir, if you dare!
Sentry, take that man back to the brig. Stop! John Ushant, you have
been Captain of the Forecastle; I break you. And now you go into the
brig, there to remain till you consent to have that beard taken off.”

“My beard is my own,” said the old man, quietly. “Sentry, I am ready.”

And back he went into durance between the guns; but after lying some
four or five days in irons, an order came to remove them; but he was
still kept confined.

Books were allowed him, and he spent much time in reading. But he also
spent many hours in braiding his beard, and interweaving with it strips
of red bunting, as if he desired to dress out and adorn the thing which
had triumphed over all opposition.

He remained a prisoner till we arrived in America; but the very moment
he heard the chain rattle out of the hawse-hole, and the ship swing to
her anchor, he started to his feet, dashed the sentry aside, and
gaining the deck, exclaimed, “At home, with my beard!”

His term of service having some months previous expired, and the ship
being now in harbour, he was beyond the reach of naval law, and the
officers durst not molest him. But without unduly availing himself of
these circumstances, the old man merely got his bag and hammock
together, hired a boat, and throwing himself into the stern, was rowed
ashore, amid the unsuppressible cheers of all hands. It was a glorious
conquest over the Conqueror himself, as well worthy to be celebrated as
the Battle of the Nile.

Though, as I afterward learned, Ushant was earnestly entreated to put
the case into some lawyer’s hands, he firmly declined, saying, “I have
won the battle, my friends, and I do not care for the prize-money.” But
even had he complied with these entreaties, from precedents in similar
cases, it is almost certain that not a sou’s worth of satisfaction
would have been received.

I know not in what frigate you sail now, old Ushant; but Heaven protect
your storied old beard, in whatever Typhoon it may blow. And if ever it
must be shorn, old man, may it fare like the royal beard of Henry I.,
of England, and be clipped by the right reverend hand of some
Archbishop of Sees.

As for Captain Claret, let it not be supposed that it is here sought to
impale him before the world as a cruel, black-hearted man. Such he was
not. Nor was he, upon the whole, regarded by his crew with anything
like the feelings which man-of-war’s-men sometimes cherish toward
signally tyrannical commanders. In truth, the majority of the
Neversink’s crew—in previous cruises habituated to flagrant
misusage—deemed Captain Claret a lenient officer. In many things he
certainly refrained from oppressing them. It has been related what
privileges he accorded to the seamen respecting the free playing of
checkers—a thing almost unheard of in most American men-of-war. In the
matter of overseeing the men’s clothing, also, he was remarkably
indulgent, compared with the conduct of other Navy captains, who, by
sumptuary regulations, oblige their sailors to run up large bills with
the Purser for clothes. In a word, of whatever acts Captain Claret
might have been guilty in the Neversink, perhaps none of them proceeded
from any personal, organic hard-heartedness. What he was, the usages of
the Navy had made him. Had he been a mere landsman—a merchant, say—he
would no doubt have been considered a kind-hearted man.

There may be some who shall read of this Bartholomew Massacre of beards
who will yet marvel, perhaps, that the loss of a few hairs, more or
less, should provoke such hostility from the sailors, lash them into so
frothing a rage; indeed, come near breeding a mutiny.

But these circumstances are not without precedent. Not to speak of the
riots, attended with the loss of life, which once occurred in Madrid,
in resistance to an arbitrary edict of the king’s, seeking to suppress
the cloaks of the Cavaliers; and, not to make mention of other
instances that might be quoted, it needs only to point out the rage of
the Saxons in the time of William the Conqueror, when that despot
commanded the hair on their upper lips to be shaven off—the hereditary
mustaches which whole generations had sported. The multitude of the
dispirited vanquished were obliged to acquiesce; but many Saxon
Franklins and gentlemen of spirit, choosing rather to lose their
castles than their mustaches, voluntarily deserted their firesides, and
went into exile. All this is indignantly related by the stout Saxon
friar, Matthew Paris, in his _Historia Major_, beginning with the
Norman Conquest.

And that our man-of-war’s-men were right in desiring to perpetuate
their beards, as martial appurtenances, must seem very plain, when it
is considered that, as the beard is the token of manhood, so, in some
shape or other, has it ever been held the true badge of a warrior.
Bonaparte’s grenadiers were stout whiskerandoes; and perhaps, in a
charge, those fierce whiskers of theirs did as much to appall the foe
as the sheen of their bayonets. Most all fighting creatures sport
either whiskers or beards; it seems a law of Dame Nature. Witness the
boar, the tiger, the cougar, man, the leopard, the ram, the cat—all
warriors, and all whiskerandoes. Whereas, the peace-loving tribes have
mostly enameled chins.


The flogging of an old man like Ushant, most landsmen will probably
regard with abhorrence. But though, from peculiar circumstances, his
case occasioned a good deal of indignation among the people of the
Neversink, yet, upon its own proper grounds, they did not denounce it.
Man-of-war’s-men are so habituated to what landsmen would deem
excessive cruelties, that they are almost reconciled to inferior

And here, though the subject of punishment in the Navy has been
canvassed in previous chapters, and though the thing is every way a
most unpleasant and grievous one to enlarge upon, and though I
painfully nerve myself to it while I write, a feeling of duty compels
me to enter upon a branch of the subject till now undiscussed. I would
not be like the man, who, seeing an outcast perishing by the roadside,
turned about to his friend, saying, “Let us cross the way; my soul so
sickens at this sight, that I cannot endure it.”

There are certain enormities in this man-of-war world that often secure
impunity by their very excessiveness. Some ignorant people will refrain
from permanently removing the cause of a deadly malaria, for fear of
the temporary spread of its offensiveness. Let us not be of such. The
more repugnant and repelling, the greater the evil. Leaving our women
and children behind, let us freely enter this Golgotha.

Years ago there was a punishment inflicted in the English, and I
believe in the American Navy, called _keel-hauling_—a phrase still
employed by man-of-war’s-men when they would express some signal
vengeance upon a personal foe. The practice still remains in the French
national marine, though it is by no means resorted to so frequently as
in times past. It consists of attaching tackles to the two extremities
of the main-yard, and passing the rope under the ship’s bottom. To one
end of this rope the culprit is secured; his own shipmates are then
made to run him up and down, first on this side, then on that—now
scraping the ship’s hull under water—anon, hoisted, stunned and
breathless, into the air.

But though this barbarity is now abolished from the English and
American navies, there still remains another practice which, if
anything, is even worse than _keel-hauling_. This remnant of the Middle
Ages is known in the Navy as “_flogging through the fleet_.” It is
never inflicted except by authority of a court-martial upon some
trespasser deemed guilty of a flagrant offence. Never, that I know of,
has it been inflicted by an American man-of-war on the home station.
The reason, probably, is, that the officers well know that such a
spectacle would raise a mob in any American seaport.

By XLI. of the Articles of War, a court-martial shall not “for any one
offence not capital,” inflict a punishment beyond one hundred lashes.
In cases “not capital” this law may be, and has been, quoted in
judicial justification of the infliction of more than one hundred
lashes. Indeed, it would cover a thousand. Thus: One act of a sailor
may be construed into the commission of ten different transgressions,
for each of which he may be legally condemned to a hundred lashes, to
be inflicted without intermission. It will be perceived, that in any
case deemed “capital,” a sailor under the above Article, may legally be
flogged to the death.

But neither by the Articles of War, nor by any other enactment of
Congress, is there any direct warrant for the extraordinary cruelty of
the mode in which punishment is inflicted, in cases of flogging through
the fleet. But as in numerous other instances, the incidental
aggravations of this penalty are indirectly covered by other clauses in
the Articles of War: one of which authorises the authorities of a
ship—in certain indefinite cases—to correct the guilty “_according to
the usages of the sea-service_.”

One of these “usages” is the following:

All hands being called “to witness punishment” in the ship to which the
culprit belongs, the sentence of the court-martial condemning him is
read, when, with the usual solemnities, a portion of the punishment is
inflicted. In order that it shall not lose in severity by the slightest
exhaustion in the arm of the executioner, a fresh boatswain’s mate is
called out at every dozen.

As the leading idea is to strike terror into the beholders, the
greatest number of lashes is inflicted on board the culprit’s own ship,
in order to render him the more shocking spectacle to the crews of the
other vessels.

The first infliction being concluded, the culprit’s shirt is thrown
over him; he is put into a boat—the Rogue’s March being played
meanwhile—and rowed to the next ship of the squadron. All hands of that
ship are then called to man the rigging, and another portion of the
punishment is inflicted by the boatswain’s mates of that ship. The
bloody shirt is again thrown over the seaman; and thus he is carried
through the fleet or squadron till the whole sentence is inflicted.

In other cases, the launch—the largest of the boats—is rigged with a
platform (like a headsman’s scaffold), upon which halberds, something
like those used in the English army, are erected. They consist of two
stout poles, planted upright. Upon the platform stand a Lieutenant, a
Surgeon a Master-at-arms, and the executioners with their “cats.” They
are rowed through the fleet, stopping at each ship, till the whole
sentence is inflicted, as before.

In some cases, the attending surgeon has professionally interfered
before the last lash has been given, alleging that immediate death must
ensue if the remainder should be administered without a respite. But
instead of humanely remitting the remaining lashes, in a case like
this, the man is generally consigned to his cot for ten or twelve days;
and when the surgeon officially reports him capable of undergoing the
rest of the sentence, it is forthwith inflicted. Shylock must have his
pound of flesh.

To say, that after being flogged through the fleet, the prisoner’s back
is sometimes puffed up like a pillow; or to say that in other cases it
looks as if burned black before a roasting fire; or to say that you may
track him through the squadron by the blood on the bulwarks of every
ship, would only be saying what many seamen have seen.

Several weeks, sometimes whole months, elapse before the sailor is
sufficiently recovered to resume his duties. During the greater part of
that interval he lies in the sick-bay, groaning out his days and
nights; and unless he has the hide and constitution of a rhinoceros, he
never is the man he was before, but, broken and shattered to the marrow
of his bones, sinks into death before his time. Instances have occurred
where he has expired the day after the punishment. No wonder that the
Englishman, Dr. Granville—himself once a surgeon in the Navy—declares,
in his work on Russia, that the barbarian “knout” itself is not a
greater torture to undergo than the Navy cat-o’-nine-tails.

Some years ago a fire broke out near the powder magazine in an American
national ship, one of the squadron at anchor in the Bay of Naples. The
utmost alarm prevailed. A cry went fore and aft that the ship was about
to blow up. One of the seamen sprang overboard in affright. At length
the fire was got under, and the man was picked up. He was tried before
a court-martial, found guilty of cowardice, and condemned to be flogged
through the fleet, In due time the squadron made sail for Algiers, and
in that harbour, once haunted by pirates, the punishment was
inflicted—the Bay of Naples, though washing the shores of an absolute
king, not being deemed a fit place for such an exhibition of American
naval law.

While the Neversink was in the Pacific, an American sailor, who had
deposited a vote for General Harrison for President of the United
States, was flogged through the fleet.


Bur the floggings at the gangway and the floggings through the fleet,
the stealings, highway robberies, swearings, gamblings, blasphemings,
thimble-riggings, smugglings, and tipplings of a man-of-war, which
throughout this narrative have been here and there sketched from the
life, by no means comprise the whole catalogue of evil. One single
feature is full of significance.

All large ships of war carry soldiers, called marines. In the Neversink
there was something less than fifty, two thirds of whom were Irishmen.
They were officered by a Lieutenant, an Orderly Sergeant, two
Sergeants, and two Corporals, with a drummer and fifer. The custom,
generally, is to have a marine to each gun; which rule usually
furnishes the scale for distributing the soldiers in vessels of
different force.

Our marines had no other than martial duty to perform; excepting that,
at sea, they stood watches like the sailors, and now and then lazily
assisted in pulling the ropes. But they never put foot in rigging or
hand in tar-bucket.

On the quarter-bills, these men were stationed at none of the great
guns; on the station-bills, they had no posts at the ropes. What, then,
were they for? To serve their country in time of battle? Let us see.
When a ship is running into action, her marines generally lie flat on
their faces behind the bulwarks (the sailors are sometimes ordered to
do the same), and when the vessel is fairly engaged, they are usually
drawn up in the ship’s waist—like a company reviewing in the Park. At
close quarters, their muskets may pick off a seaman or two in the
rigging, but at long-gun distance they must passively stand in their
ranks and be decimated at the enemy’s leisure. Only in one case in
ten—that is, when their vessel is attempted to be boarded by a large
party, are these marines of any essential service as fighting men; with
their bayonets they are then called upon to “repel!”

If comparatively so useless as soldiers, why have marines at all in the
Navy? Know, then, that what standing armies are to nations, what
turnkeys are to jails, these marines are to the seamen in all large
men-of-war. Their muskets are their keys. With those muskets they stand
guard over the fresh water; over the grog, when doled; over the
provisions, when being served out by the Master’s mate; over the “brig”
or jail; at the Commodore’s and Captain’s cabin doors; and, in port, at
both gangways and forecastle.

Surely, the crowd of sailors, who besides having so many sea-officers
over them, are thus additionally guarded by soldiers, even when they
quench their thirst—surely these man-of-war’s-men must be desperadoes
indeed; or else the naval service must be so tyrannical that the worst
is feared from their possible insubordination. Either reason holds
good, or both, according to the character of the officers and crew.

It must be evident that the man-of-war’s-man casts but an evil eye on a
marine. To call a man a “horse-marine,” is, among seamen, one of the
greatest terms of contempt.

But the mutual contempt, and even hatred, subsisting between these two
bodies of men—both clinging to one keel, both lodged in one
household—is held by most Navy officers as the height of the perfection
of Navy discipline. It is regarded as the button that caps the
uttermost point on their main-mast.

Thus they reason: Secure of this antagonism between the marine and the
sailor, we can always rely upon it, that if the sailor mutinies, it
needs no great incitement for the marine to thrust his bayonet through
his heart; if the marine revolts, the pike of the sailor is impatient
to charge. Checks and balances, blood against blood, _that_ is the cry
and the argument.

What applies to the relation in which the marine and sailor stand
toward each other—the mutual repulsion implied by a system of
checks—will, in degree, apply to nearly the entire interior of a
man-of-war’s discipline. The whole body of this discipline is
emphatically a system of cruel cogs and wheels, systematically grinding
up in one common hopper all that might minister to the moral well-being
of the crew.

It is the same with both officers and men. If a Captain have a grudge
against a Lieutenant, or a Lieutenant against a midshipman, how easy to
torture him by official treatment, which shall not lay open the
superior officer to legal rebuke. And if a midshipman bears a grudge
against a sailor, how easy for him, by cunning practices, born of a
boyish spite, to have him degraded at the gangway. Through all the
endless ramifications of rank and station, in most men-of-war there
runs a sinister vein of bitterness, not exceeded by the fireside
hatreds in a family of stepsons ashore. It were sickening to detail all
the paltry irritabilities, jealousies, and cabals, the spiteful
detractions and animosities, that lurk far down, and cling to the very
kelson of the ship. It is unmanning to think of. The immutable
ceremonies and iron etiquette of a man-of-war; the spiked barriers
separating the various grades of rank; the delegated absolutism of
authority on all hands; the impossibility, on the part of the common
seaman, of appeal from incidental abuses, and many more things that
might be enumerated, all tend to beget in most armed ships a general
social condition which is the precise reverse of what any Christian
could desire. And though there are vessels, that in some measure
furnish exceptions to this; and though, in other ships, the thing may
be glazed over by a guarded, punctilious exterior, almost completely
hiding the truth from casual visitors, while the worst facts touching
the common sailor are systematically kept in the background, yet it is
certain that what has here been said of the domestic interior of a
man-of-war will, in a greater or less degree, apply to most vessels in
the Navy. It is not that the officers are so malevolent, nor,
altogether, that the man-of-war’s-man is so vicious. Some of these
evils are unavoidably generated through the operation of the Naval
code; others are absolutely organic to a Navy establishment, and, like
other organic evils, are incurable, except when they dissolve with the
body they live in.


“The gallows and the sea refuse nothing,” is a very old sea saying;
and, among all the wondrous prints of Hogarth, there is none remaining
more true at the present day than that dramatic boat-scene, where after
consorting with harlots and gambling on tomb-stones, the Idle
Apprentice, with the villainous low forehead, is at last represented as
being pushed off to sea, with a ship and a gallows in the distance. But
Hogarth should have converted the ship’s masts themselves into
Tyburn-trees, and thus, with the ocean for a background, closed the
career of his hero. It would then have had all the dramatic force of
the opera of Don Juan, who, after running his impious courses, is swept
from our sight in a tornado of devils.

For the sea is the true Tophet and bottomless pit of many workers of
iniquity; and, as the German mystics feign Gehennas within Gehennas,
even so are men-of-war familiarly known among sailors as “Floating
Hells.” And as the sea, according to old Fuller, is the stable of brute
monsters, gliding hither and thither in unspeakable swarms, even so is
it the home of many moral monsters, who fitly divide its empire with
the snake, the shark, and the worm.

Nor are sailors, and man-of-war’s-men especially, at all blind to a
true sense of these things. “_Purser rigged and parish damned_,” is the
sailor saying in the American Navy, when the tyro first mounts the
lined frock and blue jacket, aptly manufactured for him in a State
Prison ashore.

No wonder, that lured by some _crimp_ into a service so galling, and,
perhaps, persecuted by a vindictive lieutenant, some repentant sailors
have actually jumped into the sea to escape from their fate, or set
themselves adrift on the wide ocean on the gratings without compass or

In one case, a young man, after being nearly cut into dog’s meat at the
gangway, loaded his pockets with shot and walked overboard.

Some years ago, I was in a whaling ship lying in a harbour of the
Pacific, with three French men-of-war alongside. One dark, moody night,
a suppressed cry was heard from the face of the waters, and, thinking
it was some one drowning, a boat was lowered, when two French sailors
were picked up, half dead from exhaustion, and nearly throttled by a
bundle of their clothes tied fast to their shoulders. In this manner
they had attempted their escape from their vessel. When the French
officers came in pursuit, these sailors, rallying from their
exhaustion, fought like tigers to resist being captured. Though this
story concerns a French armed ship, it is not the less applicable, in
degree, to those of other nations.

Mix with the men in an American armed ship, mark how many foreigners
there are, though it is against the law to enlist them. Nearly one
third of the petty officers of the Neversink were born east of the
Atlantic. Why is this? Because the same principle that operates in
hindering Americans from hiring themselves out as menial domestics also
restrains them, in a great measure, from voluntarily assuming a far
worse servitude in the Navy. “_Sailors wanted for the Navy_” is a
common announcement along the wharves of our sea-ports. They are always
“_wanted_.” It may have been, in part, owing to this scarcity
man-of-war’s men, that not many years ago, black slaves were frequently
to be found regularly enlisted with the crew of an American frigate,
their masters receiving their pay. This was in the teeth of a law of
Congress expressly prohibiting slaves in the Navy. This law,
indirectly, means black slaves, nothing being said concerning white
ones. But in view of what John Randolph of Roanoke said about the
frigate that carried him to Russia, and in view of what most armed
vessels actually are at present, the American Navy is not altogether an
inappropriate place for hereditary bondmen. Still, the circumstance of
their being found in it is of such a nature, that to some it may hardly
appear credible. The incredulity of such persons, nevertheless, must
yield to the fact, that on board of the United States ship Neversink,
during the present cruise, there was a Virginian slave regularly
shipped as a seaman, his owner receiving his wages. Guinea—such was his
name among the crew—belonged to the Purser, who was a Southern
gentleman; he was employed as his body servant. Never did I feel my
condition as a man-of-war’s-man so keenly as when seeing this Guinea
freely circulating about the decks in citizen’s clothes, and through
the influence of his master, almost entirely exempted from the
disciplinary degradation of the Caucasian crew. Faring sumptuously in
the ward-room; sleek and round, his ebon face fairly polished with
content: ever gay and hilarious; ever ready to laugh and joke, that
African slave was actually envied by many of the seamen. There were
times when I almost envied him myself. Lemsford once envied him
outright, “Ah, Guinea!” he sighed, “you have peaceful times; you never
opened the book I read in.”

One morning, when all hands were called to witness punishment, the
Purser’s slave, as usual, was observed to be hurrying down the ladders
toward the ward-room, his face wearing that peculiar, pinched blueness,
which, in the negro, answers to the paleness caused by nervous
agitation in the white. “Where are you going, Guinea?” cried the
deck-officer, a humorous gentleman, who sometimes diverted himself with
the Purser’s slave, and well knew what answer he would now receive from
him. “Where are you going, Guinea?” said this officer; “turn about;
don’t you hear the call, sir?” “’_Scuse_ me, massa!” said the slave,
with a low salutation; “I can’t ’tand it; I can’t, indeed, massa!” and,
so saying, he disappeared beyond the hatchway. He was the only person
on board, except the hospital-steward and the invalids of the sick-bay,
who was exempted from being present at the administering of the
scourge. Accustomed to light and easy duties from his birth, and so
fortunate as to meet with none but gentle masters, Guinea, though a
bondman, liable to be saddled with a mortgage, like a horse—Guinea, in
India-rubber manacles, enjoyed the liberties of the world.

Though his body-and-soul proprietor, the Purser, never in any way
individualised me while I served on board the frigate, and never did me
a good office of any kind (it was hardly in his power), yet, from his
pleasant, kind, indulgent manner toward his slave, I always imputed to
him a generous heart, and cherished an involuntary friendliness toward
him. Upon our arrival home, his treatment of Guinea, under
circumstances peculiarly calculated to stir up the resentment of a
slave-owner, still more augmented my estimation of the Purser’s good

Mention has been made of the number of foreigners in the American Navy;
but it is not in the American Navy alone that foreigners bear so large
a proportion to the rest of the crew, though in no navy, perhaps, have
they ever borne so large a proportion as in our own. According to an
English estimate, the foreigners serving in the King’s ships at one
time amounted to one eighth of the entire body of seamen. How it is in
the French Navy, I cannot with certainty say; but I have repeatedly
sailed with English seamen who have served in it.

One of the effects of the free introduction of foreigners into any Navy
cannot be sufficiently deplored. During the period I lived in the
Neversink, I was repeatedly struck by the lack of patriotism in many of
my shipmates. True, they were mostly foreigners who unblushingly
avowed, that were it not for the difference of pay, they would as lief
man the guns of an English ship as those of an American or Frenchman.
Nevertheless, it was evident, that as for any high-toned patriotic
feeling, there was comparatively very little—hardly any of it—evinced
by our sailors as a body. Upon reflection, this was not to be wondered
at. From their roving career, and the sundering of all domestic ties,
many sailors, all the world over, are like the “Free Companions,” who
some centuries ago wandered over Europe, ready to fight the battles of
any prince who could purchase their swords. The only patriotism is born
and nurtured in a stationary home, and upon an immovable hearth-stone;
but the man-of-war’s-man, though in his voyagings he weds the two Poles
and brings both Indies together, yet, let him wander where he will, he
carries his one only home along with him: that home is his hammock.
“_Born under a gun, and educated on the bowsprit_,” according to a
phrase of his own, the man-of-war-man rolls round the world like a
billow, ready to mix with any sea, or be sucked down to death in the
maelstrom of any war.

Yet more. The dread of the general discipline of a man-of-war; the
special obnoxiousness of the gangway; the protracted confinement on
board ship, with so few “liberty days;” and the pittance of pay (much
less than what can always be had in the Merchant Service), these things
contrive to deter from the navies of all countries by far the majority
of their best seamen. This will be obvious, when the following
statistical facts, taken from Macpherson’s Annals of Commerce, are
considered. At one period, upon the Peace Establishment, the number of
men employed in the English Navy was 25,000; at the same time, the
English Merchant Service was employing 118,952. But while the
necessities of a merchantman render it indispensable that the greater
part of her crew be able seamen, the circumstances of a man-of-war
admit of her mustering a crowd of landsmen, soldiers, and boys in her
service. By a statement of Captain Marryat’s, in his pamphlet (A. D.
1822) “On the Abolition of Impressment,” it appears that, at the close
of the Bonaparte wars, a full third of all the crews of his Majesty’s
fleets consisted of landsmen and boys.

Far from entering with enthusiasm into the king’s ships when their
country were menaced, the great body of English seamen, appalled at the
discipline of the Navy, adopted unheard-of devices to escape its
press-gangs. Some even hid themselves in caves, and lonely places
inland, fearing to run the risk of seeking a berth in an outward-bound
merchantman, that might have carried them beyond sea. In the true
narrative of “John Nichol, Mariner,” published in 1822 by Blackwood in
Edinburgh, and Cadell in London, and which everywhere bears the
spontaneous impress of truth, the old sailor, in the most artless,
touching, and almost uncomplaining manner, tells of his “skulking like
a thief” for whole years in the country round about Edinburgh, to avoid
the press-gangs, prowling through the land like bandits and Burkers. At
this time (Bonaparte’s wars), according to “Steel’s List,” there were
forty-five regular press-gang stations in Great Britain.[6]

 [6] Besides this domestic kidnapping, British frigates, in friendly or
 neutral harbours, in some instances pressed into their service foreign
 sailors of all nations from the public wharves. In certain cases,
 where Americans were concerned, when “_protections_” were found upon
 their persons, these were destroyed; and to prevent the American
 consul from claiming his sailor countrymen, the press-gang generally
 went on shore the night previous to the sailing of the frigate, so
 that the kidnapped seamen were far out to sea before they could be
 missed by their friends. These things should be known; for in case the
 English government again goes to war with its fleets, and should again
 resort to indiscriminate impressment to man them, it is well that both
 Englishmen and Americans, that all the world be prepared to put down
 an iniquity outrageous and insulting to God and man.

In a later instance, a large body of British seamen solemnly assembled
upon the eve of an anticipated war, and together determined, that in
case of its breaking out, they would at once flee to America, to avoid
being pressed into the service of their country—a service which
degraded her own guardians at the gangway.

At another time, long previous to this, according to an English Navy
officer, Lieutenant Tomlinson, three thousand seamen, impelled by the
same motive, fled ashore in a panic from the colliers between Yarmouth
Roads and the Nore. Elsewhere, he says, in speaking of some of the men
on board the king’s ships, that “they were most miserable objects.”
This remark is perfectly corroborated by other testimony referring to
another period. In alluding to the lamented scarcity of good English
seamen during the wars of 1808, etc., the author of a pamphlet on
“Naval Subjects” says, that all the best seamen, the steadiest and
best-behaved men, generally succeeded in avoiding the impress. This
writer was, or had been, himself a Captain in the British fleet.

Now it may be easily imagined who are the men, and of what moral
character they are, who, even at the present day, are willing to enlist
as full-grown adults in a service so galling to all shore-manhood as
the Navy. Hence it comes that the skulkers and scoundrels of all sorts
in a man-of-war are chiefly composed not of regular seamen, but of
these “dock-lopers” of landsmen, men who enter the Navy to draw their
grog and murder their time in the notorious idleness of a frigate. But
if so idle, why not reduce the number of a man-of-war’s crew, and
reasonably keep employed the rest? It cannot be done. In the first
place, the magnitude of most of these ships requires a large number of
hands to brace the heavy yards, hoist the enormous top-sails, and weigh
the ponderous anchor. And though the occasion for the employment of so
many men comes but seldom, it is true, yet when that occasion _does_
come—and come it may at any moment—this multitude of men are

But besides this, and to crown all, the batteries must be manned. There
must be enough men to work all the guns at one time. And thus, in order
to have a sufficiency of mortals at hand to “sink, burn and destroy;” a
man-of-war, through her vices, hopelessly depraving the volunteer
landsmen and ordinary seamen of good habits, who occasionally
enlist—must feed at the public cost a multitude of persons, who, if
they did not find a home in the Navy, would probably fall on the
parish, or linger out their days in a prison.

Among others, these are the men into whose mouths Dibdin puts his
patriotic verses, full of sea-chivalry and romance. With an exception
in the last line, they might be sung with equal propriety by both
English and American man-of-war’s-men.

     “As for me, in all weathers, all times, tides, and ends,
          Naught’s a trouble from duty that springs;
      For my heart is my Poll’s, and my rhino’s my friends,
          And as for my life, it’s the king’s.

      To rancour unknown, to no passion a slave,
          Nor unmanly, nor mean, nor a railer,” etc.

I do not unite with a high critical authority in considering Dibdin’s
ditties as “slang songs,” for most of them breathe the very poetry of
the ocean. But it is remarkable that those songs—which would lead one
to think that man-of-war’s-men are the most care-free, contented,
virtuous, and patriotic of mankind—were composed at a time when the
English Navy was principally manned by felons and paupers, as mentioned
in a former chapter. Still more, these songs are pervaded by a true
Mohammedan sensualism; a reckless acquiescence in fate, and an
implicit, unquestioning, dog-like devotion to whoever may be lord and
master. Dibdin was a man of genius; but no wonder Dibdin was a
government pensioner at £200 per annum.

But notwithstanding the iniquities of a man-of-war, men are to be found
in them, at times, so used to a hard life; so drilled and disciplined
to servitude, that, with an incomprehensible philosophy, they seem
cheerfully to resign themselves to their fate. They have plenty to eat;
spirits to drink; clothing to keep them warm; a hammock to sleep in;
tobacco to chew; a doctor to medicine them; a parson to pray for them;
and, to a penniless castaway, must not all this seem as a luxurious
Bill of Fare?

There was on board of the Neversink a fore-top-man by the name of
Landless, who, though his back was cross-barred, and plaided with the
ineffaceable scars of all the floggings accumulated by a reckless tar
during a ten years’ service in the Navy, yet he perpetually wore a
hilarious face, and at joke and repartee was a very Joe Miller.

That man, though a sea-vagabond, was not created in vain. He enjoyed
life with the zest of everlasting adolescence; and, though cribbed in
an oaken prison, with the turnkey sentries all round him, yet he paced
the gun-deck as if it were broad as a prairie, and diversified in
landscape as the hills and valleys of the Tyrol. Nothing ever
disconcerted him; nothing could transmute his laugh into anything like
a sigh. Those glandular secretions, which in other captives sometimes
go to the formation of tears, in _him_ were expectorated from the
mouth, tinged with the golden juice of a weed, wherewith he solaced and
comforted his ignominious days.

“Rum and tobacco!” said Landless, “what more does a sailor want?”

His favourite song was “_Dibdin’s True English Sailor_,” beginning,

     “Jack dances and sings, and is always content,
          In his vows to his lass he’ll ne’er fail her;
      His anchor’s atrip when his money’s all spent,
          And this is the life of a sailor.”

But poor Landless danced quite as often at the gangway, under the lash,
as in the sailor dance-houses ashore.

Another of his songs, also set to the significant tune of _The King,
God bless him!_ mustered the following lines among many similar ones:

     “Oh, when safely landed in Boston or ’York,
          Oh how I will tipple and jig it;
      And toss off my glass while my rhino holds out,
          In drinking success to our frigate!”

During the many idle hours when our frigate was lying in harbour, this
man was either merrily playing at checkers, or mending his clothes, or
snoring like a trumpeter under the lee of the booms. When fast asleep,
a national salute from our batteries could hardly move him. Whether
ordered to the main-truck in a gale; or rolled by the drum to the
grog-tub; or commanded to walk up to the gratings and be lashed,
Landess always obeyed with the same invincible indifference.

His advice to a young lad, who shipped with us at Valparaiso, embodies
the pith and marrow of that philosophy which enables some
man-of-war’s-men to wax jolly in the service.

“_Shippy!_” said Landless, taking the pale lad by his neckerchief, as
if he had him by the halter; “Shippy, I’ve seen sarvice with Uncle
Sam—I’ve sailed in many _Andrew Millers_. Now take my advice, and steer
clear of all trouble. D’ye see, touch your tile whenever a swob
(officer) speaks to you. And never mind how much they rope’s-end you,
keep your red-rag belayed; for you must know as how they don’t fancy
sea-lawyers; and when the sarving out of slops comes round, stand up to
it stiffly; it’s only an oh Lord! Or two, and a few oh my Gods!—that’s
all. And what then? Why, you sleeps it off in a few nights, and turn
out at last all ready for your grog.”

This Landless was a favourite with the officers, among whom he went by
the name of “_Happy Jack_.” And it is just such Happy Jacks as Landless
that most sea-officers profess to admire; a fellow without shame,
without a soul, so dead to the least dignity of manhood that he could
hardly be called a man. Whereas, a seaman who exhibits traits of moral
sensitiveness, whose demeanour shows some dignity within; this is the
man they, in many cases, instinctively dislike. The reason is, they
feel such a man to be a continual reproach to them, as being mentally
superior to their power. He has no business in a man-of-war; they do
not want such men. To them there is an insolence in his manly freedom,
contempt in his very carriage. He is unendurable, as an erect,
lofty-minded African would be to some slave-driving planter.

Let it not be supposed, however, that the remarks in this and the
preceding chapter apply to _all_ men-of-war. There are some vessels
blessed with patriarchal, intellectual Captains, gentlemanly and
brotherly officers, and docile and Christianised crews. The peculiar
usages of such vessels insensibly softens the tyrannical rigour of the
Articles of War; in them, scourging is unknown. To sail in such ships
is hardly to realise that you live under the martial law, or that the
evils above mentioned can anywhere exist.

And Jack Chase, old Ushant, and several more fine tars that might be
added, sufficiently attest, that in the Neversink at least, there was
more than one noble man-of-war’s-man who almost redeemed all the rest.

Wherever, throughout this narrative, the American Navy, in any of its
bearings, has formed the theme of a general discussion, hardly one
syllable of admiration for what is accounted illustrious in its
achievements has been permitted to escape me. The reason is this: I
consider, that so far as what is called military renown is concerned,
the American Navy needs no eulogist but History. It were superfluous
for White-Jacket to tell the world what it knows already. The office
imposed upon me is of another cast; and, though I foresee and feel that
it may subject me to the pillory in the hard thoughts of some men, yet,
supported by what God has given me, I tranquilly abide the event,
whatever it may prove.


There is a fable about a painter moved by Jove to the painting of the
head of Medusa. Though the picture was true to the life, yet the poor
artist sickened at the sight of what his forced pencil had drawn. Thus,
borne through my task toward the end, my own soul now sinks at what I
myself have portrayed. But let us forget past chapters, if we may,
while we paint less repugnant things.

Metropolitan gentlemen have their club; provincial gossipers their
news-room; village quidnuncs their barber’s shop; the Chinese their
opium-houses; American Indians their council-fire; and even cannibals
their _Noojona_, or Talk-Stone, where they assemble at times to discuss
the affairs of the day. Nor is there any government, however despotic,
that ventures to deny to the least of its subjects the privilege of a
sociable chat. Not the Thirty Tyrants even—the clubbed post-captains of
old Athens—could stop the wagging tongues at the street-corners. For
chat man must; and by our immortal Bill of Rights, that guarantees to
us liberty of speech, chat we Yankees will, whether on board a frigate,
or on board our own terra-firma plantations.

In men-of-war, the Galley, or Cookery, on the gun-deck, is the grand
centre of gossip and news among the sailors. Here crowds assemble to
chat away the half-hour elapsing after every meal. The reason why this
place and these hours are selected rather than others is this: in the
neighbourhood of the galley alone, and only after meals, is the
man-of-war’s-man permitted to regale himself with a smoke.

A sumptuary edict, truly, that deprived White-Jacket, for one, of a
luxury to which he had long been attached. For how can the mystical
motives, the capricious impulses of a luxurious smoker go and come at
the beck of a Commodore’s command? No! when I smoke, be it because of
my sovereign good pleasure I choose so to do, though at so unseasonable
an hour that I send round the town for a brasier of coals. What! smoke
by a sun-dial? Smoke on compulsion? Make a trade, a business, a vile
recurring calling of smoking? And, perhaps, when those sedative fumes
have steeped you in the grandest of reveries, and, circle over circle,
solemnly rises some immeasurable dome in your soul—far away, swelling
and heaving into the vapour you raise—as if from one Mozart’s grandest
marches of a temple were rising, like Venus from the sea—at such a
time, to have your whole Parthenon tumbled about your ears by the knell
of the ship’s bell announcing the expiration of the half-hour for
smoking! Whip me, ye Furies! toast me in saltpetre! smite me, some
thunderbolt! charge upon me, endless squadrons of Mamalukes! devour me,
Feejees! but preserve me from a tyranny like this!

No! though I smoked like an Indian summer ere I entered the Neversink,
so abhorrent was this sumptuary law that I altogether abandoned the
luxury rather than enslave it to a time and a place. Herein did I not
right, Ancient and Honourable Old Guard of Smokers all round the world?

But there were others of the crew not so fastidious as myself. After
every meal, they hied to the galley and solaced their souls with a

Now a bunch of cigars, all banded together, is a type and a symbol of
the brotherly love between smokers. Likewise, for the time, in a
community of pipes is a community of hearts! Nor was it an ill thing
for the Indian Sachems to circulate their calumet tobacco-bowl—even as
our own forefathers circulated their punch-bowl—in token of peace,
charity, and good-will, friendly feelings, and sympathising souls. And
this it was that made the gossipers of the galley so loving a club, so
long as the vapoury bond united them.

It was a pleasant sight to behold them. Grouped in the recesses between
the guns, they chatted and laughed like rows of convivialists in the
boxes of some vast dining-saloon. Take a Flemish kitchen full of good
fellows from Teniers; add a fireside group from Wilkie; throw in a
naval sketch from Cruickshank; and then stick a short pipe into every
mother’s son’s mouth, and you have the smoking scene at the galley of
the Neversink.

Not a few were politicians; and, as there were some thoughts of a war
with England at the time, their discussions waxed warm.

“I tell you what it is, _shippies!_” cried the old captain of gun No. 1
on the forecastle, “if that ’ere President of ourn don’t luff up into
the wind, by the Battle of the Nile! he’ll be getting us into a grand
fleet engagement afore the Yankee nation has rammed home her
cartridges—let alone blowing the match!”

“Who talks of luffing?” roared a roystering fore-top-man. “Keep our
Yankee nation large before the wind, say I, till you come plump on the
enemy’s bows, and then board him in the smoke,” and with that, there
came forth a mighty blast from his pipe.

“Who says the old man at the helm of the Yankee nation can’t steer his
_trick_ as well as George Washington himself?” cried a

“But they say he’s a cold-water customer, Bill,” cried another; “and
sometimes o’ nights I somehow has a presentation that he’s goin’ to
stop our grog.”

“D’ye hear there, fore and aft!” roared the boatswain’s mate at the
gangway, “all hands tumble up, and ’bout ship!”

“That’s the talk!” cried the captain of gun No. 1, as, in obedience to
the summons, all hands dropped their pipes and crowded toward the
ladders, “and that’s what the President must do—go in stays, my lads,
and put the Yankee nation on the other tack.”

But these political discussions by no means supplied the staple of
conversation for the gossiping smokers of the galley. The interior
affairs of the frigate itself formed their principal theme. Rumours
about the private life of the Commodore in his cabin; about the
Captain, in his; about the various officers in the ward-room; about the
_reefers_ in the steerage, and their madcap frolickings, and about a
thousand other matters touching the crew themselves; all these—forming
the eternally shifting, domestic by-play of a man-of-war—proved
inexhaustible topics for our quidnuncs.

The animation of these scenes was very much heightened as we drew
nearer and nearer our port; it rose to a climax when the frigate was
reported to be only twenty-four hours’ sail from the land. What they
should do when they landed; how they should invest their wages; what
they should eat; what they should drink; and what lass they should
marry—these were the topics which absorbed them.

“Sink the sea!” cried a forecastle man. “Once more ashore, and you’ll
never again catch old Boombolt afloat. I mean to settle down in a

“Cable-tier pinchers blister all tarpaulin hats!” cried a young
after-guard’s-man; “I mean to go back to the counter.”

“Shipmates! take me by the arms, and swab up the lee-scuppers with me,
but I mean to steer a clam-cart before I go again to a ship’s wheel.
Let the Navy go by the board—to sea again, I won’t!”

“Start my soul-bolts, maties, if any more Blue Peters and sailing
signals fly at my fore!” cried the Captain of the Head. “My wages will
buy a wheelbarrow, if nothing more.”

“I have taken my last dose of salts,” said the Captain of the Waist,
“and after this mean to stick to fresh water. Ay, maties, ten of us
Waisters mean to club together and buy a _serving-mallet boat_, d’ye
see; and if ever we drown, it will be in the ‘raging canal!’ Blast the
sea, shipmates! say I.”

“Profane not the holy element!” said Lemsford, the poet of the
gun-deck, leaning over a cannon. “Know ye not, man-of-war’s-men! that
by the Parthian magi the ocean was held sacred? Did not Tiridates, the
Eastern monarch, take an immense land circuit to avoid desecrating the
Mediterranean, in order to reach his imperial master, Nero, and do
homage for his crown?”

“What lingo is that?” cried the Captain of the Waist.

“Who’s Commodore Tiddery-eye?” cried the forecastle-man.

“Hear me out,” resumed Lemsford. “Like Tiridates, I venerate the sea,
and venerate it so highly, shipmates, that evermore I shall abstain
from crossing it. In _that_ sense, Captain of the Waist, I echo your

It was, indeed, a remarkable fact, that nine men out of every ten of
the Neversink’s crew had formed some plan or other to keep themselves
ashore for life, or, at least, on fresh water, after the expiration of
the present cruise. With all the experiences of that cruise accumulated
in one intense recollection of a moment; with the smell of tar in their
nostrils; out of sight of land; with a stout ship under foot, and
snuffing the ocean air; with all the things of the sea surrounding
them; in their cool, sober moments of reflection; in the silence and
solitude of the deep, during the long night-watches, when all their
holy home associations were thronging round their hearts; in the
spontaneous piety and devotion of the last hours of so long a voyage;
in the fullness and the frankness of their souls; when there was naught
to jar the well-poised equilibrium of their judgment—under all these
circumstances, at least nine tenths of a crew of five hundred
man-of-war’s-men resolved for ever to turn their backs on the sea. But
do men ever hate the thing they love? Do men forswear the hearth and
the homestead? What, then, must the Navy be?

But, alas for the man-of-war’s-man, who, though he may take a Hannibal
oath against the service; yet, cruise after cruise, and after
forswearing it again and again, he is driven back to the spirit-tub and
the gun-deck by his old hereditary foe, the ever-devilish god of grog.

On this point, let some of the crew of the Neversink be called to the

You, Captain of the Waist! and you, seamen of the fore-top! and you,
after-guard’s-men and others! how came you here at the guns of the
North Carolina, after registering your solemn vows at the galley of the

They all hang their heads. I know the cause; poor fellows! perjure
yourselves not again; swear not at all hereafter.

Ay, these very tars—the foremost in denouncing the Navy; who had bound
themselves by the most tremendous oaths—these very men, not three days
after getting ashore, were rolling round the streets in penniless
drunkenness; and next day many of them were to be found on board of the
_guardo_ or receiving-ship. Thus, in part, is the Navy manned.

But what was still more surprising, and tended to impart a new and
strange insight into the character of sailors, and overthrow some
long-established ideas concerning them as a class, was this: numbers of
men who, during the cruise, had passed for exceedingly prudent, nay,
parsimonious persons, who would even refuse you a patch, or a needleful
of thread, and, from their stinginess, procured the name of
_Ravelings_—no sooner were these men fairly adrift in harbour, and
under the influence of frequent quaffings, than their
three-years’-earned wages flew right and left; they summoned whole
boarding-houses of sailors to the bar, and treated them over and over
again. Fine fellows! generous-hearted tars! Seeing this sight, I
thought to myself, Well, these generous-hearted tars on shore were the
greatest curmudgeons afloat! it’s the bottle that’s generous, not they!
Yet the popular conceit concerning a sailor is derived from his
behaviour ashore; whereas, ashore he is no longer a sailor, but a
landsman for the time. A man-of-war’s-man is only a man-of-war’s-man at
sea; and the sea is the place to learn what he is. But we have seen
that a man-of-war is but this old-fashioned world of ours afloat, full
of all manner of characters—full of strange contradictions; and though
boasting some fine fellows here and there, yet, upon the whole, charged
to the combings of her hatchways with the spirit of Belial and all


Already has White-Jacket chronicled the mishaps and inconveniences,
troubles and tribulations of all sorts brought upon him by that
unfortunate but indispensable garment of his. But now it befalls him to
record how this jacket, for the second and last time, came near proving
his shroud.

Of a pleasant midnight, our good frigate, now somewhere off the Capes
of Virginia, was running on bravely, when the breeze, gradually dying,
left us slowly gliding toward our still invisible port.

Headed by Jack Chase, the quarter-watch were reclining in the top,
talking about the shore delights into which they intended to plunge,
while our captain often broke in with allusions to similar
conversations when he was on board the English line-of-battle ship, the
Asia, drawing nigh to Portsmouth, in England, after the battle of

Suddenly an order was given to set the main-top-gallant-stun’-sail, and
the halyards not being rove, Jack Chase assigned to me that duty. Now
this reeving of the halyards of a main-top-gallant-stun’-sail is a
business that eminently demands sharpsightedness, skill, and celerity.

Consider that the end of a line, some two hundred feet long, is to be
carried aloft, in your teeth, if you please, and dragged far out on the
giddiest of yards, and after being wormed and twisted about through all
sorts of intricacies—turning abrupt corners at the abruptest of
angles—is to be dropped, clear of all obstructions, in a straight
plumb-line right down to the deck. In the course of this business,
there is a multitude of sheeve-holes and blocks, through which you must
pass it; often the rope is a very tight fit, so as to make it like
threading a fine cambric needle with rather coarse thread. Indeed, it
is a thing only deftly to be done, even by day. Judge, then, what it
must be to be threading cambric needles by night, and at sea, upward of
a hundred feet aloft in the air.

With the end of the line in one hand, I was mounting the top-mast
shrouds, when our Captain of the Top told me that I had better off
jacket; but though it was not a very cold night, I had been reclining
so long in the top, that I had become somewhat chilly, so I thought
best not to comply with the hint.

Having reeved the line through all the inferior blocks, I went out with
it to the end of the weather-top-gallant-yard-arm, and was in the act
of leaning over and passing it through the suspended jewel-block there,
when the ship gave a plunge in the sudden swells of the calm sea, and
pitching me still further over the yard, threw the heavy skirts of my
jacket right over my head, completely muffling me. Somehow I thought it
was the sail that had flapped, and, under that impression, threw up my
hands to drag it from my head, relying upon the sail itself to support
me meanwhile. Just then the ship gave another sudden jerk, and,
head-foremost, I pitched from the yard. I knew where I was, from the
rush of the air by my ears, but all else was a nightmare. A bloody film
was before my eyes, through which, ghost-like, passed and repassed my
father, mother, and sisters. An utterable nausea oppressed me; I was
conscious of gasping; there seemed no breath in my body. It was over
one hundred feet that I fell—down, down, with lungs collapsed as in
death. Ten thousand pounds of shot seemed tied to my head, as the
irresistible law of gravitation dragged me, head foremost and straight
as a die, toward the infallible centre of this terraqueous globe. All I
had seen, and read, and heard, and all I had thought and felt in my
life, seemed intensified in one fixed idea in my soul. But dense as
this idea was, it was made up of atoms. Having fallen from the
projecting yard-arm end, I was conscious of a collected satisfaction in
feeling, that I should not be dashed on the deck, but would sink into
the speechless profound of the sea.

With the bloody, blind film before my eyes, there was a still stranger
hum in my head, as if a hornet were there; and I thought to myself,
Great God! this is Death! Yet these thoughts were unmixed with alarm.
Like frost-work that flashes and shifts its scared hues in the sun, all
my braided, blended emotions were in themselves icy cold and calm.

So protracted did my fall seem, that I can even now recall the feeling
of wondering how much longer it would be, ere all was over and I
struck. Time seemed to stand still, and all the worlds seemed poised on
their poles, as I fell, soul-becalmed, through the eddying whirl and
swirl of the maelstrom air.

At first, as I have said, I must have been precipitated head-foremost;
but I was conscious, at length, of a swift, flinging motion of my
limbs, which involuntarily threw themselves out, so that at last I must
have fallen in a heap. This is more likely, from the circumstance, that
when I struck the sea, I felt as if some one had smote me slantingly
across the shoulder and along part of my right side.

As I gushed into the sea, a thunder-boom sounded in my ear; my soul
seemed flying from my mouth. The feeling of death flooded over me with
the billows. The blow from the sea must have turned me, so that I sank
almost feet foremost through a soft, seething foamy lull. Some current
seemed hurrying me away; in a trance I yielded, and sank deeper down
with a glide. Purple and pathless was the deep calm now around me,
flecked by summer lightnings in an azure afar. The horrible nausea was
gone; the bloody, blind film turned a pale green; I wondered whether I
was yet dead, or still dying. But of a sudden some fashionless form
brushed my side—some inert, coiled fish of the sea; the thrill of being
alive again tingled in my nerves, and the strong shunning of death
shocked me through.

For one instant an agonising revulsion came over me as I found myself
utterly sinking. Next moment the force of my fall was expanded; and
there I hung, vibrating in the mid-deep. What wild sounds then rang in
my ear! One was a soft moaning, as of low waves on the beach; the other
wild and heartlessly jubilant, as of the sea in the height of a
tempest. Oh soul! thou then heardest life and death: as he who stands
upon the Corinthian shore hears both the Ionian and the Aegean waves.
The life-and-death poise soon passed; and then I found myself slowly
ascending, and caught a dim glimmering of light.

Quicker and quicker I mounted; till at last I bounded up like a buoy,
and my whole head was bathed in the blessed air.

I had fallen in a line with the main-mast; I now found myself nearly
abreast of the mizzen-mast, the frigate slowly gliding by like a black
world in the water. Her vast hull loomed out of the night, showing
hundreds of seamen in the hammock-nettings, some tossing over ropes,
others madly flinging overboard the hammocks; but I was too far out
from them immediately to reach what they threw. I essayed to swim
toward the ship; but instantly I was conscious of a feeling like being
pinioned in a feather-bed, and, moving my hands, felt my jacket puffed
out above my tight girdle with water. I strove to tear it off; but it
was looped together here and there, and the strings were not then to be
sundered by hand. I whipped out my knife, that was tucked at my belt,
and ripped my jacket straight up and down, as if I were ripping open
myself. With a violent struggle I then burst out of it, and was free.
Heavily soaked, it slowly sank before my eyes.

Sink! sink! oh shroud! thought I; sink forever! accursed jacket that
thou art!

“See that white shark!” cried a horrified voice from the taffrail;
“he’ll have that man down his hatchway! Quick! the _grains!_ the

The next instant that barbed bunch of harpoons pierced through and
through the unfortunate jacket, and swiftly sped down with it out of

Being now astern of the frigate, I struck out boldly toward the
elevated pole of one of the life-buoys which had been cut away. Soon
after, one of the cutters picked me up. As they dragged me out of the
water into the air, the sudden transition of elements made my every
limb feel like lead, and I helplessly sunk into the bottom of the boat.

Ten minutes after, I was safe on board, and, springing aloft, was
ordered to reeve anew the stun’-sail-halyards, which, slipping through
the blocks when I had let go the end, had unrove and fallen to the

The sail was soon set; and, as if purposely to salute it, a gentle
breeze soon came, and the Neversink once more glided over the water, a
soft ripple at her bows, and leaving a tranquil wake behind.


And now that the white jacket has sunk to the bottom of the sea, and
the blessed Capes of Virginia are believed to be broad on our
bow—though still out of sight—our five hundred souls are fondly
dreaming of home, and the iron throats of the guns round the galley
re-echo with their songs and hurras—what more remains?

Shall I tell what conflicting and almost crazy surmisings prevailed
concerning the precise harbour for which we were bound? For, according
to rumour, our Commodore had received sealed orders touching that
matter, which were not to be broken open till we gained a precise
latitude of the coast. Shall I tell how, at last, all this uncertainty
departed, and many a foolish prophecy was proved false, when our noble
frigate—her longest pennant at her main—wound her stately way into the
innermost harbour of Norfolk, like a plumed Spanish Grandee threading
the corridors of the Escurial toward the throne-room within? Shall I
tell how we kneeled upon the holy soil? How I begged a blessing of old
Ushant, and one precious hair of his beard for a keepsake? How
Lemsford, the gun-deck bard, offered up a devout ode as a prayer of
thanksgiving? How saturnine Nord, the magnifico in disguise, refusing
all companionship, stalked off into the woods, like the ghost of an old
Calif of Bagdad? How I swayed and swung the hearty hand of Jack Chase,
and nipped it to mine with a Carrick bend; yea, and kissed that noble
hand of my liege lord and captain of my top, my sea-tutor and sire?

Shall I tell how the grand Commodore and Captain drove off from the
pier-head? How the Lieutenants, in undress, sat down to their last
dinner in the ward-room, and the champagne, packed in ice, spirted and
sparkled like the Hot Springs out of a snow-drift in Iceland? How the
Chaplain went off in his cassock, without bidding the people adieu? How
shrunken Cuticle, the Surgeon, stalked over the side, the wired
skeleton carried in his wake by his cot-boy? How the Lieutenant of
Marines sheathed his sword on the poop, and, calling for wax and a
taper, sealed the end of the scabbard with his family crest and
motto—_Denique Coelum?_ How the Purser in due time mustered his
money-bags, and paid us all off on the quarter-deck—good and bad, sick
and well, all receiving their wages; though, truth to tell, some
reckless, improvident seamen, who had lived too fast during the cruise,
had little or nothing now standing on the credit side of their Purser’s

Shall I tell of the Retreat of the Five Hundred inland; not, alas! in
battle-array, as at quarters, but scattered broadcast over the land?

Shall I tell how the Neversink was at last stripped of spars, shrouds,
and sails—had her guns hoisted out—her powder-magazine, shot-lockers,
and armouries discharged—till not one vestige of a fighting thing was
left in her, from furthest stem to uttermost stern?

No! let all this go by; for our anchor still hangs from our bows,
though its eager flukes dip their points in the impatient waves. Let us
leave the ship on the sea—still with the land out of sight—still with
brooding darkness on the face of the deep. I love an indefinite,
infinite background—a vast, heaving, rolling, mysterious rear!

It is night. The meagre moon is in her last quarter—that betokens the
end of a cruise that is passing. But the stars look forth in their
everlasting brightness—and _that_ is the everlasting, glorious Future,
for ever beyond us.

We main-top-men are all aloft in the top; and round our mast we circle,
a brother-band, hand in hand, all spliced together. We have reefed the
last top-sail; trained the last gun; blown the last match; bowed to the
last blast; been tranced in the last calm. We have mustered our last
round the capstan; been rolled to grog the last time; for the last time
swung in our hammocks; for the last time turned out at the sea-gull
call of the watch. We have seen our last man scourged at the gangway;
our last man gasp out the ghost in the stifling Sick-bay; our last man
tossed to the sharks. Our last death-denouncing Article of War has been
read; and far inland, in that blessed clime whither-ward our frigate
now glides, the last wrong in our frigate will be remembered no more;
when down from our main-mast comes our Commodore’s pennant, when down
sinks its shooting stars from the sky.

“By the mark, nine!” sings the hoary old leadsman, in the chains. And
thus, the mid-world Equator passed, our frigate strikes soundings at

Hand in hand we top-mates stand, rocked in our Pisgah top. And over the
starry waves, and broad out into the blandly blue and boundless night,
spiced with strange sweets from the long-sought land—the whole long
cruise predestinated ours, though often in tempest-time we almost
refused to believe in that far-distant shore—straight out into that
fragrant night, ever-noble Jack Chase, matchless and unmatchable Jack
Chase stretches forth his bannered hand, and, pointing shoreward,
cries: “For the last time, hear Camoens, boys!”

     “How calm the waves, how mild the balmy gale!
      The Halcyons call, ye Lusians spread the sail!
      Appeased, old Ocean now shall rage no more;
      Haste, point our bowsprit for yon shadowy shore.
      Soon shall the transports of your natal soil
      O’erwhelm in bounding joy the thoughts of every toil.”


As a man-of-war that sails through the sea, so this earth that sails
through the air. We mortals are all on board a fast-sailing,
never-sinking world-frigate, of which God was the shipwright; and she
is but one craft in a Milky-Way fleet, of which God is the Lord High
Admiral. The port we sail from is for ever astern. And though far out
of sight of land, for ages and ages we continue to sail with sealed
orders, and our last destination remains a secret to ourselves and our
officers; yet our final haven was predestinated ere we slipped from the
stocks at Creation.

Thus sailing with sealed orders, we ourselves are the repositories of
the secret packet, whose mysterious contents we long to learn. There
are no mysteries out of ourselves. But let us not give ear to the
superstitious, gun-deck gossip about whither we may be gliding, for, as
yet, not a soul on board of us knows—not even the Commodore himself;
assuredly not the Chaplain; even our Professor’s scientific surmisings
are vain. On that point, the smallest cabin-boy is as wise as the
Captain. And believe not the hypochondriac dwellers below hatches, who
will tell you, with a sneer, that our world-frigate is bound to no
final harbour whatever; that our voyage will prove an endless
circumnavigation of space. Not so. For how can this world-frigate prove
our eventual abiding place, when upon our first embarkation, as infants
in arms, her violent rolling—in after life unperceived—makes every soul
of us sea-sick? Does not this show, too, that the very air we here
inhale is uncongenial, and only becomes endurable at last through
gradual habituation, and that some blessed, placid haven, however
remote at present, must be in store for us all?

Glance fore and aft our flush decks. What a swarming crew! All told,
they muster hard upon eight hundred millions of souls. Over these we
have authoritative Lieutenants, a sword-belted Officer of Marines, a
Chaplain, a Professor, a Purser, a Doctor, a Cook, a Master-at-arms.

Oppressed by illiberal laws, and partly oppressed by themselves, many
of our people are wicked, unhappy, inefficient. We have skulkers and
idlers all round, and brow-beaten waisters, who, for a pittance, do our
craft’s shabby work. Nevertheless, among our people we have gallant
fore, main, and mizzen top-men aloft, who, well treated or ill, still
trim our craft to the blast.

We have a _brig_ for trespassers; a bar by our main-mast, at which they
are arraigned; a cat-o’-nine-tails and a gangway, to degrade them in
their own eyes and in ours. These are not always employed to convert
Sin to Virtue, but to divide them, and protect Virtue and legalised Sin
from unlegalised Vice.

We have a Sick-bay for the smitten and helpless, whither we hurry them
out of sight, and however they may groan beneath hatches, we hear
little of their tribulations on deck; we still sport our gay streamer
aloft. Outwardly regarded, our craft is a lie; for all that is
outwardly seen of it is the clean-swept deck, and oft-painted planks
comprised above the waterline; whereas, the vast mass of our fabric,
with all its storerooms of secrets, for ever slides along far under the

When a shipmate dies, straightway we sew him up, and overboard he goes;
our world-frigate rushes by, and never more do we behold him again;
though, sooner or later, the everlasting under-tow sweeps him toward
our own destination.

We have both a quarter-deck to our craft and a gun-deck; subterranean
shot-lockers and gunpowder magazines; and the Articles of War form our
domineering code.

Oh, shipmates and world-mates, all round! we the people suffer many
abuses. Our gun-deck is full of complaints. In vain from Lieutenants do
we appeal to the Captain; in vain—while on board our world-frigate—to
the indefinite Navy Commissioners, so far out of sight aloft. Yet the
worst of our evils we blindly inflict upon ourselves; our officers
cannot remove them, even if they would. From the last ills no being can
save another; therein each man must be his own saviour. For the rest,
whatever befall us, let us never train our murderous guns inboard; let
us not mutiny with bloody pikes in our hands. Our Lord High Admiral
will yet interpose; and though long ages should elapse, and leave our
wrongs unredressed, yet, shipmates and world-mates! let us never
forget, that,

     Whoever afflict us, whatever surround,
     Life is a voyage that’s homeward-bound!


*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "White Jacket; Or, The World on a Man-of-War" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.