Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation.It is quite as much as I can do to take care of myself, without taking care of ships, barques, brigs, schooners, and what not.And as for going as cook,—though I confess there is considerable glory in that, a cook being a sort of officer on ship-board—yet, somehow, I never fancied broiling fowls;—though once broiled, judiciously buttered, and judgmatically salted and peppered, there is no one who will speak more respectfully, not to say reverentially, of a broiled fowl than I will.It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all.Now, when I say that I am in the habit of going to sea whenever I begin to grow hazy about the eyes, and begin to be over conscious of my lungs, I do not mean to have it inferred that I ever go to sea as a passenger.Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.
And, doubtless, my going on this whaling voyage, formed part of the grand programme of Providence that was drawn up a long time ago.
Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. —Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries. Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries—stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region.
Some leaning against the spiles; some seated upon the pier-heads; some looking over the bulwarks of ships from China; some high aloft in the rigging, as if striving to get a still better seaward peep. Should you ever be athirst in the great American desert, try this experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical professor.
For to go as a passenger you must needs have a purse, and a purse is but a rag unless you have something in it.
Besides, passengers get sea-sick—grow quarrelsome—don’t sleep of nights—do not enjoy themselves much, as a general thing;—no, I never go as a passenger; nor, though I am something of a salt, do I ever go to sea as a Commodore, or a Captain, or a Cook.
The transition is a keen one, I assure you, from a schoolmaster to a sailor, and requires a strong decoction of Seneca and the Stoics to enable you to grin and bear it. What of it, if some old hunks of a sea-captain orders me to get a broom and sweep down the decks?