[from A Six Day Tour, 1836]
I HAD for some time been speaking of visiting, one fine season or other, this gay little emporium of pleasure, my curiosity having been excited by the narratives of a party of neighbours who visited it in the summer of 1834, until I at length screwed up my resolution to the sticking point, and set off. Though I by no means expected to find in the Isle of Man the rich and luxuriant scenery of the midland counties of England, or the romantic beauty of the rocks and rivers of Wales, I nevertheless anticipated a little more than the mere gratification of curiosity, and at least expected to add fresh vigour and elasticity to a constitution a little over-wearied and worn, from the invigorating breeze and fresh green wave. I was in every respect very far from being disappointed.
It would be idle to dwell upon my journey to Liverpool or stay there; suffice it to say, that the hour of sailing at length arrived.
I shall not easily forget the scene which prefaced our safe arrival on board. It was nearly low water when we started, the packet was therefore some considerable distance from the pier head; we had in consequence to get out to her in boats. The shouting, bawling, pulling, tearing, cursing and swearing of the different boatmen and hired porters and partisans, anxious to get the passengers on their own packets (for there was an opposition at the time), the consternation, confusion, and dismay of the parties who were hurried and tumbled into the boats, to go, they scarcely inquired where, and, added to this, the busy and conflicting scene always to be observed on such a spot as the pier-head of Liverpool, surpassed any thing of the kind I had ever before seen.
Some people have an unlucky knack of procrastination, leaving every thing to the last minute; in their calculations of time, sailing in the wind's eye without reckoning upon contingencies; of such a turn and disposition were many now seen hurrying for the packet. There is nothing in the world so absurd or ludicrous as seeing a great lubberly fellow, running and shouting after a boat or coach, just a minute and a half or so too late. Yet there is something in the genius of some people's constitutions which precludes them from avoiding this. Do what they will, they are sure to be behind hand, and you generally behold these unhappy mortals, in a crowded thoroughfare, just coming up in time to see the coach off, puffing like a pig in a fit, and scarcely knowing how to look foolish enough; or, on the water's edge of some ferry, like the unhappy wanderers along the river Styx, shouting after Charon to no purpose to stop. "I owe every thing in life," said Nelson, "to one quarter of an hour; whenever I have any engagement, I always contrive to be a quarter of an hour beforehand.", And there is no virtue in a civilized community more desirable than punctuality. But to return.
Amidst this dense tumult of people, scenes, and circumstances, there was one poor fat old lady in the throng, whom I should have pitied much, had she not appeared, even in tribulation, so irresistibly comic. She came galloping down the slip in the dock basin, with a bundle and umbrella in one hand, and band-box in the other, as if the world only waited her arrival to be folded up like a scroll, and be consumed. Profuse with perspiration, and snorting like a walrus or spermaceti whale, she came to the end of her journey, faint and footsore, with such precipitation as to overturn half a dozen others who were peaceably getting into the boat; and they were with much difficulty saved from falling into the water. To crown this disaster, she slipped her foot over the substance of two or three rotten apples or oranges, which some vagabond vender of those articles had maliciously dropped in that particular spot, and came down with a boss that almost dislodged the messy stones of the pier from their places: but as there was no time for form or ceremony (the last bell having rung), she was, with the utmost gravity and dispatch, hoisted up and rolled into the boat simultaneously with her bundle and baggage, to adjust herself as she could. I had The curiosity to ask her afterwards, when more composed, on what important business she was visiting the Isle of Man, that she appeared so terrified at the idea of being left behind; and found that this poor old woman, who had gone through all this trouble, was crossing near eighty miles of water, and fifteen on land from Douglas to Kirk Michael, to be present at a christening.
We were now on board the " Queen of the Isle ;" the gangways were closed, and the agent, with his tickets, and the friends of parties on board coming to see them off, were returning in their boats, when the music struck up, and we bounded off,
" Walking the waters like a thing of life."
It gives one some idea of the commercial greatness of this country, even to sail down the Mersey from Liverpool to its mouth; you see the flags of a hundred nations streaming from a forest of masts in the docks along her banks, and meet in your exit vessels from every clime and country, coming to deposit their rich cargoes in this mighty emporium of trade. On some of them we could imagine we saw the glad faces of those who had been long absent from friends and country, returning once more to bless the fond anticipations of mother, sister, or brother.
" Oh, who can say how' sweet the joys of home,
To those who long have braved torn ocean's angry foam!"
We also passed others, outward bound, destined to plough the world of waters,
" Far as the breeze can bear the billows' foam,"
until, on some far distant shore, they find their ready mart.
The banks of the Mersey are, on the one side, from Birkenhead to the Fort, decorated with beautiful villas and terraces, and on the other ennobled by docks, which stretch (as if grasping at the merchandise of the world) for two miles along the shore. The coast, to the right as we pass the lighthouse, becomes flat and uninteresting; the eye scarcely recognising any other feature in the landscape than a boundless beach of sand.
At the back of the rock on which is built the Fort, is New Brighton; not by any means enticing in its appearance from the water. Facing the north west, with nothing but the trackless sea for a prospect, for ever more or less studded with sails, one might fancy the exclusive object of existence here can be nothing more than descrying vessels as they emerge from the distant horizon, recognising their flag and nation, and seeing them safely anchor home; and that the inhabitants of this monotonous abode could be no other than decayed mariners, who thus by association recounted over all their former troubles and perils, and enjoyed a similar feeling with him who, having braved the tempest, comfortably seated within doors by the side of a good fire, sees and hears the pitiless storm rage without.
This speculation was commenced, and is still continued, by an enterprising individual of the name of Atherton, who has, however, it is said, done his pocket no good by commencing a new town on a bleak and inhospitable promontory, attempting to convert a sandy waste into cultivated gardens and pleasure grounds.
As we leave the Mersey, the bold outline of the Welsh coast begins to show itself in the distance. First, the high land which borders the mouth of the Dee, and continues to the opening of the beautiful vale of Clwydd, just behind which we perceive the mother of mountains, or, in the Welsh language, "Moel Faman," with its pyramid peak, a jubilee column, built in commemoration of the fiftieth year of the reign of George the Third. This monument is one hundred and thirty feet high, and gives a beautiful finish to the range of hills which inclose the lovely "Vale of Clwydd." In continuation we have the Great Ormshead, bordering the opening of the Conway bay and liver, a few miles from which is the proposed channel harbour of St. George, or, as it was formerly called, Port Wrexham. The company for this undertaking, and for carrying a railway thence to Frodsham, has already been formed.
I remember an American captain once informing me, that he had a sailor in his ship who was on board the large American vessel which was wrecked some few years back on the Great Ormshead; and he was the only one who escaped with his life, to give information of the disaster. One very dark night, when the vessel was in full sail, he was sent by the captain to the bowsprit end, to adjust something that was wrong, when he found his feet touching dry land. He had only time to get fair on his legs, which he did with great presence of mind, when the vessel went down. She had that moment struck upon one of those jagged reefs of rocks which border this precipitous headland, immediately filled with water, and sank. He was thus providentially saved, as it were to tell the melancholy tale; he clambered up this frightful precipice, and wandered many miles before he discovered any signs of habitation. As daylight began to dawn, he reached some lonely cottage, where, however, his tale was disbelieved; but a visit to the shore in broad daylight but too sadly convinced those good people of the truth of what they had heard. Beyond the Great Ormshead, we view the giant range of Snowdonia in the dim and pale distance, scarcely perceptible from the clouds which encircle their base; above all, Snowdon himself, overlooking the world and them,
" While round its breast the rolling clouds are spread,
Eternal sunshine settles on its head."
As we lost sight of land, I began to look around me among my fellow passengers, a motley group of every nation, tongue, and kindred;too happy in not being called upon to go through the salivating penance of sea sickness. The sea being as smooth as a lake of glassin better humour than usual this toll was not exacted but from one or two individuals, tempted thereto by the smell of the engine and heat of the fire, by which they had fixed themselves very foolishly. Independent of the motion of the vessel riding over the waves, there is the short, quick, vibratory movement caused by the working of the engine, which has the greater tendency to produce nausea and derangement of the stomach. The same kind of feeling is perceptible while flying along the railroads; and were the undulating system of roads adopted, which was projected some little time back, there is no doubt that sickness would be as common in a railroad carriage as in a steamer at seaespecially when the velocity of the engine were multiplied to sixty miles in the hour, as now calculated upon by the first engineers.
It is difficult to determine how of much of fancy is there, or fear, in sea-sickness. I have known and seen some good folks sick in their own parlours in a morning, before going on board. Such is the force of the mind over the constitution. When the cholera was raging violently in one of the small towns of Germany, and the controversy as to its being contagious or epidemic ran highest, a physician, wishing to try an experiment, asked a poor man to get into a bed in which a cholera patient had died, and supported his request with the offer of a piece of money. The poor man refused; but, tempted by the offer of a still larger sum, he at last consented: in the morning he was taken with the cholera, and died. The circumstance coming to the ear of the authorities, the physician was cited before them, to answer the charge brought against him. He proved, from the most unexceptionable evidence, that no such person as a cholera patient had ever died in the bed in question, and that consequently the poor man must have died from the effects of pure fright or fancy. I recollect reading an anecdote in a journal of the French Academy of Sciences, which corroborates what I have stated. A criminal was condemned to death, and as bleeding was thought as easy a death as any other, the Academy petitioned they might bleed him to death, in order to try an experiment, in the result of which they were much interested. The man's arm was placed through a partition or wainscot up to the shoulder, and he was told that he would be bled on the other side, and that in such a time he would die; but, instead of bleeding, some little puncture was made in the arm, resembling the incision of a lances, and a stream of luke warm water was allowed to trickle therefrom, to produce the sensation of bleeding; a physician stood over him with a stop-watch, pointing the hour at which he would at last sink. The man died at the very moment prescribed, though not a drop of blood had been drawn from him. But to proceed.
We now rode gaily on our watery course, cheered from time to time by music. a tolerable batch of drummers and fiddlers, who gave us their merriest airs in succession, compensating for the want of harmony by double vigour in scraping and beating. The deck and the cabin were crowded with passengers in distinct groups, whiling away their time with cheese end porterplaying backgammonreading what spare volumes could be picked up about the cabins, or such books and papers as they might have brought with themand gazing vacantly around o'er the dark blue sea, lost in thought or feeling in the recollection of the past or anticipation of the future
" Hope still brightening days to come,
While memory gilds the past."
All were, or seemed to be, on a voyage of pleasure; there were a few invalids, indeed, scattered among the crowd, who seemed to expect, in the salubrity of the air or the freshness of the waters of Man, that restoration of their dilapidated constitutions which was denied them at home.
It is a beautiful sight to behold the porpoises playing and gamboling round the vessel in these seas. A s we gazed about us, we once or twice saw twenty or thirty keeping pace with us over the wave, as if enjoying a race. The grace and beauty of their course, as they rose and fell above or below the glassy surface, was not to be surpassed. They are generally about five feet in length. The porpoise used to be considered a great delicacy, not an entertainment passing without great junks of one of them being put upon the table, where they could be had. They have,however, in the ever-changing march of Epicurism, long since given place to the more palatable cod and turbot. Among the ancient Romans a young puppy was considered the greatest delicacy. The Chinese eat a species of beetle as a precious "morceau," exhibit at the table bears' paws and birds' nests as luxuries, and season all their dishes with assafoetida, which we might now in vain offer to the most accommodating stomachs.
" Such and so various are the tastes of men."
I can imagine with what zest and appetite long voyagers sit down to g their stated meals. Eating seems indeed to be the chief pleasure of marine existence. The rush made to the cabin, when the dinner-bell announced the happy hour, had very nearly upset (what we should not that day have forgiven) our best dish of roast beef, then in the hands of the steward. The calamity ended with one or two gents getting their pockets full of rich gravy, our teeth watering at the overflow; it was soon however replenished, and as many as could be conveniently crammed together in the cabin sat down, the satisfaction on the countenance of each demonstrating the truth of the poet's observation,
" The chief happiness of man, the hungry sinner,
Since Eve eat apples, has been a good dinner.''
From the number of passengers on board, as well as from the calmness of the voyage, it had been anticipated that the cabin would not contain one-half of the hungry. The first knife and fork had not as yet been laid, ere every stool and chair had been occupied, thus excluding, in the teeth of good breeding, every lady from the table, the feeling of each being pretty evident, "Let every one take care of himself, as the jackass said when he was dancing among the chickens." They manage things otherwise in America, and we might look to `' brother Jonathan," in this particular, as to an example. The deference and respect there paid to the ladies should be a salutary lesson even to us, who boast of our breeding and politeness.
A second table, to remedy in some measure the contracted limits of the first, was laid on the quarter deck under the awning, but the good folks who feasted above had their provisions neither hot nor cold, and at second hand. I was fortunate enough to get below, and sat down to as good a meal as I ever enjoyed in my life. The sea air is a good whetter of the appetite, better than either bitters or drams. I have heard of a Scotchman complaining of the want of appetite, who was recommended to take a few oysters about an hour before dinner, but who in vain swallowed a hundred and said he was no hungrier than when he began. There needs no foretaste of this kind on the sea.
When the wine began to circulate, the song also went round
" Thus the blest Gods the genial day prolong,
In feasts ambrosial, and celestial song."
We had now a warm altercation about the circumstances and prospects of the opposition boat. It appears one of our company was a shareholder in the rival steamer, and got (in the hurry and tumult of embarkation) into the wrong boat, and on the wrong vessel. This altercation was carried on with some spirit for about an hour, and then finished with some extravagant betting;
" For most men, till by losing rendered sager,
Win back their own opinions with a wager."
The breeze here began to freshen of a a little, and an awkward swell ensuing, placed many a poor fellow in the same position he was in before his dinner, with an empty stomach; but it soon subsided as we came under the lee of the land, and all were as comfortable as ever again, minus a meal and a few shillings.
It was five o'clock before we all adjourned from the cabin to the deck; the Island bad been some time in sight, and, as we approached, became gradually more distinct and beautiful in feature. We had also a fine view of the Cumberland hills to the east.
As we entered into the bay of Douglas, the last rays of the evening sun were tinging " tree and tower," and we but indistinctly viewed the lovely scene before us.
" We looked tip to the sky, whose floating glow
Spread like a rosy ocean, vast and bright;
We gazed upon the glittering sea below,
Whence the broad moon rose circling into light."
we shot past the pier-head into the harbour, we were hailed by the
shouts of the expectant crowds who waited our arrival, and who
appeared much delighted at our being so far in advance of the rival
steamer. An innumerable throng of all classes pressed forward to
greet us on shore, and after submitting to the ordeal of examination
by sundry dock-wollopers or custom house officers, we were soon
whirling in cabs and omnibuses along the narrow streets to our
I had been recommended to the Castle, and was received into this magnificent and once ducal mansion, with all the attention and politeness peculiar to its worthy proprietor, Mr. Heron. They were but just sitting down to dinner as we stepped into the great hall; but as we had dined on board, and I was fortunate enough to bring my dinner ashore, I asked for any chamber, where I refreshed myself by a plentiful ablution, before I ventured to look about me. It being a lovely moonlight evening, I strolled out to have an introductory peep around me. Nothing could describe the beauty of the scene from the projecting bastions which overlook the beach; at such a moment, probably, seen to more advantage than by day. The placid silence of the beautiful ocean, with its smooth unruffled surface, its retiring tide
" So calm, the waters scarcely seemed to stray,
And yet they glide like happiness an by;
Reflecting far and fairy-like from high,
The immortal lights that live along the sky."
The chastened softness of the moonlit picture has attractions which the more gorgeous glare of day might in vain assume.
" The silver light, which, hallowing tree and tower,
Sheds beauty and deep softness o'er the whole;
Breathes also to the heart, and o'er it throws
A loving languor, which is not repose."
I sat here smoking my cigar for a full hour, simply watching the moonbeams sleep on the beautiful bosom of the cradled sea.