Music Of The Waters - online book

Sailors' Chanties, Songs Of The Sea, Boatmen's, Fishermen's,
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352             Music of the Waters.
possibly because he is not without a tincture of education. Hard wear has attenuated his prejudices, and custom has lost its hold upon him. It would be difficult now, I should think, to find in any forecastle such a superstitious sea-dog as the old salt who, in Dana's ' Two Years before the Mast,' agreed with the black cook as to the malignant and wizard qualities of the Finns. Familiarity with the grand liquid amphitheatre into which he descends and toils for his bread may have helped to rob the modern sailor of what I must call the romantic features of the seaman's nature. In olden times the voyage was long, the art of navigation crude and halting, the wonders of the deep were many, at least, they were found so ; a man passed so long a while at sea that he was saturated with the spirit of it. Superstitions, salt as the billow from which they were wrought, begot peculiar forms of thought; customs grew out of the strange fancies and interpretations, and that they should now be dead means simply that they flourished for centuries, and that they died very hard at last. How wide the difference is between the shipboard life of the mariners of the past and that of the present race of seamen may be collected by looking into a few of the customs which are now as extinct as the timbers of Noah's ark. In the seven­teenth and eighteenth centuries it was a practice on board Italian and Spanish, and possibly Portuguese ships, for the sailors, on crossing the equator, to erect a canopy on the forecastle, under which three seamen, absurdly dressed, seated themselves. One was called the president, the others judges. They started first with trying the captain, then the officers, and finally the passengers. A sailor, dressed up as a clerk, read the indictments, after which the judges pronounced sentence of death. Careri, in his ' Voyage round the World,' explains the purpose of this tomfoolery. 'The sentence of death,' says he, 'was imme­diately bought off with money, chocolate, sugar, biscuit, flesh, sweetmeats, wine, and the like.' The best of it was that he who did not pay immediately, or give good security,







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