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SHAKESPEARE AND THE SEA.
Quite recently it was suggested by didly picturesque effort of Shakethe writer of an article in the Spectator speare's genius, “The Tempest,” he that Shakespeare was now but little hurls us at the outset into the hurlyread,-that while his works were burly of a storm at sea, with all the quoted from as much as ever, the quo- terror-striking details attendant upon tations were obtained at second hand, the embaying of a ship in such weather. and that it would be hard to find to-day She is a passenger ship, too, and the any reader who had waded through all passengers behave as landsmen might that wonderful collection of plays and be expected to do in such a situation. poems. This is surely not a carefully The Master (not Captain be it noted, made statement. If there were any for there are no Captains in the meramount of truth in it, we might well chant service) calls the boatswain. regard such a state of things as only Here arises a difficulty for a modern one degree less deplorable than that sailor. Where was the mate? We can people should have ceased to read the not say that the office was not known, Bible. For next to the Bible there can although Shakespeare nowhere alludes be no such collection of writings avail- to such an officer, but this much is cerable wherein may be found food for tain, that for one person who would every mind. Even the sailor, critical understand who was meant by the as he always is of allusions to the tech- mate, ten would appreciate the mention nicalities of his calling that appear in of the boatswain's name, and that alone literature, is arrested by the truth of would justify its use in poetry.
In Shakespeare's references to the sea and this short colloquy between the Master seafaring, while he cannot but wonder and the boatswain we have the very at their copiousness in the work of a spirit of sea-service. An immediate thorough landsman. Of course, in this reply to the Master's hail, and an inrespect it is necessary to remember quiry in a phrase now only used by that Elizabethan England spoke a lan- the vulgar, bring the assurance “Good;" guage which was far more frequently but it is at once followed by "Speak to studded with sea-terms than that which the mariners, fall to't yarely, or we we speak ashore to-day. With all our run ourselves aground; bestir, bestir.” vast commerce and our utter depén- Having given his orders the Master dence upon the sea for our very life; its goes-he has other matters to attend romance, its expressions take little hold to—and the boatswain heartens up his of the immense majority of the people. crew in true nautical fashion, his lanTherein we differ widely from Ameri- guage being almost identical with that cans. In every walk of life from Maine used to-day. His "aside" is true sailor, to Mexico, from Philadelphia to San —“Blow till thou burst thy wind, if Francisco, the American people salt [we have] room enough.” This essentheir speech with terms borrowed from tially nautical feeling that given a good the sailor, as they do also with other ship and plenty of sea-room there is terms used by Shakespeare, and often nothing to fear, is alluded to again and considered by Shakespeare's country. again in Shakespeare. He has the very men of the present day, quite wrongly. spirit of it. Then come the meddlesome to be slang.
passengers, hampering the hard-pressed In what is, perhaps, the most splen- officer with their questioning and ad
vice!-until, exasperated beyond cour- In the “Twelfth Night" there are tesy, he bursts out: “You mar our labor. many salt-water allusions less Keep your cabins. You do assist the happy, beginning with the bright picstorm." Bidden to remember whom ture of Antonio presented by the Caphe has on board, he gives them more of tain (of a war ship?) breasting the sea his mind, winding up by again addres- upon a floating mast. Again, in Act I, sing his crew with "cheerly good Scene 6, Viola answers Malvolio's unhearts,” and, as a parting shot to his called for rudeness, “Will you hoist hinderers, "Out of our way, I say.” sail, Sir?" with the ready idiom, “No,
But the weather grows worse; they good swabber, I am to hull (to heave-to) must needs strike the topmast and here a little longer.” In Act V, Scene heave-to under the main-course (main- 1, the Duke speaks of Antonio as Capsail), a manæuvre which, usual enough tain of a "bawbling vessel-for shallow with Elizabethan ships, would never draught, and bulk, unprizable;" in modbe attempted now. Under the same ern terms a small privateer that played circumstances the lower main-topsail such havoc with the enemy's fleet that would be used, the mainsail having “very envy and the tongue of loss cried been furled long before because of its fame and honor on him.” Surely Shakeunwieldy size. Still the passengers speare must have had Drake in his annoy, now with abuse, which is an- mind when he wrote this. swered by an appeal to their reason Who does not remember Shylock's and an invitation for them to take hold contemptuous summing up of Antonio's and work. For the need presses. She means and their probable loss?—"Ships is on a lee shore, and in spite of the are but boards, sailors but men, there fury of the gale sail must be made. be land rats and water rats, water “Set her two courses (mainsail and thieves and land thieves-I mean piforesail] off to sea again, lay her off.” rates; then there is the peril of waters, And now the sailors despair and speak winds and rocks."-Act I, Scene 3. of prayer, their cries met scornfully In this same play, too, we have those by the valiant boatswain with “What, terrible quicksands, the Goodwins, must our mouths be cold?” Then fol- sketched for us in half a dozen lines: lows that wonderful sea-picture begin- "Where the carcasses of many a tall ning Scene II, which remains unap ship lie buried.” Act III, Scene 1; and proachable for vigor and truth. A little in the last scene of the last act Antonio farther on comes the old sea-supersti- says his “ships are safely come tion of the rats quitting a foredoomed road," an expression briny as the sea ship, and in Ariel's report a spirited itself. account of what must have been sug- In the “Comedy of Errors," Act I, gested to Shakespeare by stories of the Scene 1, we have a phrase that should appearance of “corposants"
St. have been coined by an ancient Greek Elmo's fire, usually accompanying a sailor-poet: “The always-wind-obeying storm of this kind, and in answer to deep," and a little lower down the page Prospero's question, “Who
a touch of sea-lore that would of itself firm?"
Ariel bears incidental suffice to stamp the writer as a man of tribute to the mariners,—"All but mari- intimate knowledge of nautical ways: ners plunged in the foaming brine and “A small spare mast, such as seafaring quit the vessel,” those same mariners men provide for storms." Who told who are afterwards found, their ves- Shakespeare of the custom of sailors sel safely anchored, asleep under to carry spare spars for jury masts? hatches, their dangerous toil at an end. In "Macbeth," the first witch sings
of the winds and the compass card, and speaks of the Romans finding us in promises that her enemy's husband our "salt-water girdle." shall suffer all the torments of the tem- But no play of Shakespeare's, except pest-tossed sailor without actual ship- “The Tempest,” smacks so smartly of wreck. She also shows a pilot's thumb the brine as “Pericles," the story of “wrack'd as homeward he did come." that much enduring Prince of Tyre, Who, in these days of universal read- whose nautical mishaps are made to ing, needs reminding of the allusion have such a miraculously happy endto the ship-boy's sleep in Act III, Scene ing. In Act II, Scene 1, enter Pericles, 1, of "Henry IV," a contrast of the most wet, invoking heaven that the sea, hav. powerful and convincing kind, power- ing manifested its sovereignty over ful alike in its poetry and its truth to man, may grant him one last boon,-a the facts of Nature? Especially notice- peaceful death. To him appear three able is the line where Shakespeare fishermen characteristically engaged in speaks of the spindrift: "And in the vis- handling their nets, bullying one anitation of the winds Who take the ruf- other and discussing the latest wreck. fian billows by the top, Curling their And here we get a bit of sea-lore that monstrous heads and hanging them all sailors deeply appreciate. "Srd Mish, With deaf'ning clamors in the slippery Nay, master, said not I as much, when clouds."
I saw the porpus how he bounced and "King Henry VI,” Act V, Scene 1, has tumbled? they say, they are half fish, this line full of knowledge of sea usage: half flesh; a plague on them! they ne'er “Than bear so low a sail to strike to come but I looked to be wash'd." Few thee.” Here is a plain allusion to the indeed are the sailors, even in these ancient custom whereby all ships of steamship days who have not heard any other nation, as well as all mer- that the excited leaping of porpoises chant ships, were compelled to lower presages a storm. The whole scene their sails in courtesy to British ships well deserves quotation, especially the of war. The picture given in "Richard true description of the whale (rorqual) III,” Act I, Scene 4, of the sea-bed does "driving the poor fry before him and not call for so much wonder, for the at last swallows them all at a mouthcondition of that secret place of the sea ful.” Space presses, however, and it must have had peculiar fascination for will be much better for those interested such a mind as Shakespeare's. Set in to read for themselves. Act III, Scene those few lines he has given us a vision 1, brings before us a companion picture of the deeps of the sea that is final. to that in the opening of "The Tem
A wonderful passage is to be found pest,” perhaps even more vivid; where in “Cymbeline," Act III, Scene 1, that the terrible travail of the elements is seems to have been strangely neglected, agonizingly contrasted with the birthwhere the Queen tells Cymbeline to wail of an infant, and the passing of remember
the hapless Princess. Beautiful indeed The natural bravery of your isle,
is the rough but honest heartening ofwhich stands
fered by the laboring sailors, broken As Neptune's park, ribbed and paled in off by the sea-command toWith rocks unscaleable and roaring waters;
1st Sailor. Slack the bolins there; thou With sands that will not bear your
wilt not, wilt thou? enemies' boats,
Blow and split thyself. But suck them up to the top-mast.
2nd Sailor. But sea-room, an' the
brine and cloudy billow And again in the same scene, Cloten
kiss the moon, I care not. THE CUCKOO.
Bolins, modern "bowlines," were ciently used much more than now. At present they are slight ropes which lead from forward to keep the weather edges (leaches) of the courses rigid in light winds when steering full and bye. But in olden days even topgallant sails had their bolins, and they were among the most important ropes in the ship. The Spectator.
Then we have the sea-superstition creating the deepest prejudice against carrying a corpse. And, sympathetic as the mariners are, the dead woman must "overboard straight.” Reluctantly we must leave this all too brief sketch of Shakespeare's true British sea-sympathies, for space is already overrun.
few people beside William Wordsworth have found the charm of mystery in the cuckoo. "Shall I call thee bird or but a wandering voice?" he asked, and as we are told by Mr. Justin McCarthy, the sentiment made a profound impression on John Bright. In fact, the cuckoo is a poetical and metaphysical puzzle, eluding the observation of the naturalist and defying the analysis of the philosopher. Though comparatively seldom seen, he is always very much in evidence. The moment he lands on our shores, he is clamorously announcing his arrival, and he goes on reminding us that he is always there, till his chaunt breaks away in the hot flush of summer. “The harbinger of spring” is his popula: designation, and he figures conspicuously in the poetry of the seasons. Other bards besides Wordsworth and Logan-the author of "The Braes of Yarrow”-have sung his praises in immortal verse, and when Gilbert White, once in a way, dropped into poetry, he sang of the vagrant cuckoo's tale. The reckless and erratic habits of the light-hearted rover have always enveloped him in an atmosphere of romance. There is nothing more picturesque in “Lavengro," than Jasper Petulengro's apothegm, where he compares the vagrant cuckoo to the gypsy.
Even phlegmatic rustics have always appreciated him. In the olden time, that is to say about a couple of generations ago, he was honored as the incarnate spirit of song among the Pe. nates of each rural homestead and self-respecting cottage. The cuckooclock with its eternal and monotonous chime stood enshrined in the passage or at the bottom of the stairs. No sooner had he made his April appearance than all the village urchins were imitating his note, which, indeed, needs nothing of the vocal versatility of the mocking-bird. For, as Paganini made his reputation on a single string, so the character of the cuckoo's performance is severe simplicity. That he is the most self-satisfied of all musicians is self-evident. But the strange thing is, that as he pleases himself, so he always holds his audience spellbound. We have been listening to an enchanting silvan concert. Blackbird and thrush have been singing in touch, and the swelling spirit of emulation has only enriched the blend of the harmony; by way of interlude the nightingale has been trilling out solos in Italian roulades, and from the distance, as from a bassoon in the orchestra, comes the softened bass of the ringdove, abruptly broken off and as abruptly recommencing. All of a sudden the cuckoo cuts
in, and nothing can seem in worse taste tempt to locate him, he has boxed the or less in sympathy. The impulse is to compass and crossed the vale. exclaim, “Turn him out," but as the Truly he is a wandering voice and venerable Abbot in Ardtonish Halls also a mystery. Like other erratic anu was impelled to bless when he arose adventurous characters, he has been to curse, we are compelled to change the subject of wild fables and strange our note-which the cuckoo does not- fancies. Indeed, there is no knowing and the call for ejection dies away in where to have him or how to study an "encore."
him. Other birds are monogamous, or The truth is, there is a deal of senti- the matrons at least are domestic in mental association in it all, and there their habits at certain seasons of the is much in that stock phrase, the herald year. After confinement, or when the of the spring. We have been shivering cares of a young family need attention, through a dreary winter, between Madame Thrush and the more roving leaden skies and reeking meadows, and pheasant hen are always to be found with the searching March winds, that at home. Their mates, forever foragcurdle the marrow, despondency is ing for food, might be models of the passing into despair. We waken one most overworked père de famille. The fine week to a wonderful transforma- cuckoos of both sexes cast family anxition scene, with bursting leaves and eties to the winds. The male leads the blowing apple blossoms. Beneath life of a roving libertine, and though heaven of blue at last, we cast our it cannot be proved that he is faithless ulsters 'with our Jaeger underwear, and to a wife, to say the least he is open to again the blood is coursing through suspicion as a gay Lothario. Skimming the veins. The sense of exhilaration is hedges and copses, keeping instincthe stronger for the sharp reaction, as tively out of sight, he can indulge in we take our walks by the country lanes indiscretions without the slightest fear and field paths. The yellow green of of compromising himself or a lady. the swelling foliage takes a subdued Nor is his light-minded love likely to reglow in the sunblaze; the wild flowers proach him. No smart mother on the are breaking out in the vernal flush; outskirts of Belgravia has a more probanks watered by the land springs are found detestation of the nuisances of gemmed with the primrose tufts; beds maternity. Her habit, by the way, of of hyacinths show blue in the coppices; dropping her eggs promiscuous shows. cowslips and even orchids are already how much of a mystery the cuckoo has showing their heads in the meads; and been, even to such close observers of the brackens breaking through the car- Nature as Gilbert White. He assumes, pets of fir needles are already unrolling as matter of course, that his correspontheir silvery fronds. With the enjoy- dent, Daines Barrington, wonders how ment springs up a craving for some ex- the hedgesparrow can be induced to. pression of sympathy, and there the sit "the supposititious egg withhilarious cuckoo chimes in. Was it out being scandalized at the vast, disfancy or only a vocal allusion? You proportionate size." As matter of fact, pause and listen again for “the two- by a provision pandering to follies, fold shout." Yes, there it is again, which we should scarcely have exthis time there is no doubt, for the pected of Providence, the one egs is berald of the spring sounds his joyous little bigger than the other. But that trumpet with a breezy vigor of jubila- beneficent arrangement having been tion, unimpaired by the Channel pas- made in her favor, the next puzzle is sage. While you stand in a futile at- how she managed to lay the egg in a