Read MORTON : CHAPTER IX of An Old Sailor's Yarns , free online book, by Nathaniel Ames, on

Alexander. They say he is a very man per se, And stands alone.

Cressida. So do all men, unless they are drunk, sick, or have no

Charles Morton, whom we have somewhat abruptly introduced to our readers, and exhibited for two or three chapters, without much explanation, was the only surviving child of a wealthy merchant in one of the sea-ports in the southern part of Massachusetts. He had received a liberal education, as a collegiate course of studies is at present, and in many instances most absurdly, called. Morton could, however, lay a just claim to be called liberally educated. He went to college without contemplating to pursue either of the three learned professions, but merely to acquire a more intimate acquaintance with the classics, history, belles lettres, and mathematics, than it was then supposed he could obtain elsewhere. People begin to think differently at the present period, and have a faint sort of notion that a boy can become qualified for the every day duties of life, or for practice in the three professions, without having received a diploma from a college, exclusively controlled in all its attitudes and relations by one particular sect of religion, or passing four years of “toil and trouble” in another university, where he is kept wallowing and smothering in the darkness of metaphysics or the more abstruse and higher! branches of mathematics; both sciences as utterly useless to him in any situation of life as a knowledge of the precise language that the devil tempted Eve in, and which some ecclesiastical writers have laboured to prove was High Dutch. I have been several times to different parts of the East Indies, and on more than one voyage have kept a reckoning out and home, assisted in taking lunar observations and those for determining the time and variation of the compass, and without knowing any more of algebra, fluxions, or conic sections, than a dog knows about his father.

After Morton had had the sacred A. B. “tailed on” to his name at a grand sanhedrim of solemn blacked-gowned fools, sagely called a commencement, because a youngster there finishes his studies, he felt a strong desire to visit “the round world and them that dwell therein,” and, like many New England youth, not only then but within my own observation and time, and before the signature of the august “praeses” was dry on his sheep-skin diploma, was entered as an under graduate in a college of a somewhat different description the forecastle of a large brig bound on a trading voyage up the Mediterranean a school not one whit inferior to old Harvard itself for morality, and one where a man, with his eyes and ears open, might acquire information fifty times more valuable than any that could be drilled into him at any learned seminary whatever a knowledge, namely, of the world and of human nature.

This habit, if it can be called one, of exchanging the quiet of a college room for the bustle and privations of a sea-life, is not near so prevalent now as it was several years since; and yet I have known many instances, and have repeatedly met, in merchantmen and men of war, men who have received a collegiate education, and have known one case, on board of an English line-of-battle ship, the Superb, of a dissenting minister, a foretopman, who could clear away a foul topsail-clewline, or explain an obscure passage in Scripture, with equal facility and address, and was both a smart seaman and a smart preacher:

“As some rats, of amphibious nature,
Are either for the land or water.”

It is a pity our professional men do not travel more, especially clergymen, who, though generally learned men, are not deep in the knowledge of their own species. Of course I do not apply this remark to the Methodist clergy; as their vagabond life makes them but too well acquainted with the weaknesses of one portion of the human race, while the alarming and arbitrary dominion they thereby acquire over the minds, bodies, and estates of both sexes, is beautifully illustrated in the trial, not many years since, of a reverend gentleman of oil of tansy and hay-stack celebrity.

Morton’s first voyage was rather a long one, but it introduced him to the most interesting portion of the world, the nations bordering upon the Mediterranean, while his knowledge of the Latin language was of no small advantage to him in acquiring a knowledge of the Spanish and Italian an advantage that he certainly did not think of, when he was plodding through Virgil and Horace, Cicero and Tacitus. He returned from his first voyage a thorough practical seaman, and more than tolerably acquainted with European languages. He rose in his profession, and might at the time we introduced him have commanded a ship; but a sudden desire to go at least one whaling voyage seized him, and a whaling he accordingly went. In person Morton was above the middling height, some inches above it, in short he had attained the altitude of five feet eight inches my own height to a fraction. Like most young men born in New England, and who choose a seafaring life, his frame had acquired a robustness and solidity, his countenance a healthy brown, his chest a depth, and his shoulders a breadth, that are each and all considered and with justice by the present generation, as irrefragable proofs and marks of vulgarity. But folks thought otherwise thirty years since, and, however incredible it may appear, there are actually now in existence a great many painters, sculptors, anatomists, and perhaps as many as a dozen women, who persist in thinking that a human being looks much better as God made him, after his own image, than as the tailor makes him, after no image in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth. Forty years since, ladies did not by tight lacing crush and obliterate all symptoms of fulness in the front of the bust, nor did gentlemen stuff and pad their clothes till they resemble so many wet-nurses in coats and breeches.

It was the established rule with novel-writers, and that until very lately, to represent their heroes as tall grenadier-looking fellows, never under six feet, and as much above as they dared to go, and keep within credible bounds. “Tall and slightly but elegantly formed,” was the only approved recipe for making a hero. So that a black snake walking erect upon his tail, provided he had two of them, or an old-fashioned pair of kitchen tongs, with a face hammered out upon the knob by the blacksmith, would convey a tolerably correct idea of the proportions of the Beverleys, and Mortimers, and Hargraves, of a certain class of novels. Sir Walter Scott, Mr. James, and most of the best writers, have disbanded this formidable regiment of thread-paper giants, and we now see courage, manly beauty, talents, wit, and eloquence, reduced to a peace-establishment size, instead of those long-splice scoundrels, that used to go striding about our imaginations, like Jack the giant-killer in his seven-league boots, kicking the shins and treading on the toes of every common sized idea that came in their way.

It was also considered indispensably necessary, that the heroine should be “as long as the moral law,” and accordingly we heard of nothing but “her tall and graceful figure,” “her majestic and commanding height,” &c. &c. Let those who prefer tall women take them; for my part, I wish to have nothing to say to such Anakim in petticoats: conceive the embarrassment and confusion of a common sized bridegroom compelled, before a room-full of company, to request his Titan of a bride to be seated, that he might greet her with the holy kiss of wedded love! On the other hand, it was by no means unusual to represent the heroine as a mere pigmy; so that the lovers whose destinies we were interested in, might be represented by the following lines from an old sea-song, which, for the benefit of musical readers I beg leave to observe, is generally “said or sung” to the tune of “The Bold Dragoons:”

“He looked like a pole-topgallant-mast,
She like a holy-stone.”

Thank Heaven! the taste for this species of writing has “had its day,” and we have something better in the place of it. Bulwer has indeed tried very hard to compel the public to admire murderers and highwaymen, and our own dear, darling Cooper, the American Walter Scott, has held up for admiration and imitation sundry cut-throats, hangmen, pirates, thieves, squatters, and other scoundrels of different degrees, showing his partiality and fellow-feeling for the kennel; and, if he had not at last, as we say at sea, “blown his blast, and given the devil his horn,” would have managed to set the whole female portion of the romance-reading community to whimpering and blowing their noses over the sorrows of Tardee and Gibbs the wholesale pirates and murderers, the loves of Mina the poisoner, the trials of Malbone Briggs the counterfeiter, or the buffetings in the flesh that Satan was permitted to bestow upon the old Adam of that god-fearing saint, Ephraim K. Avery.

The hero of a novel of the by-gone class was always and ex officio a duellist; and though the best English writers err against morality and religion in following this absurd track, it may be urged in extenuation of their offence, that duelling is generally considered in Europe as part of a gentleman’s education and accomplishments, and in this country to refuse a challenge brands a man with everlasting infamy, though the crime is held in the most profound speculative abhorrence, and every state has a whole host of theoretical punishments, never inflicted, for the violation of its equally theoretical laws, that are daily evaded, outquibbled, or broken, with impunity.

Morton’s countenance we have taken the liberty to describe elsewhere. His disposition was naturally cheerful and mild, his temper even, and not easily provoked. Although somewhat inclined to taciturnity, yet when drawn out to converse upon any subject he was acquainted with, he was naturally fluent, and in his language pure and correct. He was a universal favorite with the youth of both sexes in his native town, and, during the intervals between his voyages, was always in demand when a Thanksgiving ball was contemplated, or a sleigh-ride, or a “frolic,” as all such parties of pleasure were and still are called in New England. At sea he was always beloved, by both officers and seamen, for his nautical skill and good-nature. Notwithstanding the confinement that his duties made unavoidable, he had managed to make himself acquainted with men and manners, and, during the many leisure hours that those engaged in the whale-fishery always find, he had amused himself with drawing for which he possessed a natural talent, reading, and keeping a sort of memorandum of different occurrences and his reflections upon the habits of the different nations he visited, and was, in short, one of those somewhat rare but still existing prodigies, a well educated, well informed gentleman with a hard hand and short jacket, many individuals of which nearly extinct species of animals I have had the singular good fortune to fall in with during my voyage through life.