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J. W. McGarvey
Lands of the Bible (1881)


Engraving of J. W. McGarvey



L E T T E R   I.


      ON Saturday last, March 1st, I completed the fiftieth year of my age. On Sunday I delivered a parting discourse before a large concourse of my neighbors and brethren, and on Monday, at 3 P. M., I started on my long voyage. To bid my friends a suitable farewell was beyond my power. I did what I could. The tears of many, the good wishes of all, and the fervent prayers that were pledged for me and mine, made me feel ashamed that I am not more worthy of such love. But the fiery trial came on Monday when the carriage drove to the door, and the moment came for bidding farewell to my own home and household. I had already been up-stairs in my library to take a last look there, and as I gazed upon the rows of familiar books I said within myself, "Good-by, my dear old friends; and if I never see you again, God bless you for the good you have done me and the happy hours we have spent together." I next went to the kitchen to bid farewell to the servants. Faithful Jim had that morning expressed an earnest desire to go with me, and when I told him that a whale might swallow him as one swallowed Jonah, he said, "If he do I can't help it. I want to go, anyhow. I ain't never seen nothin', and I want to see somethin' before I die." He promised me that he will do all that he can for my wife while I am gone, and I know that he will. When I bade farewell to him and Fannie, the cook, I had to stop in the porch [387] and lean against the post awhile before I approached my weeping family. If it had been the hearse at the door, waiting to take me to the cemetery, there could scarcely have been more grief.

      But I must draw a veil over that scene. When I reached the dépôt, bade farewell to some friends who had gathered there, among them a large number of students, and took my seat in the coach, I was oppressed with such sadness as I had never felt before on leaving home. I gazed with dim vision on the good town as it receded from my view, and the last objects that caught my eyes were the green pines and the white monuments of the cemetery, with the Clay monument rising high above the lofty trees. It struck me at once to ask myself, "Is this an evil omen? Already our first-born lies sleeping there, and shall another of my little flock or some of my dear friends be laid there ere I return?" And while I thought on these things I began almost to envy the traveler who has no friends, no wife, no children.

      My companions are my cousin, Frank Thomson, a young farmer from near Lexington, and W. B. Taylor, of Elizabethtown, Ky., a former student of the Bible College, of Bethany College, and of Virginia University.

      Our good ship, the "Pennsylvania," left her dock at Philadelphia at precisely eight o'clock Thursday morning, the 6th, and as she turned her bow down the Delaware River passengers on the ship waved their handkerchiefs to friends more numerous on the shore, while the ship herself saluted the city with a shot from her brass cannon. Two friends in the city had come with us to the vessel and given us their benediction; so, having no other friends in sight to salute, I lifted my handkerchief high, and, giving it a wide sweep, I said to Frank, "Here's to Lexington!" After standing on deck until the city had faded away in the distance, until sloops and brigs and steam-tugs and ship-yards had been passed, and the eye had grown weary with gazing upon unaccustomed objects, we retired to our rooms to arrange them as our temporary homes. We were fortunate enough, on account of the small number of passengers aboard, to have an entire room apiece. We had thought it preferable to be all in one room until we saw how small the rooms are, and then we were glad of the separation. We had wisely limited our amount of baggage to a single hand-valise and a heavy shawl for each.

      At Cape Henlopen we saw about a dozen sailing-ships lying at anchor within the breakwater which the United States government has erected there for want of a good harbor. They were freighting vessels awaiting orders, and ready to sail whenever trade could be found. The [388] cape is a low ridge of bare sand making out into the mouth of the bay, with a light-house on its point and some other buildings scattered about. Cape May, the celebrated bathing-place, is just 12½ miles distant to the northeast, and the space intervening is the mouth of Delaware Bay. Two pilot-boats were riding off the light-house at Cape Henlopen, and into one of these the pilot who had thus far directed our ship's course was transferred by means of a yawl. Here we witnessed for the first time the perilous descent by a ladder let down the side of our ship into the yawl, which tossed and danced on the waves 15 feet below. The pilot, after descending the ladder, watched his opportunity and leaped--at the apparent risk of bruises or broken bones--into the yawl, seized its rudder-oar, and was rowed swiftly away to the little pilot-boat awaiting him.

      Our parting from the pilot was our entrance into the Atlantic Ocean. It occurred at 4 P. M. Before night closed in the water had become our horizon on every side, the ship seeming to lie in the hollow of a vast basin. The sky, which was bright in the morning, had become overcast with gray clouds, and we retired to our berths not knowing what to expect, but knowing that in this blustering month of March foul weather was more to be looked for than fair.

      On Friday morning I arose early, and ascending to the deck, found all of our sails set, a high breeze blowing from the northwest, and our bow set to the east. While standing near the aft pilot-house (our ship has two pilot-houses, one forward and one aft) I received my first taste of salt water. The sea was already boiling, and a wave of the larger size, breaking flat against the windward side of the vessel, sent a shower of spray across the deck, sprinkling some of it in my face. The ship had begun to roll a little, so that I had to be careful of my steps, but I remained on deck till eight o'clock, our breakfast hour, feasting my eyes and my soul on the new and wonderful scenery. The waves were not rolling but boiling, and every one, after swelling up to a high point like the peak of an isolated hill, crowned itself with a cap of white foam and then subsided. I had expected to see some of the "rolling billows" of which I have read so often, but I have seen not one. The waves were not rising in long ridges and rolling along at regular intervals, but they rose and fell as if they were upheaved by a force beneath them, and it was only their general inclination in one direction which seemed to the eye as if caused by the wind. They rose, too, in endless variety of size and shape. As you look over them from your high perch on the deck they appear like a continued succession of hills and knobs and peaks in a range of mountains, without a single ridge [389] of long and smooth outline in view. As I sat and gazed on these waves I discovered new beauties continually. The sea-water at the vessel's side appeared as black as ink, but as each wave swelled up toward a point, and the light passed through it just beneath its white cap, its hue was changed to the most beautiful emerald-green. When the sun shone out these gleams of emerald appeared on the top of every wave just before its subsidence, and along the wake of the vessel, where her propeller had broken the watery hills into little hillocks, there was a long succession of green and black and purple spots, alternating and deepening in color with the distance. I wondered what there could be in a scene of such beauty, and in the life-like motions of the noble ship, to make anybody sick. I felt as if I never could be sick with such objects in view. But when the gong sounded and I went down to breakfast, I observed that most of the seats at the table were vacant. I sat down amid the congratulations of the captain and a passenger opposite me on my freedom from sickness thus far, but I had taken only a sip or two of my coffee, when my seat was also made vacant, and I retired with as much dignity as I could to the deck. During the remainder of Friday and all of Saturday I was sick, sick, sick. I didn't say "Oh my!" nor did I hear anybody else say it.2 This expression seems to have passed out of date since Mark Twain went abroad. Our company said nothing at all. No language was adequate to the occasion. A sudden paleness, a firm compression of the lips, and a hasty retreat toward the rail, were the only signs of woe by which we could distinguish each others symptoms. By Sunday morning I was relieved of my sea-sickness, but I was completely worn out. The breeze of Friday had steadily increased until it had become a heavy gale. The ship had reeled to and fro like a drunken man, and all the passengers had been tossed about without mercy. In the worst period of my sickness I had been thrown against a table-leg, barking one of my shins, and then tossed back against the edge of a bench, nearly crushing in two of my ribs. But I was now able to eat a little breakfast, and my symptoms steadily improved. All day Sunday we were in a storm. The wind blew furiously; rain and hail and snow fell alternately; the tops of high waves broke over the vessel and deluged some part of its deck every few minutes; one of our life-boats, perched four feet above the deck on strong iron supports called davits, had been dashed to pieces by one of them; and I saw another burst in the door and window of the rear pilot-house and flood it with water. [390] As a number of us sat in the companion-way gazing with awe upon this terrific scene, I took from the lap of one of the ladies her Episcopal Prayer-Book, and, turning to the 107th Psalm, read aloud to the company the following passage:

"They that go down to the sea in ships,
 That do business in great waters,
 These see the works of the Lord
 And his wonders in the deep.
 For he commandeth and raiseth up the stormy wind,
 Which lifteth up the waves thereof.
 They mount up to the heavens,
 They go down again to the depths.
 Their soul is melted because of trouble,
 They reel to and fro,
 And stagger like a drunken man,
 And are at their wits' end.
 Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble,
 And he bringeth them out of their distresses."

      It struck us all as an exact description of the scene before our eyes, and it illustrates the wonderful fidelity to nature which is everywhere found in the Bible.

      I asked the captain, the next morning, how high he supposed the highest waves were on Sunday, and was surprised at his statement that they were at least 40 feet high, and that he had never seen waves rise higher. He had been compelled to turn out of his course a little and run somewhat before the gale, in order to prevent the waves from dashing too squarely against the side of the vessel; and he remarked that very few ships have strength enough to hold as near to the wind in such a storm as ours did. It was not until I heard these and similar remarks that I realized how severe the storm had been. I had watched the scene with the deepest interest, and even with delight. I had found a strange, wild pleasure in seeing the waves dash over the vessel, and seeing the vessel herself at one moment lift her leeward bulwarks 30 feet above the water, and at another lean over until she dipped them beneath the foaming wave. The only hindrance to my enjoyment was the difficulty of either walking, standing, sitting, or lying down. In my berth, whether by day or by night, I was rolled about and bumped against the back, and bumped against the front, with arms tired from holding on, and knees sore from bracing them against the sideboard to keep me from rolling on the floor. Sitting was worse than trying to prop yourself on a one-legged stool, and as for standing, if you wish to realize it on land, try to stand on a see-saw, close to the fence, [391] when two lively boys are riding on the ends. It was not till Tuesday morning, the sixth day out, that I got my "sea-legs" on, completely rigged. When I went on deck that morning the breeze was still a stiff one, and the waves were pitching high in the air, but the wind was more astern and the ship was rocking instead of rolling. I found that I could walk like a sailor, and I felt not a little proud of it until I found that all the other passengers could do the same. For the first time since the rough weather had set in I walked forward to the forecastle. The water was now a deep indigo-blue, with the same intermingling of green and purple which I had seen before. I leaned against the bulwarks and gazed upon the waves as they parted before the sharp prow of the ship, and as the vessel rose and fell, bringing me now within 10 feet of the water and in another instant lifting me 30 feet above it, I was again reminded of the see-saw, but now I was out on the end of the plank, and I felt like a boy again, saying,

"Now we go up, up, up,
 Now we go down, down, down."

      And when I did go up, if my eye was on the water beneath, I felt as if I were bidding the waves farewell, and were about to mount away to the clouds; or if my eyes were on the horizon, it would expand as I arose, bringing wave beyond wave into view, until it would seem as if I were about to see to the ends of the earth.

      During all the raging of the storm I had a complete sense of safety, and such was the prevailing feeling among the passengers. Though the vessel rolled and tossed, and mountainous waves were continually breaking against her iron sides and often flooding her decks, and even dashing their spray high up against her sails, she neither groaned nor sighed nor quivered. There was none of that creaking and moaning of the ship's timbers about which the voyagers in wooden vessels have so much to say. There was no disturbing sound, except when the stern of the vessel would rise high as a wave sank low, and the propeller, momentarily left out of the water, would whirl with prodigious velocity, sending a tremor through the ship and startling us with its fearful rattle. All else was solid, and all the officers and men were so quiet, orderly, and respectful, both to us and to one another, that it appeared almost impossible for us to be harmed by wind and water. Commend me forever to Captain Harris and his crew and the good ship "Pennsylvania."

      The most surprising thing about the mechanism of these iron steamships is the steadiness with which their vast machinery is kept in position. [392] The boilers of the "Pennsylvania" are 17 feet long and 12 feet in diameter; and there are three of them. It has two engines, one of them 5 feet in diameter and the other 7½ feet, while each has a piston-stroke of 4 feet. The propeller-shaft, running back from these to the stern of the vessel,--about 100 feet,--is of solid iron, about 20 inches in diameter. The weight of all this machinery is enormous, and the massive engines stand upright above the water-line; yet, amid the rolling and tossing of the vessel in the roughest weather, there is no more disturbance of the position or working of any of the parts than in a good flouring-mill on the solid ground.

      We were saddened on Monday morning to learn that during the previous night a steerage passenger had jumped overboard and been lost. He was an Irishman, and professed to have been a school-teacher in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. He was intoxicated when he came on board, and continued so. He attracted my attention the second day out by approaching me on the deck and begging me to drink with him. I told him that we had both drunk enough for one day, and that he had better not drink any more, or the captain would lock him up in a dark place. After he was lost the ship's doctor told me that he had locked him up twice to keep him from harm. He arose about one o'clock at night, went on deck, and leaped over the windward side of the vessel when she was rolling in a heavy gale. He was seen by the watch, and the ship was stopped; but the sea was too rough to launch a boat in search of him, so we passed on, carrying with us another warning for those who tamper with wine.

      Since the storm subsided we have had delightful March weather. The ship's piano, the captain's flute, and several indifferent voices have been taxed to entertain us; pleasant conversation usually kept us at the table till after the waiters had removed the cloth; lively walks on the deck in the cool, bracing air gave us exercise; and, taking it all in all, we were beginning to feel very much at home when the nearer approach of land excited a new impatience.

      Our voyage was a lonely one. We saw very few sails, and we met only three steamers. We saw no living thing in the water, and the only living thing in the air was the flock of sea-gulls by which we were followed on tireless wings from shore to shore. They are about the size of a crow, with wings shaped like those of a hawk. They are a pure white, except the upper side of the wings, which is gray, and the tips of the wings, which are black. Their wings are almost as thin as those of a bat, and they poise themselves as lightly in a heavy gale as a hawk can in the still air of [393] summer. They follow the ship for scraps of food which they find in her wake. I one day asked an Irish sailor, "Where do the gulls rest when they are tired of flying?" He waved his hand toward the sea and answered, "Out there on the sailor's grave." I paused a moment, struck with the poetry in his answer, and then asked, "Why do you call it the sailor's grave? There are not many buried there." "Och," said he, "I wish I had a dollar for ivry one." The boatswain, who overheard us, added, "And I wish I had a cent for every one." "But," said I, "In these days of steamers they don't drop you in the sea; they take you to shore and bury you." "No, indade," said the Irishman, "the sailor don't want to be buried in the ground; it is too cold."

      I cannot resist the temptation to describe a peculiar kind of dress-parade which I witnessed on March 14th. I remark, by way of introduction, that our ship has ten lifeboats, five on each side of the deck. They are about 18 feet long, 5 feet wide, and 3 feet deep. Each is kept constantly supplied with a keg of fresh water securely lashed in its place; with a water-tight compartment always full of fresh sea-crackers; and with a full supply of oars ready for use. They each rest on an iron framework above the balustrade at the edge of the deck, and can be readily thrown outward and downward until they hang just outside the balustrade and even with its top rail, ready for passengers and crew to step into them and be lowered in an instant into the water. Underneath each of these boats lies a separate apparatus called the life-raft. It consists of two large logs, if you name them by their appearance, about 12 feet long and 2 feet in diameter, lying four feet apart, with an open framework of plank filling the space between and holding them together. The logs are not wood, but solid masses of cork. In the midst of the connecting framework are two water-tight compartments, one filled with bread and the other with drinking-water. Captain Harris had some of them opened for us, and gave us some of the bread to try, which we found good and sound. On these rafts, when in use, the passenger is expected to sit or lie as best he can, and it seems quite certain that as long as he does either he cannot sink, in any storm. They are lashed to the deck, to be cut loose when the ship is about to sink, or to be thrown overboard, as the occasion may require.

      Now for the fire-drill. At half-past four in the afternoon the bell rang out a fearful fire-alarm. The passengers were in the secret and on deck to witness the scene. The instant the bell sounded there began to pour forth from the officers' and seamen's gangways four [394] streams of men running with all their might. As they rushed forth each man took his station, which he knew from previous drills and personal instruction. Within less than a minute 90 men, four times as many as we had seen before, were on deck and distributed, a group at each boat, a group at each of the four fire-hoses, a group with axes on their shoulders ready to cut anything at word of command, the captain on his bridge amidships, and an officer with a speaking-trumpet at each end of the ship facing the captain. Before we had time to comprehend all these movements,--sooner than a common steam fire-engine could get out of its engine-house,--four large streams of water were playing, each from a hose long enough to reach to any part of the ship. In another moment or two the boats began to drop to the gunwale, and we were almost tempted to complete the performance by jumping into them. In the mean time the stewardess was at her post at the head of the saloon, ready to stop and calm any frightened ladies, while the stewards and cabin-boys were at the foot of the gangways to prevent any passengers from passing out until the word should be given.

      When the imaginary fire was extinguished, at the word of command all things were promptly restored to position again, and the little army of men and officers disappeared from the deck, except those on watch, almost as suddenly as they had appeared. I concluded that this ship, which I already regarded as almost proof against water, was certainly proof against fire. I was not surprised to learn that the owners of it take out no fire-insurance policy.

      A drill such as I have described occurs on every trip, so as to keep the men in perfect training, and an officer passes through the ship every half-hour, both day and night, to see whether all is well.

      It is gratifying to my pride of country to find such perfection of mechanism and discipline and safety in ships which are built and owned in our own country, and which sail under the American flag. I am humiliated, however, to know that of the 20 or more lines of weekly steamships now plying between our Atlantic ports and the ports of Europe, only the ships of the American Steamship Company of Philadelphia were built in American waters and sail under the American flag. And I am annoyed by the information that the chief cause of this banishment of our flag from the steam marine of the world is unfavorable legislation on the subject by our own Congress. When will our public men abandon the study of party politics and begin the study of the country's true honor and glory?

      On Sunday morning, the 16th, at about ten o'clock, we came in [395] sight of land. The first point in view was a high mountain-peak, said to be a naked rock projecting into the sea with deep water at its base. After this a long ridge of mountain-coast gradually came into view, and we found ourselves running parallel to the southern coast of Ireland, but seeing it at a very dim distance.

      This was our last day in the Atlantic. Captain Harris invited the passengers to seats in the saloon, and, after distributing prayer-books among us, he proceeded in a very earnest and impressive manner to read the Episcopal service for the day. This service is often read at sea by officers who are profane and intemperate. Under such circumstances I would not think it proper to even be present; but the constant demeanor of Captain Harris was in harmony with the service of the hour, and I really enjoyed it. It is remarkable how the entire tone of a ship's crew is regulated by that of her commander. I did not hear on the "Pennsylvania" a single oath or angry word, from officer or man, from shore to shore.

      We came off Holyhead, the first land sighted in Wales, on Monday morning, the 17th, at half-past eight. It is a bold, rocky promontory jutting out a few miles into the water, and marking the entrance into the Irish Channel. It is marked at night by two light-houses. These guides to the mariner who approaches the rocky shores by night are strewn so thickly along the coast that you are never out of sight of them. Every one has some peculiarity, too, by which it is distinguished from every other. Some shine with a steady light so many seconds, and then go out so many; some with a flash-light, flashing at certain intervals; some with a light steadily increasing and then diminishing; and some with an unvarying beam. All these are described in books which are carried by every ship, so that a commander, on his first visit to any shore, may know every light that comes into view. Sometimes there is a dangerous rock far out in the water, whose position cannot be marked by a light on shore. If such a rock rises above the water, a light-house is perched upon it; if not, a small ship is anchored near it and a suitable light is suspended from her masthead night after night, the keeper making his home in the ship through winter and summer, sunshine and storm. Indeed, man is fast making the ocean a pliant servant; and, though he may never be able to say to it, "Peace, be still," it seems that he will be able to say: Go on your way, wild wind and waves, and, in spite of your fury, I will go on mine.

      From Holyhead to the mouth of the river Mersey, on the bank of which Liverpool is situated, we sailed against a head-wind and a rain. It was the most disagreeable day to be on deck that we had in our [396] entire voyage. A bar at the mouth of the Mersey compelled us to "lay to" about two hours, waiting for the tide to rise. What a pity that the entrance into one of the most important ports in the world is thus obstructed! We entered the Mersey about four P. M. and steamed thence to Liverpool, about 15 miles, through a dense English fog. The tide was still too low for our ship to enter the docks, so a tender (a small side-wheel steamboat) came to us in the middle of the river to receive the passengers and their baggage. On this tender were three brethren, who introduced themselves to me, and presented to me a number of letters written by various friends in England. They took us through the hands of the custom-house officers quite speedily, and then conveyed us in a cab to the house of the venerable G. Y. Tyckle, well known to the Disciples in America, where we were entertained as cordially as if we had been princes of the blood.

      It was quite a relief to know that one long reach of our journey was in the past; that the Atlantic Ocean was behind us and its dangers stored away among the things of memory.

      1 These letters were originally published simultaneously in three weekly religious newspapers, The Christian Standard, Cincinnati, Ohio; The Apostolic Times, Lexington, Ky.; and The Christian, St. Louis, Mo. They are here reproduced with some alterations and additions. [387]
      2 See Innocents Abroad. [390]


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Lands of the Bible (1881)

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