Thursday, October 20, 2016

1865 Travel

Below you'll find an excerpt from Last journal of the Rt. Rev. George Burgess, D. D.: bishoop of Maine,

Dec. 27,1865. — After several mild snows and rains, as the year was drawing towards its close, a westerly wind scattered the clouds, and gave us a gentle entrance on our voyage. The friends who attended us to the vessel, and lingered on board, saw gladly the bright omens towards the setting sun. How various a scene, and sometimes how touching, is the pier from which a steamer, bound for a foreign port, swings herself off, true almost to the minute! There stands a family group in mourning; all serious, the younger in tears : how easy to guess the history of their parting ! There are young men and women who have come down to give a cordial farewell to some companion whom they almost envy the delight of travel. The mercantile gentlemen, well-trimmed, intelligent, prompt, mount to the deck as if they took their places in the omnibus. The choked train of vehicles on the pier, with the sometimes swearing drivers, has been released. The last policeman has finished his work about the vessel, whatever it was. The plank is drawn ashore; the great mass moves ; the voyage is begun. As she wheels around, and leaves behind her all those friendly faces, and hats are lifted, and white handkerchiefs are waved as long as the eye can discern them, it is one of those scenes which the merest stranger would love to retain in memory.

The departing and arriving steamers cross each other's way with a whistle of proud and kind salute. A few moments have carried us beyond the sight of the familiar towers, steeples, and lines of ships. Half an hour more bears us beyond the suburban houses on the shore, the hospitals, the fortresses; and now we pass that long sandy line with its termination of white waves, and we are out, with the boundless sea on one side, and on the other the receding shores, over which, as evening closes in, a light-house now and then glitters. It is a moonlight night, neither cold as winter might claim, nor rough beyond the mildest usage of ocean ; and all this transient household of various bloods, who sleep to-night within these floating walls, lie down with little discomfort, though mostly satisfied with the attitude of repose. I write with ease till a late hour. *

Dec. 28. —So passed the first night; and the second day bore us easily upon a sea that still tossed but gently. The sky was a little overcast; a little rain fell; but those who were not sick could walk the deck pretty freely; and the air was mild: no need of gloves for warmth. We were far out of sight of the shore; and we saw no vessel. The ladies of the party were generally absent from the table, but without great suffering. The wind drew towards the west; and the western sky, at sunset, was red with the hues of promise. " Glory to thee, my God ! this night."

People in the same ship become easily acquainted. The universal need of companionship makes itself felt; and, when the ordinary restraints are lifted for a time, something appears of the sentiment which " makes the whole world kin." Conversation which might at other times be little courted is then agreeable; and characters which would otherwise have been never appreciated, become objects of real regard.

Dec. 29. — The second night carried us quietly beyond Cape Hatteras; and, at noon on the following day, it appeared that more than five hundred miles had been accomplished. A little rain would drive us to shelter; and then, again, we could sit and walk, and see the low waves, with their white crests, rise and fall around us as far as the horizon. Other vessels passed us, from Wilmington, perhaps, or Charleston. I delivered letters of introduction to two passengers, and read a large part of a book on " Adam and the Adamite," lent me by an English gentleman from Barbadoes. Between sleep and the four meals, a little conversation, a little reading and writing, and the sources of private meditation, the day and the night glide on easily, if not rapidly, and mingle themselves with eternity.

Dec. 30. — The fourth day brought us to warmer skies, and to seas about as calm as a lake, but traversed by no visible bark but ours. We saw the little nautilus sail; we passed among the fleets of leaping porpoises ; we noticed the tracks of the flying-fishes; we admired the white pinions of the sea-gull, which had followed us all the way ; and we exulted in the glory of the tropical clouds ranged like white Alpine battlements all around the horizon, or attending the magnificent sunset. Down plunged the sun indeed in haste beneath the waters; but the soft, rich, green metallic hues which were left along his path in the west were such as were never quite known at the north.

I became acquainted on that day with a gallant general of the United States army ; and with a lady who was my townswoman, and nearly allied by marriage to a family to which my family was similarly allied.

Dec. 31.— The next day was the Lord's Day, and both the last day of the year and, in effect, of our voyage, which closed a little after midnight. We had passed in the forenoon close along the Florida Reef, with the long, low shore, and occasionally a tall beacon in sight. A fine ship, lately wrecked, lay near us on her beam-ends, stripped and worthless. We saw several steamers, and seemed to be on a highway of the seas. Although ill prepared for so much exertion of the vocal organs, still, when I found that some were expecting from me a service, I could not but offer one, brief and imperfect; but it may have its blessing. In the afternoon, we ran at once from the fair green waters that skirt the coast and hide the shoals, into the deep and very beautiful depth of the Gulf Stream. The sea became rougher, and the western sky was hidden at sunset; but a glorious moonlight filled the night and ended the year.

Jan. 1. — At a quarter past one, on the morning of the first of January, the whistle of the steamer bade her strong arms rest, and announced the land, " the harbor, the Havana." There she lay quietly till the morning light, when she steamed in between the strong castle of the Morro, on the left, and a work of some strength on the right. The passage is narrow ; and the harbor deep, long, but not otherwise very spacious. It was pretty well thronged with vessels of different nations ; but the red and yellow of Spain and of Cuba much predominated. The steamers are obliged to anchor at a distance from the pier, so that they have still to land their passengers by small boats.

But once landed, without unusual bustle or confusion, and having submitted to the Custom-House examination, and parted from several friends of the voyage, we have leisure to look around on the strangely foreign scene. For, at first sight, Havana is not only Spanish, but Moorish, Oriental, Chinese, American : all races and all hues mingled in its population, and crowding each other in its narrow streets. The cooley helped to land our baggage ; the Chinaman was there, with his peculiar look of old acquaintance: negroes of every degree of blackness ; mulattoes with that blackness softened down to every degree ; the dark olive of the tropics, the light hair of the North, — all not only meet us, but are thrown together as if in one crowd, to the eye of the stranger.

We arrive at our hotel. The broad, high passage at the entrance leads into the court or quadrangle ; and we ascend, on the right, a staircase equivalent to two stories of most well-built houses. The whole front is occupied with a handsome drawing-room; the rear, with a pleasant parlor: and a gallery connected with these goes around the court, and opens on each side into the rooms of the guests. From this gallery we look down into the court below, where, as well as under the adjoining arches which uphold the chambers, the tables are spread for each group of guests, all thus having their repasts in the open air. Above, a ceiling of windows were all opened to the sky. The house, once the residence of a noble Spanish family who own it, continually suggests thoughts of a palace, a fortress, or a prison. The windows, like all others here, are heavily grated; the shutters and doors are massy and thick ; brick or stone pillars sustain the galleries ; marble or brick pavements form the floors ; the flat roofs are tiled ; and on one of these, for the time, a room was assigned to us, where the welcome breeze comes from the sea above the houses of the city. We look down upon a wilderness of ragged battlements and picturesque walls, every house being painted with some bright color, — blue, yellow, white, green, red, — all that loves the sunshine.

I was obliged to take a boat, and return to the steamer for a very precious Bible which I had left behind ; and, after this, contented myself with resting from the voyage. After dinner, which is after dark, the gentlemen and ladies are accustomed to ride for pleasure, which, in the present moonlight, is more endurable. This day was excessively warm, even for Havana ; the mercury being at 85° in the shade.

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