A Steam Trip to Hamburg

The world is about equally divided into two parts; viz. the first and most unfortunate part, who have made trips by steam; and the other, whose ill-luck is to come, and who have not yet been subject to the "vapours." Both of these divisions of society will be equally interested in my narration; one will see a faithful delineation of what they have already suffered, and the other will be enabled clearly to apprehend what, when their time comes, they will have to undergo. Not that I wish to deter anybody from such undertakings, inasmuch as there will be a degree of naval heroism in anybody who ventures his person after he has become fully aware of his necessary calamities. I need not say that this will give him a high station in society, and that, if he announces in a tolerably loud voice at a dinner-table that he has made a long trip by steam, more than one eye-glass will be devoted to a survey of him. This is no mean advantage, and not to be lightly lost.

Before I state what happened to me in particular, I just wish to say half-a-dozen words about the sea in general. The sea has been described by a great natural historian as

"The sea! the sea! The bright and open sea!"

Now, I differ from this description altogether. The sea is undoubtedly "the sea,"—there's no denying that; but that it at all comes up to the jaunty débonnaire character indicated by the rest of the description, I absolutely traverse. In my mind it is a boisterous "dissolute companion," whose bad example corrupts the most respectable characters. Only see how our gentlemanlike, quiet old friend, Father Thames, forgets himself when he falls into bad company. Gentlemen from Shad Thames and the Barbican, who have been to Margate, know very well what his conduct is. Instead of moving quietly along, as he has done all the way from Lechlade in Gloucestershire, no sooner does he get within hearing of the noise his bad acquaintance is making, than it seems as if Old Nick possessed him. He begins splashing, and dashing, and foaming about, just as if he had never seen a weeping willow or the Monument in his life; and exchanges his white-bait for porpoises, and his stately swans for cantankerous sea-gulls, whose pleasure seems to increase in proportion to the tumult. And, not contented with his own misconduct, he involves all the gentle company he has brought with him in the common disorder: there is the Loddon tossing about as if it had been a cataract all its life; the Mole seems to forget all about Mickleham Valley, and how quietly it has been accustomed to behave there; and the Kennet and Avon, which have come all the way from the Wiltshire Downs, where they were born in stillness among the Druids, take just as much upon them, and are as noisy, as if they had derived their parentage from a well-frequented metropolitan pump. No more need be said to prove the audacious character of this "agitator," whose inflammatory conduct makes everybody that comes in contact with him, as bad as himself. I should not have said so much about it, but I want to put down the sea, which, owing to gross misstatements and  vile flattery, has acquired a credit and notoriety which it does not deserve; and this ought to be stopped, as it misleads people.

Having made up my mind to go to Hamburg, I bade adieu to my fond friends; and, having settled my London affairs, I prepared to go, and went.

At twelve p.m. on the night of Tuesday, August 13, 1836, it was my unhappy lot to emerge from hackney-coach No. 369, the number of which I had taken, knowing the state of my mind, for the better preservation of my valuables; fearing that, in my dread of approaching evils, I might forget either my valued trunk or my respected hat-box. Having emerged, my next act was, to ejaculate in as sonorous a voice as my flabby energies permitted, "Boat a-hoy!"

This cry brought to me a waterman of an "ancient and fish-like" appearance, who, for the filthy lucre of gain, agreed to transport my person and packages on board the Steam Navigation Company's steam ship, Britannia, carrying his majesty's mails, "warranted to perform the journey in fifty hours;" with a steward on board, and numerous other enticing particulars duly set forth in the bill of her performances. For all these advantages, the Steam Navigation Company expected no greater return than five pounds lawful money of Great Britain,—an expectation which I satisfied to the proper extent, and considered myself very fortunate.

Probably feeling much embarrassed by my gratitude on this occasion, I must have betrayed some little passing emotion on ascending the side of the vessel; as the naval person who offered me his hand as an assistance, took occasion to observe, "Never mind, sir; you'll soon be all right." Scarcely feeling entire confidence in this gentleman's statement, I entered the "splendid saloon," on the tables of which were the remains of certain spirituous liquors; faint and distant traces of which, ascending from below, enabled me to attribute their consumption to the various gentlemen there deposited, who were to be my fellow-passengers. "Below" is a very nasty, unpleasant, underground word of itself; but when it is coupled with the vile concomitants which a sea "below" embraces, it is still more distasteful.

Diving down the stairs with the sad impression that I had taken my last farewell of the upper world, I found my way to No. 14, which was the number of the "berth" in which I was to bestow, and did bestow accordingly, myself and luggage.

Before getting into bed, I thought I would see who and what the victims were, who were to be offered up on a common altar with myself.

I could, however, see nobody, as the curtains were all closed; and, therefore, trusting to the chance of finding somebody awake, I hazarded the general inquiry of "I beg your pardon, sir; did you speak?" There was, however, no reply; but certain of them snored lustily, and one, more portly than his fellows, puffed withal as though he were a grampus. Feeling I had made a vain attempt at opening a communication with my neighbours, I was obliged to undress myself, and get into bed with the unsatisfactory feeling that I might be drowned in company with twelve or fourteen individuals without even knowing their names.

And here allow me to observe that different people appear to have taken various views of the meaning of the term "bed," taken as a  simple term. One gentleman apprehends it to mean a four-posted, ample convenience, provided with downy cushions and suitable appurtenances, wherein he may roll himself about, at pleasure, and enjoy all recumbent attitudes with freedom. Another, with less luxurious views, erects a dormitory with a circular roof, of smaller size, and less accommodations and comforts; and this, under the Christian name of "tent," is his "bed." There are also other sorts of beds, each differing from the others in comfort and appearance, in various degrees.

Most of these are extremely consistent with the personal comfort of the individual adopting them; but the "bed-maker" of the crib which I now occupied, had departed widely from all these well-approved and convenient plans, and conceived the comforts of a bed to consist in the following items:—one narrow, short trough of deal or oak plank, as may be; one mattress of half the same size, stuffed tightly with an unelastic, unyielding substance called "flock;" one oblong pillow of the same material and consistency; two blankets rather shorter than the mattress; two sheets rather shorter than the blankets; one counterpane rather shorter than the sheets; each declining in a sort of gradual progression, so that, if there had been fifty of them the last would have ended in a piece of tape, or a penny riband.

Making myself into as small, and the clothes into as large a heap as I could, just as one does with one's foot in a tight boot, I tranquilly awaited our departure, which was announced as punctually at two a.m.

I must do them the justice to say that there never was an execution conducted more punctually to the moment for which it had been promised. As the clock struck two, a clanking of chains, which sounded just as if they were knocking off my fetters in another prison for the last time, and a continued shouting and tramping overhead, announced that they were weighing "the anchor." If it were half as heavy as my heart, how it must have fatigued them! We could hear—or rather I could hear (for it did not seem to wake the snorers or him who puffed)—all the din and hallooing above, just as well as if we had been on deck. Somebody kept swearing at somebody else, which somebody else seemed to take in very bad part, as I heard him say, "I arn't a going to put up with no gammon from a feller like you, as doesn't know an umbreller from a spring ini'n."

I didn't exactly believe that there could be anybody in these march-of-intellect days, incapable of distinguishing an umbrella from a spring onion, and therefore I felt this to be most unjustifiable abuse, whomsoever it was addressed to; but it was no business of mine, and I didn't care how much they abused each other, if they had only done it in a lower tone of voice, so as not to disturb me.

When the "tumult dwindled to a calm," a splash and a hiss, accompanied by the moving of the vessel, gave me intelligence that we were "off." As we dropped down the river, memory recalled the peaceful recreation of dining at Blackwall on white-bait; while certain matters which occurred at a Greenwich fair, stared me accusingly in the face.

Amid these reflections I fell into an uneasy slumber, which lasted till six, broken at intervals by various thumps on the deck, which seemed directed immediately at my head below. In the morning "the pie was opened, and the birds began to sing;" that is to say,  my companions began to draw their dingy little curtains back, and gradually to unfold themselves. I found we consisted of fourteen souls and bodies,—ten Germans, and four of the same free and enlightened nation of which I have the honour to be a component part.

We chatted till about seven; and then one got up, and another got up, and, lastly, I myself got up and dressed; not, however, without a feeling that I had better have left well alone. When I got up on deck, I asked a sailor, "How's the wind?"—"Dead agin yer," was the satisfactory reply. I wasn't surprised.

While I dressed, I paid due attention to a request posted up over the washing-stands, "That gentlemen should refrain from throwing their shaving-paper into their basins, as it stopped up the pipes, and increased the smell of the cabins." This of itself seemed a tacit acknowledgement of the existence of a very agreeable concomitant to our comforts,—as you can hardly increase a thing which did not previously exist; indeed there was no doubt about that, without any notice.

When we had all got up stairs by different instalments, after pacing the decks a little, we received a summons to breakfast. I endeavoured to sham an appetite, but it was no go; so I ate sparingly, being most distrustful of the future.

"Waiter!" cried one of the English,—a short, stout gentleman, in a dressing-gown,—"bring up the parcel in front of my berth."

"Sart'nly, sir!" replied the smart handman.

Up came the parcel; and, as I had heard the demand, I had the curiosity to see what came of it. The parcel turned out to be a nice brown-bread loaf, off which the owner cut a small slice, and carefully put it on a plate by his side. His neighbour on the other side then began talking to him, which diverted his attention from the loaf. His other neighbour, who had not seen where it came from, wanting some bread, and finding it at his elbow, helped himself; and a man, a little lower down, said,

"May I trouble you for the bread?"

"With pleasure, sir;" and another slice went, and so on, till the last remnant came round to the man who sat opposite the rightful owner, who was talking away still, with his friend, as if they had been settling the tithe question. He took the bit left, and began devouring it; and a pause having taken place in the conversation opposite, he said to the loaf-proprietor,

"For myself, I like brown bread just as well as white; what do you say?"

"Why, I prefer it; and, not knowing that we should get it on board, I took the precaution of bringing a loaf with me, big enough to last me all the——"

As he spoke, he turned to illustrate his remark by showing the size of his loaf, when, to his dismay, he found nothing but the empty plate. I never shall forget his face. He first of all turned to the man who had addressed him, and into whose capacious mouth the last morsel was vanishing:

"Confound it, sir! that's my bread you're eating!"

Then to his next neighbour on his right:

"Was it you who took my loaf, sir?"

"Your loaf, sir? Who are you?"

"Yes, sir! I repeat, my loaf; my brown loaf."

"I certainly took a loaf, sir, and a brown loaf, which stood next to me; but whether it was yours or not I can't say; and I believe everybody else took it too!"

"Why, then it's gone!" It was.

Breakfast being over, we had but little to do, and nothing to divert our thoughts from our mournful position. I went fidgeting about, asking how the weather was. The answers were delightful. The wind was so violent and adverse that the captain thought it useless to go out to sea, and therefore intended to "bring up"—ominous term!—in Owesly Bay, near Harwich. The rain drove me into the "splendid saloon," which I would have bartered for a cellar in Fetterlane; and, after half an hour's doubt and wonder whether I was going round the world, or the world round me, I felt it not only prudent, but necessary, to seek greater privacy; and, after much sorrow and tempest of spirit, I got into my comfortable bed.

The captain was as good, or rather as bad, as his word. He "brought up" in Owesly Bay, and I will say no more than that the force of example was astonishing. How long we waited about in that sad bay, I cannot exactly say, as I had become insensible to the nice distinction between tossing up and down, and pitching and rolling at anchor, or going on. It was enough, and too much for me, that we did toss up and down, and pitch and roll.

So ended Wednesday the 14th. We were intended to arrive at Hamburg at two o'clock on Friday morning; but the adverse wind, and bringing up, seemed to throw a doubt over this.

Still it was not impossible, if the wind abated. Thursday morning was ushered in by numerous inquiries as to where we were. We were more than gratified by being told "Much where we were last night." This was told to me, who felt that I had signed a lease for my life, extending only to Friday, at two A.M., as the longest possible time I could hold out; and that after that time the lease would be up, and I should be ejected from my mortal tenement.

The Germans who were on board ate and drank heartily, and wanted me to get up and shave. I thought that the chance of being drowned was enough, without the certainty of cutting my throat from ear to ear, which I should inevitably have done if I had attempted to use a razor in the state of the vessel's movements. They endeavoured to get me up, by touching my national pride.

"What! an Englishman afraid?" said they.

"No," answered I; "but very sick."

Thursday heard many groans, and, if it had eyes, might have seen many strange sights.

Friday morning, two A.M.—the promised period of our arrival at the haven of our hopes—found us still wide at sea; and it was not till Friday evening that we heard the news that we were off the mouth of the Texel, one hundred miles from the Elbe, which was our destination. We were then in that sort of reckless state that we regarded distance as nothing,—one hundred miles seemed to me, much the same as one thousand; and I opened and shut my mouth in the agonies of despair, and something worse.

All this time I had continued in bed, eating what they brought me, not from any relish or appetite, but on the principle that if you are in  a den with a roaring lion, and have a leg of mutton to give him, it is prudent to do so; and there was in my den with me an intolerant and savage spirit, which treated me exceedingly ill when I gave it nothing to wreak its fury upon, and showed but little gratitude when I did, either declining the proffered gifts, or only receiving them to render me more dejected by a speedy and contemptuous return.

Saturday morning early, we heard, with as much joy, and with as much interest as we could feel in anything, that we should soon be in the Elbe, and in tolerably smooth water. What ideas these sailors have of smooth water! I wonder if they ever look in a washing-basin?

As I lay waiting for the smooth water, I could not help anathematising those deceitful vagabonds, the poets, who write very pretty and pleasing lines about a tender affair they call a zephyr, and describe it as "softly sighing on a summer's eve," "lightly dancing on the moonlit lake," "mildly breaking over the bending corn," and a variety of agreeable and amiable habits. But these worthy gentlemen, who write in a comfortable arm-chair, little know the change which takes place in their sighing friend when a dozen or two of them club together to make a gale of wind for an afternoon's amusement. I wish I had had a score of these same poets on board,—the world would never have heard anything from them again about "bending corn!" A zephyr bears about the some proportion to a gale of wind as a Vauxhall slice of ham does to the "whole hog." However, all evils have an end, and ours began to conclude a little; for certainly I seemed to get a little better, and was well enough when we passed Heligoland—which is an island in the possession of his most gracious majesty, whom Heaven long preserve!—to sing lustily, and like a true Briton as I am,

"Send him victorious, Happy and glorious, Long to reign over us, God save the king!"

I then dressed myself, the water being still too rough to allow me to do anything but cut my throat with my razor; and went on deck, where I soon afterwards enjoyed the sight of green fields, and the villas which ornament the banks of the Elbe, with a most satisfactory view of Hamburg at no great distance.

And, now that I have brought myself to dry land, do I make a vow never again to make a long sea-voyage,—always excepting "leaving my country for my country's good," which may happen; but the Britannia, if she chooses "to rule the waves," never shall have me as an accomplice again, though

"The bark be stoutly timber'd, and the pilot Of very perfect and approv'd allowance."