The Sinking Ship
by Robert Louis Stevenson
“Sir,” said the first lieutenant, bursting into
the Captain’s cabin, “the ship is going
“Very well, Mr. Spoker,” said the Captain;
“but that is no reason for going about half-shaved.
Exercise your mind a moment, Mr. Spoker, and you will see that to
the philosophic eye there is nothing new in our position: the
ship (if she is to go down at all) may be said to have been going
down since she was launched.”
“She is settling fast,” said the first lieutenant,
as he returned from shaving.
“Fast, Mr. Spoker?” asked the Captain.
“The expression is a strange one, for time (if you will
think of it) is only relative.”
“Sir,” said the lieutenant, “I think it is
scarcely worth while to embark in such a discussion when we shall
all be in Davy Jones’s Locker in ten minutes.”
“By parity of reasoning,” returned the Captain
gently, “it would never be worth while to begin any inquiry
of importance; the odds are always overwhelming that we must die
before we shall have brought it to an end. You have not
considered, Mr. Spoker, the situation of man,” said the
Captain, smiling, and shaking his head.
“I am much more engaged in considering the position of
the ship,” said Mr. Spoker.
“Spoken like a good officer,” replied the Captain,
laying his hand on the lieutenant’s shoulder.
On deck they found the men had broken into the spirit-room,
and were fast getting drunk.
“My men,” said the Captain, “there is no
sense in this. The ship is going down, you will tell me, in
ten minutes: well, and what then? To the philosophic eye,
there is nothing new in our position. All our lives long,
we may have been about to break a blood-vessel or to be struck by
lightning, not merely in ten minutes, but in ten seconds; and
that has not prevented us from eating dinner, no, nor from
putting money in the Savings Bank. I assure you, with my
hand on my heart, I fail to comprehend your attitude.”
The men were already too far gone to pay much heed.
“This is a very painful sight, Mr. Spoker,” said
“And yet to the philosophic eye, or whatever it
is,” replied the first lieutenant, “they may be said
to have been getting drunk since they came aboard.”
“I do not know if you always follow my thought, Mr.
Spoker,” returned the Captain gently. “But let
In the powder magazine they found an old salt smoking his
“Good God,” cried the Captain, “what are you
“Well, sir,” said the old salt, apologetically,
“they told me as she were going down.”
“And suppose she were?” said the Captain.
“To the philosophic eye, there would be nothing new in our
position. Life, my old shipmate, life, at any moment and in
any view, is as dangerous as a sinking ship; and yet it is
man’s handsome fashion to carry umbrellas, to wear
indiarubber over-shoes, to begin vast works, and to conduct
himself in every way as if he might hope to be eternal. And
for my own poor part I should despise the man who, even on board
a sinking ship, should omit to take a pill or to wind up his
watch. That, my friend, would not be the human
“I beg pardon, sir,” said Mr. Spoker.
“But what is precisely the difference between shaving in a
sinking ship and smoking in a powder magazine?”
“Or doing anything at all in any conceivable
circumstances?” cried the Captain. “Perfectly
conclusive; give me a cigar!”
Two minutes afterwards the ship blew up with a glorious