|From Sail to Steam
Naval Recollections, 1878-1905
72 FROM SAIL TO STEAM
In March, 1880, I was promoted to the rank of Post-Captain, after being eight and a half years a commander. This was an unusually long time, as promotions were going at that date; but it was entirely my own fault, for going to such a sloping billet as the Asia, moored in Portsmouth Harbour.
However, I had enjoyed three winters hunting with the Hambledon hounds, and now two winters of about the best wild shooting in the world. Nobody could take these things away from me. I had had my fun, and had no cause to grumble. But if it is true that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, it is also true that it is quite possible (in the Navy at any rate) that the opposite to this may be carried too far. In the piping times of peace there is great temptation to do so, especially for those who are abnormally fond of open-air sports, and I must frankly admit that I succumbed to the temptation.
My advice to young commanders is, " Don't slope, but stick to your job." Which sounds quite like one of the moral maxims for a child's copybook. I could write dozens of them. It is so very easy to give good advice, and so very hard to follow it. So that one can quite sympathize with the " merry monarch " who never said a foolish thing and never did a wise one.
As soon as my relief arrived from England I packed
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up my traps, said good-bye to my dear little Rapid, in which I had spent two such delightful years, generously gave away my bear and my dogs - as I could not take them with me - and started for home. But as I expected to be at least two or three years on half-pay, I was in no hurry to get home, and intended to take it easy, travelling through Italy and visiting some of the cities I had been hearing about all my life, but never seen.
I left Constantinople in the Pachino, a very slow and ancient Italian steamer of the Florio Rubitino line, which took, ten days getting to Messina, where I got into a fast vessel that took me to Naples. The Pachino called at numerous islands in the Agean and at Smyrna, and for the first few days we were very comfortable, as there were only three or four passengers besides myself. But at Smyrna we embarked a crowd of Greek pilgrims. There must have been nearly a hundred of them, and a more filthy, evil-smelling set of savages I have never come across in all my travels. I had to go below three times a day to get some food; but barring this I lived on deck and slept in the coil of a hawser on the forecastle. Fortunately the pilgrims were only on board for two days, during which there was no rain. Had it been otherwise I feel sure I should have been seasick.
It would be a downright insult to the swine family to call these Greeks pigs.
There was a large United States cruiser lying at Smyrna, and late on the evening of the day on which the Pachino was to sail at midnight, I found my way into a gambling-place, in which there were about a dozen American officers. It was roulette, with a rollup cloth and a rickety-looking spinning affair, and I have little doubt that it was not a permanent
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business, but got up specially for the " benefit " of the Americans.
When I arrived there were only two or three playing, and the rest were walking about the room, with their pockets turned inside out, making use of strange language.
I played, and in a very short time I had been allowed to win seventeen pounds' worth of French gold. I say " allowed," as I feel sure the whole business was a swindle, and that I was only used as a bait to try and get the Americans to go on again. However that may be, I stopped playing and said I must leave; but this did not at all meet the views of the rascally-looking Levantine who was running the table. He never intended that I should carry off any of his gold, even after using me as a bait. Ungrateful wretch! But I was firm, and as I saw some whispering going on between the master of the ceremonies and his assistants, I left promptly, and still more promptly when I got to the door; for I ran like a hare until I got to the landing-place, jumped into a boat, and got safely on board the old Pachino.
This was the only time in my life that I won, finally, at roulette, and this was in the nature of a mistake, as it was not intended that I should win; but I found seventeen pounds' worth of French gold very useful in Italy.
When I landed at Naples it was the first time I had set foot on Italian soil, though I had already looked down upon the plains of Lombardy from the summit of Monte Rosa, on which occasion I thought I saw Milan. At any rate, I was told that I did, and was quite satisfied.
I do not propose to dwell at any length upon my tour
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in Italy, nor to attempt any description of the glorious works of art I saw for the first time in the various galleries and museums which I visited. That has already been done hundreds of times over by competent critics - and others; and as I am not an art critic, my criticisms would be useless, and quite possibly ridiculous. All I can say is, that I was not only not disappointed, but that my most sanguine dreams of beauty were more than realized, both in sculpture and painting. It seems a trite remark to say that copies of pictures give one a very faint idea of the originals. And yet some of the copies are very good. So I think there must be no small share of fancy about our admiration when we know that we are looking at the original. Some subtle psychological agency acting on our judgment.
I thought the museum at Naples contained the most beautiful collection of works of art in Italy, with the sole exception of the two famous galleries at Florence.
From Naples I went on to Rome, Orvieto, Siena, Venice, Florence, and Milan, all of which I enjoyed immensely, and I made arrangements for going to Ober-Ammergau, to see the famous Passion play, which was to take place this year - 1880.
The first address I left for letters was Milan, as I wished to have a free hand and not be tied to any particular route during my travels, but just go wherever fancy led me. A roving commission, as we call it. So when I got to Milan I found that many of my letters were more than a month old, and amongst them was one from my old naval friend Dick Hamond, inviting me to go to Norway, to fish in the Tana, a river which he had taken for the season, right away round the North Cape.
Salmon-fishing versus Passion play. Salmon-fishing
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won easily. So I cancelled my engagements for Ober-Ammergau (finding Cook's people quite reasonable), and started for home immediately, arriving in London in thirty-six hours, only to find that I was too late!
Hamond had waited for nearly a month, and getting no answer from me, he could wait no longer, and he asked another naval friend to take my place. They were just about to start, and as there was only fishing for two, I lost both the salmon and the Passion play.
The greedy dog and the bone once more. I felt sold. But we often find that something we look upon as a misfortune turns out to be exactly the opposite; and so it was in this case, for it is more than probable that if I had been round the North Cape fishing for salmon, my old chief, Lord Clanwilliam (Lord Gilford of the Hercules), now a Rear-Admiral, would not have been able to wait for me to get home and go as his Flag Captain in the Inconstant.
So the dog got his bone, and a better one than either of those he had lost.
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