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Jack Buntline   By: (1814-1880)

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Jack Buntline By WHG Kingston Illustrations by Horace Harral Published by Sampson, Low, Son, and Co, London. This edition dated 1861.

Jack Buntline, by WHG Kingston.



Look at yon smooth faced blue eyed lad; his fair locks escaping from beneath his broad brimmed hat stuck to the back of his head; his blue shirt collar, let in with white, turned over his neck handkerchief, which is tied with long streaming ends; his loose jacket, his wide trousers. You know the sailor lad at a glance. He is a well cared for apprentice under a kind captain. He wins your regard by his artless frank manners, and you think all sailor boys are like him. Then see that fine specimen of a man rolling along, with his huge beard and whiskers, his love locks, his dark flashing eyes, his well bronzed countenance, his bare throat, his dress, similar to that of the lad, but of good quality and cut to a nicety. He looks the hero of the sea, and so he is, and so he feels himself.

What will he not dare and do? He will board a foeman's ship by his captain's side, however few with him or many against him; storm a battery sending forth showers of deadly shot; leap overboard to rescue a shipmate from a watery grave; will lift in his arms a charged shell with the fuzee yet burning, or will carry on his shoulders a wounded comrade from beneath the very guns of the foe. He loves to fight on shore as well as at sea. He will suffer cold, and hunger, and thirst, and face death in a thousand forms without complaint if his officers set him the example. He is the true man of war's man, proud of his calling and despising all others.

Now watch yonder nicely dressed old gentleman, with his three cornered hat, white neckcloth, long blue coat with gold lace cuffs. He is a Greenwich pensioner. He has done his duty to his country and done it well, with all his heart; and now his country, whom he served in his strength and manhood, cares for him as she should in his old age.

From these pleasing pictures people are apt to form their notions of sailors and of a sea life, but there exists another numerous class of whom I have a very different sketch to present.

They are as a class, however, gallant fellows. They also will dare and do all that men can accomplish. Many are kind hearted, generous, brave; but others are too often brutal, fierce, vicious, drunkards, blasphemers, thinking only of present gratifications, and utterly regardless of the future or of the world to come.

If such characteristics be theirs, I have a very solemn question to ask. Why are they so? Who has allowed them to become so? What steps have been taken to improve them? The newspapers often give us one reason why they are brutal. Sent ignorant to sea, ignorant they grow up, no one taking thought for the wellbeing of their souls or bodies; placed often under ignorant brutal masters, whose only idea is how to get the most work out of them, whose only argument is a handspike or rope's end; ill fed, ill treated, ill clothed, ill lodged (oh what foul, wet, dark holes have thousands of gallant sailors to live in on board ship); ill looked after in sickness; when they return to port, handed over to the tender mercies of crimps and foul harpies of every description, the lives of our merchant seamen are short and hard indeed.

Remember that these are the men who supply us with all the luxuries we enjoy, who have charge of the merchandise which has made England great, glorious, and powerful. Who then, I ask, has an excuse for refusing to support any measure which will benefit them, their souls and their bodies? Can any one deny that our seamen have a claim on the sympathies and aid of every member of the community, whether living in an inland town, in the sequestered village, or on the wild sea side?

Oh could you but behold the merchant seaman on board his ship, the coaster, the trader to neighbouring lands, aye on board some fine looking craft also bound to distant ports; could you see him as he is, day after day toiling on in his tarry, dirty clothes, unshaven, unwashed, with rude companions, obscene in language and habits, in their foul den of a berth; could you hear the expression applied to him by his superiors, his groans of pain, his muttered curses as kicks and blows and cuffs follow after the oaths showered on him; could you see him in port consorting with the vilest of the vile, living in filth and iniquity till his hard earned gains being spent, his senses steeped in drink, he is put on board another ship, often not knowing where he is going till far out at sea... Continue reading book >>

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