YAWL "ROB ROY,"
By JOHN MACGREGOR, M.A.
The Seine -- A wetting -- Pump -- Locks -- Long reach
-- Rouen -- Steering -- A mistake -- Horny hands -- Henpecked --
British flag -- The captain's wife
HAVRE was a good resting-place to receive and send
letters, read up the newspapers, get a long walk, and a hot bath, and
fresh water and provisions. Bacon I found, after many trials to cook
it, was a delusion, so I gave mine to a steamboat in exchange for
bread. Hung beef too was discovered to be a snare--it took far too long
to cook, and was tough after all; so I presented a magnificent lump to
a bargee, whose time was less precious and his teeth more sharp. Then
one mast had to come down in preparation for the bridges on the Seine;
and therefore with these things to do, and working with tools and pen,
all the hours were busily employed until, at noon on June 26, I hooked
on to a steamer, 'Porteur,' with its stern paddles (very common in
France), to be towed up the river; a long and troublesome of 300 miles,
so winding is the course to Paris by the Seine.
This mode of progress was then new to me, and I had made
but imperfect preparations, so that when we rounded the pier to the
west, and met the short, snappish sea in the bay, every wave dashed
over me, and in ten minutes I was wet to the skin, while a great deal
of water entered the fore-compartment of the yawl through the hole for
the chain-cable at that time left open. The surprising suddenness of
this drenching was so absurd that one could only laugh at it, nor was
there time to don my waterproof suit-the sou'wester from Norway ten
years ago, the oilskin coat (better than macintosh) from Denmark last
year, and the canvas trowsers.
A good wetting can be calmly borne if it is dashed in by a
heavy sea in honest sailing, or is poured down upon one from a black
cloud above; but here it was in a mere river-mouth, and on a sunny day,
and there was no opportunity to change for several hours, until we
stopped at a village to discharge cargo. The river at that place is~
narrow, and all the swell I thought was past; so, after a completes
change of clothes, it was too bad to find in a mile or two the same
story over again, and another wetting was the result. The evening rest
was far from comfortable with my bedding all moist, and both suits of
clothes wet through. One has therefore to beware of the accompaniments
of being towed. The boat has no time to go over the waves, and, long
rope or short, middle or side, steering ever so well, the water shipped
when a heavy boat is swiftly to wed has to be as well prepared for as
if it were a regular gale in open sea.
The Rob Roy had now in the hold a great deal of water; and
for the first time I had to ply the pump, which, having been carefully
fitted, acted well. An india-rubber tube leading down to the keel was
in such a position that I could immediately screw on a copper barrel
and work the piston with one hand, so as to clear the stern
compartment. By turning a screw-valve I could let the water come from
the centre compartment, if any was there, and then I went to the
fore-compartment, about seven feet long, which held the spare stores,
and a curiosity in the shape of a regulation chimney-pot hat to be worn
on state occasions, but which was brought out once a week merely to
brush off the green mould.
Much water had entered there through the hole in deck for
the chain-cable, but good thick paper had fortunately preserved a
number of French Testaments from being spoiled.
At noon the steamer set off again, dragging the yawl
astern, and soon entered the first lock on the Seine, where the
buildings around us, the neat stone barriers, and the dress and very
looks of the men forcibly recalled to my mind the numerous locks passed
in my canoe trips, but in so different a manner, by running the boat
round every one of them on the gravel or over the grass:
The waste of time in passing through each lock was
prodigious. In nearing it the steamer sounded her shrill whistle to
give warning, but the lock was sure to be full of barges and boats when
we came close. Then our cavalcade had to draw aside until the sluggish
barges in front had all come out, and we went into the great basin with
bumps, and knocks, and jars, and shouting. It required active use of
the boathook for me to get the Rob Roy into the proper place in the
lock, and then to keep her there. The men were not clumsy nor careless,
but still the polished mahogany yawl had no chance in a squeezing match
with the heavy floats and barges, and it was always sure to go to the
The sailors and dockmen were eager for my cargo of books;
and among the various odd ways by which these had to be given to men on
large vessels, there is one shown in the sketch alongside, where the
cabin-boy of a steamer looking through the round deadlight with an
imploring request in his face, stretched out an eager hand to catch the
book lifted up on the end of one of my sculls.
Long Reach 
Time seemed no object to these people, they were no doubt
paid by the day. The sun shone, and it was pleasant simply to exist and
to loiter in life, so why make haste?
Finally we ascended as the lock
filled, and then a second and a third joint cut off from our too long
tail of barges had to be passed in also. After all, the captain and
sometimes the whole crew deliberately adjourned to the lock-keeper's
house for a "glass" and a chat; and when that was entirely (lone, and
every topic of the day discussed, they came back and had another
supplemental parliament on the steamer's deck like ladies saying "good
bye" at a morning visit; so that, perhaps, in an hour from beginning
it, the work of ten minutes was accomplished, and the engine turned
again once more-a tedious progress.
Thus it was that four nights and
part of five days were passed in mounting the Seine.
The scenery on the banks is in
many places interesting, in
a few it is pretty, and it is never positively dull. The traffic on the
river is considerable above Rouen; but as there are two railways
besides, few passengers go by water, and the carriage of heavy goods to
and from the Exhibition must have been a principal item in the
steamer's work this year. But the architecture and engineering on this
fine river are indeed splendid. The noble bridges, the vast locks,
barrages, quays, barriers, and embankments are far superior to ours on
the Thames, though that river floats more wealth in a day than the
does in a month.
Then the neatness and apparent
cleanliness of the
villages, and the well-clothed well-mannered people-these all so
"respectable." France is progressing by great leaps and bounds at least
in what arrests the eye.* Its progress in government, liberty, and
politics, is perhaps rather like that in a waltz.
*Yet, putting Russia and Spain
aside as yet savage, the latest statistics (October, 1867) shew France
to be the lowest in education in Europe.
Life in a towed yacht, alone on the Seine, is a somewhat
hard life. First you have to be alert and steer for sometimes twenty
hours a day, and to cook and eat while steering. At about three o'clock
in the morning the steamer 5 crew seemed suddenly to rise from the deck
by magic, and stumble over coal-sacks, and thus abruptly begin the day.
We stopped about nine o'clock at night, and the crew flopped down on
deck again, asleep in a moment, but not I for an hour or two.
As the grey dawn uncovered a new and cloudless sky, the
fierce bubblings in the boiler became strong enough to turn the engine,
and our rope was slipped from the bank. Savoury odours from the steamer
soon after announced to me their breakfast cooking, and the Rob Roy's
lamp too was speedily in full blast. Eggs or butter or milk were
instantly purveyed, if within reach at a lock; sometimes delicious
strawberries and other fruits or dainties, the only difficulty was to
cook at all properly while steering and being towed.
It is easy to cook and to steer at sea without looking up
for many minutes. The compass tells you by a glance, and if not the
tiller has a nudge which speaks to the man who knows the meaning of its
various pressures, through any part of his body it may happen to touch.
But if you forget to steer constantly and minutely in a heavy boat
towed on a river, she swerves in an instant, and shoots out right and
left, and dives into banks or trees, or into the steamer's side-swell,
and the man at the wheel turns round with a courteous French scowl, for
he feels by his tiller in a moment, and you cannot escape his rebuke.
There was no romance in this manner of progress up the
river. The poetry of wandering where you will, and all alone, cannot be
thrown around a boat pulled by the nose while your are sitting in it
all day. The Rob Roy, with mast down, and tied by a towrope, was like
an eagle limping with clipped pinion and a chained foot. Still, for the
man not churlish, there is scarcely any time or place or person wholly
devoid of interest, if he is determined to find it there.
The steamboat captain and crew were chatty enough, and
when we towed a string of barges the yawl was lashed alongside of one
of these (and not at the end of the line), so that I visited my fellow
travellers, soon became friends, and then interchanged presents. All
this of the sailor was far better done by the French bargee than in
In both countries they frequently mistook me at first for
a common sailor in charge of a yacht for my dress told no more. As
intercourse proceeded it was curious to watch the gradual recognition
of the fact that the sailor talked and thought not just the same as
others. Then they regarded me as an agent come to sell the pretty boat;
but it was in England only that any of them could be made to believe
that the owner of the Rob Roy "would not part with his boat did not
want a cook or cabin-boy, and was not at all anxious to see the end of
his voyage." Gradually the conversation, begun as between equals, would
sometimes decline till the word "Sir" was sprinkled over it; and once
or twice-and this not in France-it came to that "glass of beer,"
sheepishly enough asked for, which of course instantly drowns the
converse that has been free on one side and independent on the other.
"Workmen," "working men," "artisans," or whatever they
are, or whatever you may call them, mean the class now being spoiled by
petting in England-let them be told (perhaps it maybe said plainest by
their best friends) that there are just as many proud exclusives among
them as in any other stratum of society, and that there is at least a
frill share of conceit foppery, and affectation.
It may be heresy to say so, but the "horny hand" has no
necessary connection whatever with the "honest heart," as is the
fashion to say on one side, and almost to believe on the other; and the
friend who really does shake that hand with a brotherly feeling is the
most likely and the best entitled to refuse to talk popular nonsense of
this sort about the "people."
For that night we stopped usually in towns, but once or
twice in a great bend of the river where the steamer was run straight
into the trees fast ashore exactly as if it were on the Mississippi and
not on the Seine.
That thousands of solitary fishermen should sit lonesome
on the river was the same puzzle to me as it had been before in
canoeing on other French streams. Their silence and patience, during
hours of this self-inflicted isolation, were incredible for Frenchmen,
fond as we at first think all of them to be of "billard," café,
or dancing puppies, of anything, in fact, provided it assumes to be
One thing I am at last decided about, that it is not to
catch fish these men sit there; and the only reasonable explanation I
can find of the phenomenon is that all these meek and lone fishermen
are husbands unhappy at home!
There are numerous sailing boats and rowing boats on the
Seine; but I did not see one that there was any difficulty in not
coveting-their standard of marine beauty is not ours. All rigs and all
sizes were there, even to a great centre board cutter, twenty-five feet
broad, and any number of yards long, in which the happy yachtsman could
sail up and down between two bridges which bounded him on either side
to a two miles' reach!
The French national flag is perhaps the prettiest on the
world's waters; but as it is repeated to the eye by every boat and
building its sight becomes tiresome, and suggests that absence of
private influence and enterprise so striking to an Englishman in every
French work. Then again their sailors (not to say their landsmen) in
very many instances do not even know our English flag when they see it,
our union-jack or ensign widely unfolded on every shore.
At first I used to carry the French flag as well as our
British jack out of compliment to their country, but as I found out
that even in some of their newspapers the Rob Roy was mentioned as a "
beautiful little French yacht," I determined that that mistake at any
rate should not be fostered by me, so down came the tricolour, and my
Cambridge Boatclub flag took its place. In one reach of the river we
came upon a very unusual sight for a week day, a French boat sailing.
Her flag was half-mast high, and she was drifting down the stream a
helpless wreck. A distracted sort of man was on board, and a lady, or
womankind at least, with dishevelled locks (carefully disordered
though), the picture of weary wretchedness, and both of these entreated
our captain to tow the little yacht home.
But, after a knowing glance, he quickly passed them in
silence, and another steamer behind us also rounded off so as to give
the unhappy pair the widest possible berth. Perhaps both captains
preferred English sovereigns to French francs. I was charged about
3£. for being towed to Paris, but the various steamers (six in
all) I employed on the river were every one well managed, and with
civil people on board. Indeed, I became a favourite with one captain's
wife, a sturdy-looking body, always cutting up leaves of lettuce. She
gave me a basin of warm soup, and I presented her with some good
Yorkshire bacon. Next day she cooked some of this for me with beans,
and I returned the present by a packet of London tea, a book, a picture
of Napoleon, and another of the Rob Roy on the Seine, in the highest
style of art attainable by a man steering all the time he is at the
easel. Often it was necessary to restrain the inquisitive French
gamins, who would teaze a boat to pieces if not looked after, but it is
always against the grain to be strict with boys especially about boats,
for I hold that it is a good sign of them when they relish nautical
Dull reading -- Chain boat -- Kedging -- St. Cloud --
Training -- Dogs -- Wrong colours -- My policeman -- Yankee notion --
Red, White, and Blue
THE effect of living on board a little boat for a month at
a time with not more than three or four nights of usual repose, was to
bring the mind and body into a curious condition of subdued life, a
sort of contemplative oriental placid state in which both cares and
pleasures ceased to be acute, and the flight of time seemed gliding and
even, and not marked by the distinct epochs which define our civilised
life. Although this passive enjoyment was really agreeable-and, in fine
weather and good health, perhaps a mollusc could affirm as much of its
existence -- certainly an experience of the condition I have described
enables one to understand what is evidently the normal state of many
thousands of hard-worked, ill-fed, and irregularly sleeped labourers;
the men who, sitting down thus weary at night, we expect to read some
prosy book full of desperately good advice, of which one half the words
are not needed for the sense and the other half are not understood by
Very few authors can write books suitable for men with
weary bodies and sleepy minds. It is remarkable to see how much
attention these men will pay to the words of the Bible and the'
No doubt such readers often read but the surface sense of
both these books; but then even this sense is good, and the deeper
meaning is better, while the language of both is superb.
The last tugboat we had to use was of a peculiar kind, and
I am not aware that it is employed upon any of our rivers in Britain. A
chain is laid along the bottom of the Seine for (I think) two hundred
miles. At certain hours of the day a long solidly built vessel with a
powerful engine on board comes over this, and the chain is seized and
put round a wheel on board. By turning this wheel one way or the other
it is evident that the chain will be wound up and let down behind,
while it cannot slip along the river's bottom-the enormous friction is
enough to prevent that, and therefore the boat is wound up and goes
through the water. The power of this chain-boat is so great that it
will pull along, and that too against the rapid stream, a whole string
of barges, several of them of 300 tons' burthen, while the long fleet
advances steadily though slowly, and the irresistible engine works with
smokeless funnels, but with groanings within, telling of tight-strained
iron, and loud undertoned breathings of confined steam.
Although the chain-boat is not often steered for the
purpose of avoiding other vessels (they must take care of their own
safety), yet it has to be carefully managed by a rudder, one at each
end, so that it may drop the chain in a proper part of the river for
the next steamer of the Company which is to use it. When two such boats
meet from opposite directions, and both are pulling at the same chain,
there is much time lost in effecting a passage, and again when the
chain-boat and all its string of heavy craft arrives at a look, you may
make up your mind for a long delay. It is evident that we do not
require this particular sort of tugboat on the Thames below Teddington.
The strong tide up and down twice every day carries thousands of tons
of merchandize at a rapid pace, and needing but one or two men to
attend upon each barge. In fact we have the sun and moon for our tugs.
They draw the water up, and the tide is the rope which hauls our ships
To manoeuvre properly with the Rob Roy in such+ a case as
this with the chain-boat required every vigilance, and strong exercise
of muscular force, as well as caution and prompt decision, for I had
sometimes to cling to the middle barge, then -to drop back to the last,
and always to keep off from the riverbanks, the shoals, and the trees.
On one occasion we had to shift her position by "kedging" for nearly
half a mile, and this in a crowded part of the Seine too, where the
current also was swift. On another occasion the sharp iron of a screw
steamer's frame ran right against my -bow, and at once cut a clean hole
quite through the mahogany. Instantly I seized a lump of soft putty,
and leaning over the side I squeezed it into the hole, and then"
clinched "it (so to speak) on the inside; and this stopgap actually
served for three weeks, until at proper repair could be made.
The lovely precincts of St. Cloud came in sight at dawn on
the last day of June, prettier than Richmond, I must confess, or almost
any river town we can boast of in England; and here I was to rest while
my little yawl was thoroughly cleaned, brightly varnished, and its
inside gaily painted with Cambridge blue, so as to appear at the French
Exhibition in its very best suit and then at the British Regatta on the
Seine. Some days were occupied in this general over- haul, during which
the excellent landlady of the hotel where I slept must have been more
amazed at this even than she declared, to see her guest return each day
clad in blue flannel, and spattered all over with varnish and paint for
the captain was painter as well as cook. Of course all this was
exchanged for proper attire after working hours.
In the cool of the morning, three fine young fellows are
running towards us over the bridge; lithe and easy step, speed without
haste. White flannel and white shoes. They have come to contend at the
regatta here, the first of an invasion of British oarsmen, who soon
fill the lodgings, cover the river, and waken up the footpath in the
mornings by taking their early run. Some are brown-faced watermen from
Thames and Humber and Tyne, others are ruddy-cheeked Etonians or
University men, or hard-trained Londoners, and others have come over
the Atlantic; John Bull's younger brothers from New Brunswick, not his
cousins from New York. You might pick out among these the finest
specimens of our species, so far as pluck and muscle make the man.
Few of the French oarsmen could be classed with any of the
divisions given above. Rowing has not attained the position in France
which it holds in England. For much of our excellence in athletics and
field sports we have to thank our much-abused English climate, which
always encourages and generally necessitates some sort of exercise when
we are out of doors.
But it is a new and healthy sight ~ these fine fellows
running in the mornings, and it gives zest to our walk by the beautiful
Here also as we stroll about, two dogs gave much amusement
to us; one was a Newfoundland who dashed into the water grandly to
fetch the stick thrown in by his master. The other was a bulldog, who
went in about a yard or so at the same time, and then as the swimmer
brought the stick to shore the intruder fastened on it, and always
managed somehow to wrest the prize from the real winner, and then
carried it to his master with the cool impudence which may be seen not
seldom when the honour and reward gained by one person are claimed and
even secured by another.
Very many phases of human character may be studied among
dogs. If men's vices are matched by dogs' failings, several of our best
virtues are at least equalled by those in canine characters; courage,
fidelity, and patience especially. One might well devote at whole hour
in London to observe the dogs in the streets -- to look at doglife
solely, and forget all besides; and it would be both an interesting and
instructive time. It is hard to believe (even if indeed we are at all
warranted in believing) that these noble animals are done with
existence when they die. It is harder still to see at man cruel to at
dog, without feeling pretty sure that the man is not the better of the
From the truck to the keel the Rob Roy had this been
thoroughly refreshed and beautified. The perfection of a yacht's beauty
is that nothing should be there for only beauty's sake. It is in the
observation of this strict rule that the English certainly do excel
every other nation; and whether you take a huge steam-engine, a yacht,
or at four-in-hand drag, it is almost generally allowed, and is
certainly acknowledged by the best connoisseurs of each, that ornament
will not make a bad article good; while it is likely to make a good one
look bad. Even the flags of a yacht have each a meaning, and are not
mere colours. Therefore they ought to be made, at all events, perfectly
correct first, and then as pretty and neat as you please. I examined
the flags of all the boats and yachts, and steamers at the Exhibition;
and there was wonderfully little taste in their display, nearly every
one -English and foreign-was cut wrong, or coloured wrong, or too large
for the boat that carried them. Even our Admiralty Barge, where
specimens of boats from England were exhibited, had a flag flying, with
the stripes in the jack quite wrong. She was the only craft on that
side of the Pont d'Jena, but as it was the English side (though some
English yachts had gone to the other side), I anchored there, right
opposite the sloping sward of the Exhibition, and I did this without
asking any questions. It is best now and then to do right things at
once, and not to delay until time is wasted in proving them to be right
To write after at visit to the Exhibition and not to
describe it, will be a double good--to him who writes and those who
read of his visit. Of the Paris hotels and lodgings, too, I have no
traits to give, because I did not use them, but slept on board my
little craft in perfect comfort, and could spend all the rest of the
day on shore. Each morning about 7 o'clock you might notice a
smart-looking French policeman standing on the grass bank of the
Exhibition, and staring hard at the Rob Roy. He had come to see her
captain at his somewhat airy toilette, and he was particularly
interested, if not amazed, to witness the evolutions of a toothbrush.
Perhaps he found them not only interesting but instructive, and
involving an idea perfectly new--hard also to comprehend from so
distant an inspection. Surely this strange implement must be a novelty
imported from England for exhibition here. As he gazed in wonder at the
rapid exercise, I sometimes gave the curious instrument an extra
flourish above or below, and the intelligent and courteous gendarme
never rightly decided whether or not the toothbrush was an essential
though inscrutable part of the yacht's sailing gear. Our acquaintance,
however, improved, and he kindly took charge of the boat in my absence;
not without a mysterious air as he recounted its travels (and a good
deal more), to the numerous visitors--many of whom, after his
explanations, left the Rob Roy quite delighted that they had seen "the
little ship which had sailed from America!"
My Policeman 
The boat "Red White and Blue" he thus confounded with
mine--was at that time not far off in at house by itself, amid the
other wonders which crowded the gardens of the Exhibition. The two
venturesome Americans who came to Europe in this ship had but scant
pleasure either in their voyage itself or in their visit to France and
England. Storm, wet, and hunger on the wide Atlantic were patiently
borne in hopes of meeting a warm welcome in old England; but, instead,
they had the cold chill of doubt. Much of their sufferings in both
these ways were directly due to their own and their friends'
mismanagement, the stupid construction of their cabin, the foolish
three-masted rig of their boat, the boastful wager of the boat's
builder, and their imprudence in painting up the boat on loner arrival,
and tarring the ropes; and, lastly, in allowing at mutilated paper to
be issued as their "original log."
Disappointed here, they turned to Paris, expecting better
days. Fair promises were made-. Steamers were to tow the boat up the
Seine in triumph, but it was towed against a bridge and smashed its
masts. Agents were to secure goodly numbers to visit her; but for three
months scarcely any one paid for a ticket, until at length the vessel
was admitted into the grounds of the Exhibition, and there I hope their
former losses were made up. Whatever may be thought as to the wisdom or
advantage of making such at voyage and in such a boat, it is at very
great pity that when it has been effected there should be at failure in
appreciating its marvellous accomplishment.
The possibility of taking that boat across the Atlantic,
with west wind prevailing and with no rocks or shoals to fear, is
altogether beyond doubt. The ill-fate of two other boats that have
tried the feat shews how dangerous an experiment it is to try. But
after examining, go far as I could (and probably more than anybody
else), the evidence in their case -- the men, the log, the documents,
affidavits, and the boat, and its contents, and after hearing, with due
attention, the numerous doubts and criticisms from all quarters, both
in London and Paris, and in Dover and Margate, I have good reason to
believe that the "Red White and Blue" had no extraneous help in her
voyage; and, it being certain, that she has come across that wide
ocean, therefore, at present I believe she came over unaided; and I
only wonder that men able to perform such a deed should be incapable of
building and rigging their boat so as to do it comfortably.
Presents -- The Emperor -- Anecdote -- The Abbé
in London -- A vert -- Singing girl -- English bird -- Model -- Old
friend -- The Turks -- Guzzling -- The friture
As they walk past the building where this travelled ship
is shewn, many of the visitors seem each to be reading at paper in his
hands, while some have a gilt-edged book, and others a broad sheet with
a large woodcut on it.
These people have come past that other building, which
seems to be all windows; and let us stop there a few minutes to see why
the groups crowd round the open windows, and reach out their hands, and
go away reading.
If you hear that it is "only some tracts" being given
away, and then turn away yourself, you will have lost a wonderful
sight: one that, well pondered upon, has wide suggestions to the mind
that thinks; and a sight that, of its kind, is quite unexampled at any
time and anywhere. Inside this building, and another near it, are
hundreds of thousands of Bibles, Testaments, periodicals, papers,
picture books and tracts, beautifully printed in the languages of
visitors from distant lands, and mostly given free to those who will
Even in England, at none of our Exhibitions or any other
place, has such a proceeding been permitted, doubtless from prudential
reasons--the " fear of ''giving offence or exciting disturbance -- so
that it has been left to France, with an autocrat ruling an excitable
people, and at a time when pleasure seems the chief and only object of
all, to brave these supposed dangers, and, despite all scruples, to
give utmost freedom to the distribution of God's Word and of man's
comments upon it.
The fact is, if you mean to get at all the people, you
cannot find them in the same place or reach them by the same road, or
treat them in the same way; and all the people must be got at somehow.
As fast as they could hand them out of the rooms, several
persons were delivering these books and papers into the open hands of
the people, and when a window became vacant, and there was need of some
one to help, I took my place there.
We intended to stay only a short time, but six hours
passed before the interesting work could be left; and I can never
forget those hours, and the subsequent occasions of the same sort.
Every variety of person came quickly before us, of
nationality, of manner, of dress, of language, and of bearing, as each
drew near, took a paper, read a few lines, thanked the donor, and then
went off reading as they walked, or with reflecting gaze, or simply
Hundreds of soldiers came to the window, sometimes a dozen
of them at once, and these all asked for their 'Empereur.' This meant
the June number of the well-known periodical 'British Workman,' which
was translated into French, and had a very large and well-done woodcut
of Napoleon III on its broad first page. The generosity of some good
men supplied funds to give one of these Emperor papers to every
soldier, policeman, and public employee of every other kind, and much
additional interest was attached to the paper because it was actually
printed before their eyes at a press in the centre of this building of
windows, and because the press itself had borne off a gold medal for
excellence of workmanship.* Priests came often.
* The soldiers liked these so
much that it was the fashion to place the "Emperor's" picture over each
man's bed. On one occasion His Majesty happened to notice this when
visiting a guardroom, and he had the whole story explained to him. The
Prince Imperial also came for a 'British Workman,' and probably it was
pinned behind His Royal Highness' four-poster.
Some of these even returned to get supplies of tracts for
their villages in distant parts of France. Germans asked for tracts in
"Allemand," and numerous Italians and Spaniards asked for them in their
languages. Two Russians came, but we had no books then in Russ; and at
length four grave Mussulmen stood before me in turbans and flowing
robes, with a suppliant but dignified air, while their interpreter said
they wanted to buy a dictionary to learn English from.
Although in frequent tours in foreign lands we had been
accustomed to see minglings of the people from many nations, the sight
at this window was more varied in the components of the constant
flowing stream of human beings for hours and hours than we ever saw
Some years ago, travelling in Algeria with an Arab guide,
I put up for the night at an old semaphore station, where was a French
soldier in charge. It was far from any houses, and on a high hill, and
he had a visit only every fortnight from his friends, who brought him
provisions on mules' backs. He willingly let me in, and spread a
mattress for me on the floor alongside his own. The Arab he kept
outside, and the poor fellow had to sleep coiled up on the doorstep.
The Frenchman was courteous and intelligent; but he had
only one thing to rend for many weeks, a vapid French novel. He said he
would willingly read something better if he had it. At the next French
town I searched for some better book, and this caused me to find the
agent of the Bible Society, and so a parcel of books, religious and
secular, were sent off to the telegraph station ; but the attention
once drawn to the French soldiers and their reading, it was impossible
not to follow a subject so interesting and important. The regiment
quartered in the town had but a few Testaments.* By a little exertion
about a hundred copies were obtained and distributed. I saw the men
reading these in the streets for hours under the trees, and I sailed in
a man-of-war carrying the regiment to Mexico. Perhaps not one in five
of them survived that fearful campaign. Priestly opposition to this
giving of Testaments resulted ill an appeal to the General in command.
He asked the priests if the book was a "bad one," and when it was not
possible to say "yes," he gave it free course. Inquiry was excited by
this opposition, and 1500 Testaments were received.
* A friend or mine stated that
a French gentleman of good education called upon him one day, and
happened to look at a French Testament which lay open on the chimney
piece. " Tiens!" he said, "paternoster in the Bible?', when he saw the
Lord's Prayer in the printed page.
There was a remarkable contrast between the absence of
public efforts by French Romanists to
disseminate their opinions at the Exhibition and the unusual freedom
for others, sanctioned by the present Archbishop of Paris. Various
causes were at work to produce this very unexpected state of things,
and they will not be alluded to here.
But the points thus noticed remind one forcibly of what
actually occurred in 1851, when the Archbishop of Paris specially
appointed the Abbé M--, a learned and able man, to go to London
and to do his best to further Romanism here during the Exhibition.
One of his first acts was to issue two small tracts on the
supremacy of the Pope and of St. Peter; and some hundred thousand of
these, beautifully printed, were distributed in London. A copy came to
the hands of a clever layman, well skilled in the Popish controversy;
and he saw immediately that this little tract, if not well answered,
might do much harm.
After careful study of the subject he wrote to the
Abbé calling attention to several important misquotations in the
tract which were evident when it was compared with original documents
in the British Museum. The Abbé replied, that he was not
responsible for the accuracy of the extracts, but that they had been
given to him by Cardinal Wiseman.
The Protestant layman then wrote a series of letters in an
English newspaper upon the subject treated in the tract, and for the
time the matter dropped. Years afterwards he received a letter from the
Abbé, stating that these newspaper articles had convinced him of
the need of inquiry into the subject, and he went to Rome to consult
his former instructors. Finally, this Abbé, selected as the
champion of Rome by the Archbishop of Paris, and convinced by the
arguments adduced by a layman in London, renounced the Romish errors
and church, and though offered promotion for his past services, he came
to London and went straight to the house of the layman, whom he had not
Often have I walked with that clever Abbé riveted
by his deeply interesting conversation, his new and fresh views of
English life, his forcible exposures of those false estimates of
Protestant truth that had for so many years blinded him, and his
explanations of the machinery then in action at the Oratory, near the
But his former allies could not brook the desertion of so
formidable a champion, and lie was driven by their continual annoyance
to seek another home. So he went to Ireland, and soon became the best
teacher of the French language in Dublin, from whence he removed to
America. Let us hope that there, at least he is free to profess the
truth he had found, and to be one of the instances-very rare indeed
they are-of a consistent and steady Protestant, who had for years
before been thoroughly imbued with those doctrines which gnaw at the
very vitals of mental perception, and obliterate the sense of fairness,
and very seldom leave enough alive in the mind to hold even real truth
It will not be breaking the promise that our visit to the
Exhibition is not to involve us in a description of all its wonders, if
we walk upstairs and look into the Tunisian Café, attracted by
the well-known drumming and the moaning dirge which Easterns call
music. Tunis is best seen out of Tunis, for the embroidered gold and
bright coloured slippers can then be enjoyed without those horrible
scenes of filth-dead camels, open sewers, and maimed beggars which
encase the shabby mud walls so near the marble ruins of old Carthage.
The café was full of visitors. English and
Americans were admiring a pretty singing girl about fifteen years of
age, who was beautifully dressed, and sitting with four very demure and
ugly Oriental in the little orchestra.
Soon she rose and sang a song. Black eyes, blackest of
hair, pale cheeks, languid grace. She is a fair daughter from the
rising sun. " Yes, there is certainly a something in their Eastern
beauty which is quite beyond what Britons or Yankees see at home."
But the words and music of the song seemed known to me.
Surely she is now singing English while she shakes the golden sequins
in her long jet hair and rattles her tambourine. We asked a waiter, and
he said she could sing Turkish, Spanish, French, and English. At last
being persuaded that her pronunciation of English was too distinct for
a foreigner, we took the very bold measure of going up to the
orchestra, and saying to the young lady, "You are English, are you
not?" She stared, and held down her face, which still was pale, even if
she blushed, and answered, "Yes, sir." "Are you here alone ?-no
relation, no woman friend with you ?" "Yes." "And do they treat you
well?" "Yes." "From what part of England?" "From --shire." I said she
seemed to mean the words of the song she had sung, 'I wish I were a
bird, and I would flee away,'
And asked if she could read, and would like a nice book.
"Oh yes, I should, and very much." Now there was a stall set up in the
Exhibition by the Pure Literature Society, from Buckingham Street,
Adelphi, London, which selects about three thousand books from various
publishers, but publishes none itself; so that its catalogue is likely
to contain rather what it may wish should be read than what it may hope
will be bought.* Here we selected a very interesting volume with many
illustrations, suitable for the girl's reading; and soon at the
café again, I bowed to the senior fiddler, who nodded assent,
and then the poor pale lonely girl had the pleasant book as a
remembrance of home placed in her hands, and a promise given her that a
good Christian lady would call that evening.
So perhaps our catalogue of nationalities at the
Exhibition ought to be somewhat abridged, and not wholly founded upon
the variety it presents to the eye; especially as in London, too, we
may remember Punch's crossing-sweeper, who, being dressed in Hindoo
garb, begged from a passerby with, "Take pity on the poor Irishman --
Injun, I mane."
Among the curiosities exhibited in the English naval
architecture building here was a very beautiful model of the Rob Roy
canoe, presented to its owner by the builders, Messrs. Searle, who have
already built about ninety such canoes on the principles first applied
in that above mentioned; and to me it was even more gratifying to find
in the Admiralty Barge, the Rob Roy canoe itself, with sails set and
the flag of the Canoe Club flying, and with maps of the paddling
voyages through Europe.
*A similar Society has begun
operations in France by publishing translations of English papers on
Sanitary and Domestic Management.
Very speedily I launched my old travelling companion, and
had a paddle up the river by moonlight, and it was surprising to find
that scarcely any water leaked in, though the other boats which were
hung up, or on the deck, or swung from the davits of the barge, were
found to be a good deal injured by the strong draught of wind rushing
through the arch of the bridge, and then under the open sides of the
shed, covered only by a roof. Bat then those other boats were new, and
perhaps some were not built of such well-seasoned wood * as Messrs.
Searle employ beyond all other boat-builders I know; whereas the
weather-beaten Rob Roy had been too long inured to wet
and dry, sun and wind, heat and cold, to be affected with the
rheumatism and ague which shook even the man-of-war's boats on the
*In this one particular the
canoeist has to trust to the boatbuilder. In others, and in those
relating to the rigging and sails especially, I regret to say that I do
not find any builder fulfil those requirements of strength, lightness,
neatness, and simplicity combined in due proportions, upon which so
much of the safety of a canoe depends, as well as comfort and pleasure
in using it during the many days' constant 'work of a long voyage. The
proper rigging of a canoes, so as to be neither fragile likes a toy nor
clumsy in its small details, is now better attended to by Mr. Lawrence
at the Model Dockyard in Fleet Street.
On the Sunday the little dingey had its usual cargo, and
the bargemen on the Seine, in the heart of Paris, were just as glad as
others elsewhere to get something to read. But it is time to end this
narration of the same sort of incidents repeated so often, though each
was interesting as it occurred. So I may close by the sketch below,
which represents a man watering a horse, and who swum it out to my boat
to get a paper, and then carefully placed the gift in a dry place
ashore until he should be able to use it when he was dressed again.
The life at the Exhibition soon settled into a somewhat
regular one with me. Seeing, seeing all day, and then returning to my
quiet bed on the river at night, with a 'Times' newspaper to study, and
books and letters. It was a variety to loosen the dingey, and scull
along the quays and visit the other yachts, all of them most hospitable
to the Rob Roy. I ventured even to go alongside the Turkish vessel, the
Dahabeeh, from the Nile, full of specimen "fellahs," all hidden by a
curtain of grey calico, except to those who had paid their franc for
general entrance. We never observed any visitor actually on board this
vessel; indeed, it required a bold inquirer to face those solemn
Africans' gaze, as they sat cross-legged on deck, and ate their soup
from a universal bowl, or calmly inspired from their chibouques, and
blew out a formal and composed puff of the bluest tobacco-smoke. It
did, indeed, soon forcibly recall the feelings of Egyptian travel to
see these men ; - the red fiery sunsets, the palms, and crocodiles, and
tombs, and Indian corn, and, over all, the thrumming, not unmusical
sound of the tarabookrah -- earthen drum -- with the wailing melodies
in a minor key of the "Chaldeans whose cry is in their ships."
So I ventured near in my dingey, and the imperturbable
Egyptians were fairly taken by surprise. They soon rallied to a word or
two in their language and an Englishman's smile, and rapidly we became
friends, and talked of Damascus and Constantinople, and finally decided
that "Englishman bono!" The shape and minute dimensions of my dingey
much astonished them; but they believed, no doubt that in that very
craft I had come all the way from London.
The luxury of Paris must have at least some effect in
making gourmand's of the young generation, even if their fathers did
not set the example. The operation, or rather the solemn function, of
breakfast or dinner, is with many Frenchmen the only serious act in
life. Where people can afford to order a dinner in exact accordance
with the lofty standard of excellence meant by its being "good," the
diner approaches the great proceeding with a staid and watchful air,
and we may well leave him now he is involved in such important service.
But with the octroi duty for even a single pheasant at two shillings
and sixpence, there are many good feeders who cannot afford to "dine
well," and the fuss they make about their eatables is something
preposterous. It is a vice -this gluttony-that seems to be steadily
increasing in France for the last twenty years, at least in its public
manifestation, and moreover it is an evil somewhat contagious.
One evening, while some of us had dinner at the Terrasse
in St. Cloud, a family entered the room, and were partly disrobing
themselves of bonnets and hats for a regular downright dinner, when the
waiter came, and in reply to the order of a "friture," he calmly said
they had none.
At this awful news the whole party were struck dumb and
pale, and leant back on chairs as if in swoons. The poor waiter
prudently retreated for reinforcements, and the landlady herself came
in to face the infuriate guests.
"No friture !" said the father. "No friture, and we come
to St. Cloud?" He muttered deeply in rage. His wife proceeded to make
horribly wry faces whereat Rob Roy irreverently laughed, but he was not
observed, nothing indeed was noticed of the external trifling world).
The daughters heaved deep sighs, and then burst into voluble and loud
denunciations. Then the son (who wanted dinner at any rate, and the
objurgations might do afterwards) proposed at once to leave the
desolate, famine-stricken spot.
But though this was debated warmly, it was not carried.
They had already anchored, as it were, and they resolved to dine
starving, and to grumble all the time. For all the time of dinner no
one subject was talked about except the friture. It was a miserable
spectacle to witness, but confirming the proposition, not at all new,
that the French care far more about eating than does John Bull.
© 2000 Craig O'Donnell
May not be reproduced without my permission.