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On the 12th of December 1843, the members of the Chinese Mission, who had been assembling for more than a fortnight at Brest, received orders to repair on board the Syren immediately, as the wind, which had for some time detained in port the two frigates destined to sail together, had suddenly changed to the east, and the commander was anxious to take advantage of this favourable moment, departure having been already too long delayed. Our preparations being made, and all our arrangements finished, each was eager to obey the order, and take posşession of the narrow space assigned to him by the austere maritime regulations; and scarcely had we set foot on deck than the anchor was raised, the sails hoisted, and a soft but favourable breeze carried us safely out of the harbour. I saw the shores of France disappear through the fog which surrounded the horizon, without the least regret, for the damp and dirty town of Brest scarcely seemed, in my eyes, as though it could form a part of “la belle France ;" and from the moment I entered it I could not help feeling and acting exactly as if I were in some foreign land; besides, the barren and uninteresting sea-shore looked very unlike that of my own country, and I felt that I had quitted iny native land on the day
on which I took leave of those I loved, and bid adieu to
After many disappointed hopes and unsuccessful plans,
prospect, to carry with them that sort of holy enthusiasm with which I set out on my travels, and which has never from that time abandoned me, for the high soarings of imagination are far preferable to indifferent scepticism ; the man of cold temperament and barren imagination will never become an accurate observer of nature ; and
whatever his talents and attainments may be, there are a thousand brilliant and beautiful scenes in life which he will never be able to appreciate. Quick feelings of interest, keen and incessant curiosity, have always accompanied me wherever I have travelled ; and if I have sometimes allowed these sensations to interrupt more important labours, it has been because I was unable to overcome an irresistible desire to analyze and examine the objects which surrounded me; my constant fear having always been, that in seeing too much, or too quickly, the scenes of interest through which I passed, and the different circumstances which attended them, might not be engraven on my memory quite so distinctly as I wished them to be.
The first few days of my voyage were devoted to making some slight acquaintance with the ship's crew, observing the customs followed on board the vessel, and studying the effects of sea-sickness on my own health, to which three occupations I applied myself with great assiduity for some time.
The commander of the frigate, M. Charnée, was one of those straitforward and apparently rough sort of men, in whom we so distinctly trace the firm and rigid character of the marine, and whose cool self-reliance and experience inspired others with confidence in the hour of danger; the officers under his command, were also most of them men of high standing ; but though we were of course thrown very much in their society, and compelled to be almost constant companions, there was a sort of cold misanthropical austerity in their general manner which I have often observed in people of their profession.
The contrast between the daily routine on board ship, which is almost as monotonous as that of a cloister, and the active adventurous life one leads on shore, struck me very forcibly, and had the effect of making me, if not melancholy, at least, meditative and taciturn, which feeling was not a little aggravated by the total absence of
comfort, the privations I was obliged to undergo in a little i nook which was alike destitute of the blessings of air and
light, and above all by most dreadful sea-sickness, which compelled me to separate myself almost entirely from my companions, like one proscribed by some direful disease.
In my opinion, the unavoidable inconveniences of a long voyage, joined to the ennui of being constantly with the same people, take a wonderful effect upon the character of marine officers—either throwing them into a sort of lethargic state, from which they find it so impossible to extricate them.selves, that the slight variations in their monotonous life, such as relieving guard, smoking, eating and drinking, &c., are listlessly and mechanically attended to, and a total absence of energy seems to overcome their faculties--or else they go into the contrary extreme, and give way to a state of nervous excitement, which renders them in the highest degree irritable and susceptible, and leads them to regard the slightest duty they may have to perform as an affair of the greatest importance – it is not therefore astonishing that under the influence of these causes, the manners and character should, after the many months passed in this manner, acquire a tinge of singularity which in time, amounts almost to a pathological trait. Discussions usually degenerate into disputes, antipathies increase to positive hatred, and exaggerated po
litical opinions become a species of monomania. How often have I seen polished legitimists transformed into the most violent and unmerciful republicans, while those who had distinguished themselves among the latter class, suddenly experienced, according to their own account, a change of sentiment leading them to adopt opinions exactly opposite to those they had hitherto formed. There is however, one infallible method, not a very pleasant one it is true, of restraining discord among the superior officers, of at once putting an end to these interminable discussions, lulling all ideas of rivalship and jealousy, and of making all, for a time, of one mind; it is, to introduce a new passenger on board the already over-crowded ship; he immediately becomes an object of suspicion and dislike to all, particular to the marine officer, who is, by this unwelcome intrusion deprived of a small portion of the narrow space in which he is condemned to exist, and who suspects the unfortunate passenger of all sorts of crimes, venting his ill-humour upon him at every possible opportunity, and of course conducting himself with less irritability towards his comrades.
If I were so fortunate as to be able to give a little advice to the Minister of Marine affairs, and could flatter myself that it would be attended to, I should certainly recommend him to send a few passengers on board all the State vessels ; the bodily health of the crew would be better, more cordiality would prevail among them, and those who made themselves disagreeable, would, at least, receive a blow occasionally, by way of admonition. However, to render the aspect of things rather more tolerable, there are on board all these vessels a few who