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Bill Thayer

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Editor's Preface

This webpage reproduces part of
Life in a Man-of‑War

a Fore‑top-man

published by
Houghton Mifflin Company
Boston and New York

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p. xv  Preface

Critics avaunt! curl not your lips with scorn,

Do let my humble Sketches pass scot-free —

For you will find them but the uncouth "yarns"

Of an unlettered wanderer on the sea.

I had made up my mind whilst on our homeward-bound passage to slip the moorings of the present little Craft and let her glide before the public without anything in the shape of prefatory remark; but as soon as I mentioned the circumstance to some of the literati of the galley, they condemned loudly and emphatically my determination. "What," cried one old weatherworn customer, "print your book without a preface, that ain't ship-shape no how; I thought you had more savey than that; damme, man, now-a‑days a book without a preface is like a topmast without a fid, its whole dependence gone, small as it is." — "Aye," chimed in a second, "or like a purser's joint, without naval buttons; nothing to set off the quality of the article." — "Or like," remarked a third, "a sailor's jack-knife without a laniard, a most essential thing wanting." — "Or like a gun without a touch-hole," cried a fourth, "well enough to look at, but that little thing required to give it force and effect."

They would have assailed me with fifty other nautical similies, to prove that my work wouldn't be worth a single cent without the appendage they were so anxious for; and to save myself from their incessant solicitations, I promised I would try my hand at something of the kind; and so, readers, I have made a beginning. The present little work consists but of a few of the "sayings and doings" on board of "Old Ironsides" during our cruise — for the numerous incidents, both of a serious and laughable nature, that transpire daily, aye hourly, on board an armed ship upon a foreign station, would furnish materials sufficient to fit out a craft in the literary line, to which this in size would be but a mere cock-boat; and I assure you the cruise of "Old Ironsides" in the Pacific was of this nature; but from the many disadvantages one in my capacity had necessarily to  p. xvi labour under whilst endeavouring to note the passing events as they occurred, as well as the difficulties I had to struggle against — the interruptions I was subject to, and the noise and outcry that assailed me on every side, whilst indulging in my "scribbling vein" — I was constrained to let many a scene pass unnoticed, and to touch on others slightly and superficially.

It is at the urgent request of Shipmates, many of whom have been with me last cruise, that I have brought forth these humble "twisters" to the public gaze, for, to use their own trite expression, "they wanted the shore folks to see a few of the moves on board a Yankee Frigate"; — and whether it will ever fall into other hands than theirs, or whether the falcon eye of criticism will deign to cast a glance upon the pages, I know not, and as little I care; inasmuch as that pecuniary advantages are not my aim, but to yield to the importunities of those hardy fellows who have braved with me in sunshine and storm the perils of the wide, unfathomable Ocean. If on the other hand, the sojourners on terra firma should chance to overhaul sharply this my humble attempt at bookmaking, let them call to mind how delightfully situated a topman is on board a smart ship, with regard to bringing his ideas to a focus and how much the vociferous turmoil and noisy outcry, that assail him at all turns, from the "high and giddy mast" to the confines of the hold below, help to bring his mind to anything like a contemplative mood. Wonder not then, gentle reader, if my descriptions occasionally flag — if my "yarns" occasionally appear tiresome; — and though your eyes will not be greeted with any delightful, set forms of speech, nor any mellifluous rhetorical flowers, scattered along the several pages — yet you will perceive a "round unvarnished tale" of the disquietudes, delights, sorrows, joys, troubles, and perplexities, that assail the hardy tar when bronzing his rugged features under the influence of foreign suns — unfolded in the rude, unpretending, and unpolished style of

"A Fore‑top-man"

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Page updated: 5 Oct 21