175 YEARS AGO TODAY – Charles Dickens cruises on Cunard’s Britannia.
Did you know that It was on this day in 1842, 175 years ago, that the famous novelist Charles Dickens boarded Samuel Cunard’s new steamship, Britannia, bound for America. In his book “American Notes”, he recounts his boarding and departure, as well as his passage across the North Atlantic and (great reading) the famous storm that culminated in the ship “running aground” on the coast of Nova Scotia. I have extracted these passages from many great choices:
“Two passengers’ wives (one of them my own) lay already in silent agonies on the sofa; and one lady’s maid (my lady’s) was a mere bundle on the floor, execrating her destiny, and pounding her curl-papers among the stray boxes. Everything sloped the wrong way: which in itself was an aggravation scarcely to be borne. I had left the door open, a moment before, in the bosom of a gentle declivity, and, when I turned to shut it, it was on the summit of a lofty eminence. Now every plank and timber creaked, as if the ship were made of wicker-work; and now crackled, like an enormous fire of the driest possible twigs. There was nothing for it but bed; so I went to bed.”
And this one:
“It is the third morning. I am awakened out of my sleep by a dismal shriek from my wife, who demands to know whether there’s any danger. I rouse myself, and look out of bed. The water jug is plunging and leaping like a lively dolphin; all the smaller articles are afloat, except my shoes, which are stranded on a carpet-bag, high and dry, like a couple of coal barges. Suddenly I see them spring into the air, and behold the looking-glass, which is nailed to the wall, sticking fast upon the ceiling. At the same time the door entirely disappears, and a new one is opened in the floor. Then I begin to comprehend that the stateroom is standing on its head.
Before it is possible to make any arrangement at all compatible with this novel state of things, the ship rights. Before one can say “Thank Heaven!” she wrongs again. Before one can cry she is wrong, she seems to have started forward, and to be a creature actually running of its own accord, with broken knees and failing legs, through every variety of hole and pitfall, and stumbling constantly. Before one can so much as wonder, she takes a high leap into the air. Before she has well done that, she takes a deep dive into the water. Before she has gained the surface, she throws a summerset. The instant she is on her legs, she rushes backward. And so she goes on staggering, heaving, wrestling, leaping, diving, jumping, pitching, throbbing, rolling, and rocking: and going through all these movements, sometimes by turns, and sometimes altogether: until one feels disposed to roar for mercy.”
This fascinating insight into the golden era of Transatlantic cruising is eye-opening, especially when penned by one of the greatest fictional writers of the Victorian era.
For the full details, have a read of these two chapters by Charles Dickens:
I hope you enjoy reading this amazing prose, ever thankful that you live in 2017, lucky to have such amazing and luxurious vessels to chose from particularly under Cunard’s banner.
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