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NUMBER of publications have appeared, first and last,
concerning the author and his career, as was naturally to have been expected. The Alabama was the first steamship in the history of the world — the defective little Sumter excepted — that was let loose against the commerce of a great commercial people. The destruction which she caused was enormous. She not only alarmed the enemy, but she alarmed all the other nations of the earth which had commerce afloat, as they could not be sure that a similar scourge, at some future time, might not be let loose against themselves. The Alabama, in consequence, became famous. It was the fame of steam. As a matter of course, she attracted the attention of the book-makers -- those cormorants ever on the lookout for a “speculation." A number of ambitious literateurs entered the seductive field. But it was easier, as they soon found, to enter the field than to explore it, and these penny-a-liners all made miserable failures, - not even excepting the London house of Saunders, Otley & Co., to whom the author was induced to loan his journals, in the hope that something worthy of his career might be produced. To those who have chanced to see the “Log of the Sumter and Alabama,” produced by that house, it will be unnecessary to say that the author had no hand in its preparation. He did not write a line for it, nor had he any interest whatever in the sale of it, as the loan of his journals had been entirely gratuitous. So far as his own career was concerned, the author would gladly have devolved the labor of the historian on other shoulders, if this
had been possible. But it did not seem to be possible, after the experiments that had been made. With all the facilities afforded the London house referred to, a meagre and barren record was the result. The cause is sufficiently obvious. The cruise of a ship is a biography. The ship becomes a personification. She not only
“Walks the waters like a thing of life,” but she speaks in moving accents to those capable of interpreting her. But her interpreter must be a seaman, and not a landsman. He must not only be a seaman, he must have made the identical cruise which he undertakes to describe. It will be seen, hence, that the career of the author was a sealed book to all but himself. A landsman could not even interpret his journals, written frequently in the hieroglyphics of the sea. A line, or a bare mark made by himself, which to other eyes would be meaningless would for him be fraught with the inspiration of whole pages.
Besides, the Alabama had an inside as well as an outside life. She was a microcosm. If it required a seaman to interpret her as to her outside life, much more did it require one to give an intelligible view of the little world that she carried in her bosom. No one but an eye-witness, and that witness himself a sailor, could unveil to an outside world the domestic mysteries of the every-day life of Jack, and portray him in his natural colors, as he worked and as he played. The following pages may, therefore, be said to be the first attempt to give anything like a truthful picture of the career of the author upon the high seas, during the late war, to the public. In their preparation the writer has discarded the didactic style of the historian, and adopted that of memoir writing, as better suited to his subject. This style gave him more latitude in the description of persons and events, and relieved him from some of the fetters of a mere writer of history. There are portions of the work, however, purely historical, and these have been treated with the gravity and dignity which became them. In short, the author has aimed to produce what the title of his book imports — an historical memoir of his services afloat during the war. That
his book will be generally read by the Northern people he does not suppose. They are scarcely in a temper yet to read anything he might write. The wounds which he has inflicted upon them are too recent. Besides, men do not willingly read unpalatable truths of themselves. The people of America being sovereign, they are like other sovereigns,they like those best who fool them most, by pandering to their vices and flattering their foibles. The author, not being a flatterer, cannot expect to be much of a favorite at the court of the Demos.
A word now as to the feeling with which the author has written. It has sometimes been said that a writer of history should be as phlegmatic and unimpassioned as the judge upon the bench. If the reader desires a dead history, in other words, a history devoid of the true spirit of history, the author assents to the remark. But if he desires a living, moving, breathing picture of events -- a personam instead of a subjectam, the picture must not be undertaken by one who does not feel something of that which he writes. Such a terrible war as that through which we have passed could not be comprehended by a stolid, phlegmatic writer, whose pulse did not beat quicker while he wrote. When all the higher and holier passions of the human heart are aroused in a struggle — when the barbarian is at your door with the torch of the incendiary in one hand, and the uplifted sword of diabolical revenge in the other, — feeling is an important element in the real drama that is passing before the eyes of the beholder.
. To attempt to describe such a drama with the cold words of philosophy, is simply ridiculous. If the acts be not described in words suited to portray their infamy, you have a lie instead of history. Nor does it follow that feeling necessarily overrides judgment. All passions blind us if we give free rein to them; but when they are held in check, they sharpen, instead of obscuring the intellect. In a well-balanced mind, feeling and judgment aid each other; and he will prove the most successful historian who has the two in a just equipoise. But though the author has given vent occasionally to a just indignation, he has not written in malice. He does not know the meaning
of the word. He has simply written as a Southern man might be supposed to think and feel, treading upon the toes of his enemies as tenderly as possible. If he has been occasionally plain-spoken, it is because he has used the English language, which calls a rogue a rogue, notwithstanding his disguises. When the author has spoken of the Yankee and his “grand moral ideas," he has spoken rather of a wellknown type than of individual men. If the reader will bear these remarks in mind as he goes alɔng, he will find them a key to some of the passages in the book. In describing natural phenomena, the author has ventured upon some new suggestions. He submits these with great diffidence. Meteorology is yet a new science, and many developments of principles remain to be made.
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