Henry Field
From the Lakes of Killarney to the Golden Horn

From the Lakes of Killarney to the Golden Horn
Henry Field

Henry M. Field

From the Lakes of Killarney to the Golden Horn



    Queenstown, Ireland, Monday, May 24, 1875.

We landed this morning at two o'clock, by the light of the moon, which was just past the full, and which showed distinctly the beautiful harbor, surrounded by hills and forts, and filled with ships at anchor, through which the tender that brought us off from the steamer glided silently to the town, which lay in death-like stillness before us. Eight days and six hours took us from shore to shore! Eight days we were out of sight of land. Water, water everywhere! Ocean to the right of us, ocean to the left of us, ocean in front of us, and ocean behind us, with two or three miles of ocean under us. But our good ship, the City of Berlin (which seemed proud of bearing the name of the capital of the new German Empire), bore us over the sea like a conqueror. She is said to be the largest ship in the world, next to the Great Eastern, being 520 feet long, and carrying 5,500 tons. This was her first voyage, and much interest was felt as to how she "behaved." She carried herself proudly from the start. On Saturday, the 15th, seven steamships, bound for Europe, left New York at about the same time. Those of the National and the Anchor lines moved off quietly; then the Celtic, of the White Star line, so famous for its speed, shot down the Bay; and the French steamer, the Amerique, swept by, firing her guns, as if boasting of what she would do. But the Berlin answered not a word. Since a fatal accident, by which a poor fellow was blown to pieces by a premature explosion, the Inman line has dropped the foolish custom of firing a salute every time a ship leaves or touches the dock. So her guns were silent; she made no reply to her noisy French neighbor. But at length her huge bulk swung slowly into the stream, and her engines began to move. She had not gone half-way down the bay before she left all her rivals behind, the Frenchman still firing his guns; even the Celtic, though pressing steam, was soon "nowhere." We did not see the German ship, which sailed at a different hour; nor the Cunarder, the Algeria (in which were our friends, Prof. R. D. Hitchcock and his family), as she left an hour before us; but as she has not yet been signalled at Queenstown, she must be some distance behind;[1 - She came in fifteen hours after us, and the Celtic twenty. The German ship reached Southampton two days later.] so that the Berlin may fairly claim the honors of this ocean race.

But in crossing the sea speed is secondary to safety and to comfort; and in these things I can say truly that I never was on board a more magnificent ship (excepting always the Great Eastern, in which I crossed in 1867). She was never going at full speed, but took it easily, as it was her first voyage, and the Captain was anxious to get his new machinery into smooth working order. The great size of the ship conduces much to comfort. She is more steady, she does not pitch and roll, like the lighter boats that we saw tossing around us, while she was moving majestically through the waves. The saloon, instead of being at the stern, according to the old method of construction, is placed more amidships (after the excellent model first introduced by the White Star line), and covers the whole width of the steamer, which gives light on both sides. There are four bath-rooms, with marble baths, supplied with salt water, so that one may have the luxury of sea-bathing without going to Rockaway or Coney Island. In crossing the Gulf Stream the water is warm enough; but if elsewhere it is too chill, the turn of a cock lets the steam into the bath, which quickly raises it to any degree of temperature. The ventilation is excellent, so that even when the port-holes are shut on account of the high sea, the air never becomes impure. The state-rooms are furnished with electric bells, one touch on which brings a steward in an instant. Thus provided for, one may escape, as far as possible, the discomforts of the sea, and enjoy in some degree the comforts and even the luxuries of civilization.

Captain Kennedy, who is the Commodore of the fleet, and so always commands the newest and best ship of the line, is an admirable seaman, with a quick eye for everything, always on deck at critical moments, watching with unsleeping vigilance over the safety of all on board. The order and discipline of the ship is perfect. There is no noise or confusion. All moves on quietly. Not a sound is heard, save the occasional cry of the men stretching the sails, and the steady throb, day and night, of the engine, which keeps this huge mass moving on her ocean track.

But what a vast machine is such a ship, and how complicated the construction which makes possible such a triumph over the sea. Come up on the upper deck, and look down through this iron grating. You can see to a depth of fifty or sixty feet. It is like looking down into a miner's shaft. And what makes it the more fearful, is that the bottom of the ship is a mass of fire. Thirty-six furnaces are in full blast to heat the steam, and at night, as the red-hot coals that are raked out of the furnaces like melted lava, flash in the faces of the brawny and sweltering men, one might fancy himself looking into some Vulcan's cave, or subterranean region, glowing with an infernal heat. Thus one of these great ocean steamships is literally a sea monster, that feeds on fire; and descending into its bowels is (to use the energetic language of Scripture in speaking of Jonah in the whale) like going down into the "belly of hell."

All this suggests danger from fire as well as from the sea, and yet, so perfect are the precautions taken, that these glowing furnaces really guard against danger, as they shorten the time of exposure by insuring quadruple speed in crossing the deep.

And yet I can never banish the sense of a danger that is always near from the two destroying elements of fire and water, flood and flame. The very precautions against danger show that it is ever present to the mind of the prudent navigator. Those ten life-boats hung above the deck, with pulleys ready to swing them over the ship's side at a moment's notice, and the axe ready to cut away the ropes, and even casks of water filled to quench the burning thirst of a shipwrecked crew that may be cast helpless on the waves, suggest unpleasant possibilities, in view of recent disasters; and one night I went to my berth feeling not quite so easy as in my bed at home, as we were near the banks of Newfoundland, and a dense fog hung over the sea, through which the ship went, making fourteen miles an hour, its fog-whistles screaming all night long. This was very well as a warning to other ships to keep out of the way, but would not receive much attention from the icebergs that were floating about, which are very abundant in the Atlantic this summer. We saw one the next day, a huge fellow that might have proved an ugly acquaintance, as one crash on his frozen head would have sent us all to the bottom.

But at such times unusual precautions are taken. There are signs in the sudden chilliness of the air of the near approach of an iceberg, which would lead the ship to back out at once from the hug of such a polar bear.

In a few hours the fog was all gone; and the next night, as we sat on deck, the full moon rose out of the waves. Instantly the hum of voices ceased; conversation was hushed; and all grew silent before the awful beauty of the scene. Such an hour suggests not merely poetical but spiritual thoughts – thoughts of the dead as well as thoughts of God. It recalled a passage in David Copperfield, where little David, after the death of his mother, sits at a window and looks out upon the sea, and sees a shining path over the waters, and thinks he sees his mother coming to him upon it from heaven. May it not be that on such a radiant pathway from the skies we sometimes see the angels of God ascending and descending?

But with all these moonlight nights, and sun-risings and sun-settings, the sea had little attraction for me, and its general impression was one of profound melancholy. Perhaps my own mood of mind had something to do with it; but as I sat upon deck and looked out upon the "gray and melancholy waste," or lay in my berth and heard the waves rushing past, I had a feeling more dreary than in the most desolate wilderness. That sound haunted me; it was the last I heard at night, and the first in the morning; it mingled with my dreams. I tried to analyze the feeling. Was it my own mental depression that hung like a cloud over the waters; or was it something in the aspect of nature itself? Perhaps both. I was indeed floating amid shadows. But I found no sympathy in the sea. On the land Nature soothed and comforted me; she spoke in gentle tones, as if she had a heart of tenderness, a motherly sympathy with the sorrow of her children. There was something in the deep silence of the woods that seemed to say, Peace, be still! The brooks murmured softly as they flowed between their mossy banks, as if they would not disturb our musings, but "glide into them, and steal away their sharpness ere we were aware." The robins sang in notes not too gay, but that spoke of returning spring after a long dark winter; and the soft airs that touched the feverish brow seemed to lift gently the grief that rested there, and carry it away on the evening wind. But in the ocean, there was no touch of human feeling, no sympathy with human woe. All was cold and pitiless. Even on the sea beach "the cruel, crawling foam" comes creeping up to the feet of the child skipping along the sands, as if to snatch him away, while out on the deep the rolling waves

"Mock the cry
Of some strong swimmer in his agony."

Bishop Butler finds in many of the forces of Nature proofs of God's moral government over the world, and even suggestions of mercy. But none of these does he find in the sea. That speaks only of wrath and terror. Its power is to destroy. It is a treacherous element. Smooth and smiling it may be, even when it lures us to destruction. We are sailing over it in perfect security, but let there be a fire or a collision, and it would swallow us up in an instant, as it has swallowed a thousand wrecks before. Knowing no mercy, cruel as the grave, it sacrifices without pity youth and age, gray hairs and childish innocence and tender womanhood – all alike are engulfed in the devouring sea. There is not a single tear in the thousand leagues of ocean, nor a sigh in the winds that sweep over it, for all the hearts it breaks or the lives it destroys. The sea, therefore, is not a symbol of divine mercy. It is the very emblem of tremendous and remorseless power. Indeed, if Nature had no other face but this, we could hardly believe in God, or at least, with gentle attributes; we could only stand on the shore of existence, and shake with terror at the presence of a being of infinite power, but cold and pitiless as the waves that roll from the Arctic pole. Our Saviour walked on the waves, but left thereon no impress of his blessed feet; nor can we find there a trace of the love of God as it shines in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we must not yield to musings that grow darker with the gathering night. Let us go down into the ship, where the lamps are lighted, and there is a sound of voices, to make us forget our loneliness in the midst of the sea.

The cabin always presented an animated scene. We had nearly two hundred passengers, who were seated about on the sofas, reading, or playing games, or engaged in conversation. The company was a very pleasant one. At the Captain's table, where we sat, was Mr. Mathew, the late English Minister to Brazil, a very intelligent and agreeable gentleman, who had been for seven years at the Court of Dom Pedro, whom he described as one of the most enlightened monarchs of his time, "half a century in advance of his people," doing everything that was possible to introduce a better industry and all improvements in the arts from Europe and America. The great matter of political interest now in Brazil is the controversy with the Bishops, where, as in Germany, it is a stubborn fight between the State and the ecclesiastical power. Two of the Bishops are now in prison for having excommunicated by wholesale all the Freemasons of the country, without asking the consent of the government to the issue of such a sweeping decree. They are confined in two fortresses on the opposite side of the harbor of Rio Janeiro, where they take their martyrdom very comfortably, their sentence to "hard labor" amounting to having a French cook, and all the luxuries of life, so that they can have a good time, while they fulminate their censures, "nursing their wrath to keep it warm."

At the same table were several young Englishmen, who were not at all like the imaginary Briton abroad, cold and distant and reserved, but very agreeable, and doing everything to make our voyage pleasant. We remember them with a feeling of real friendship. Near us also sat a young New York publisher, Mr. Mead, with his wife, to whom we were drawn by a sort of elective affinity, and shall be glad to meet them again on the other side of the ocean.

Among our passengers was Grace Greenwood, who added much to the general enjoyment by entertaining us in the evening with her dramatic recitations from Bret Harte's California Sketches, while her young daughter, who has a very sweet voice, sang charmingly.

Like all ships' companies, ours were bent on amusing themselves, although it was sometimes a pursuit of pleasure under difficulties; as one evening, when a young gentleman and lady sang "What are the wild waves saying?" each clinging to a post for support, while the performer at the piano had to fall on his knees to keep from being drifted away from his instrument!

But Grace Greenwood is not a mere entertainer of audiences with her voice, or of the public with her pen. She is not only a very clever writer, but has as much wisdom as wit in her woman's brain. In our conversations she did not discover any extreme opinions, such as are held by some brilliant female writers, but seemed to have a mind well balanced, with a great deal of good common sense as well as womanly feeling, and a brave heart to help her struggling sisters in America, and all over the world.

One meets some familiar faces on these steamer decks, and here almost the first man that I ran against was a clergyman whom I knew twenty-five years ago in Connecticut, Rev. James T. Hyde. He is now a Professor in the Congregational Theological Seminary at Chicago, and is going abroad for the first time. What a world of good it does these studious men, these preachers and scholars, to be thus "transported!"

But here is a scholar and a professor who is not a stranger in Europe, but to the manner born, our own beloved Dr. Schaff, whose passage I had taken with mine (knowing that he had to go abroad this summer), and thus beguiled him into our company. We shared the same state-room, and never do I desire a more delightful travelling companion on land or sea. Those who know him do not need to be told that he is not only one of our first scholars, but one of the most genial of men. While full of learning, he never oppresses you with oracular wisdom; but is just as ready for a pleasant story as for a grave literary or theological discussion. I think we hardly realize yet what a service he has rendered to our country in establishing a sort of literary and intellectual free trade between the educated and religious mind of America and of Great Britain and Germany. To him more than to any other man is due the great success of the Evangelical Alliance. He is now going abroad on a mission of not less importance – the revision of our present version of the English Bible: a work which has enlisted for some years the combined labors of a great number of the most eminent scholars in England and America.

Finally, as a practical homily and piece of advice to all who are going abroad, let me say, if you would have the fullest enjoyment, take a young person with you– if possible, one who is untravelled, so that you can see the world again with fresh eyes. I came away in the deepest depression. Nothing has comforted me so much as a light figure always at my side. Poor child! The watching, and care, and sorrow that she has had for these many months, had driven the roses from her cheeks; but now they are coming back again. She has never been abroad before. To her literally "all things are new." The sun rises daily on a new world. She enters into everything with the utmost zest. She was a very good sailor, and enjoyed the voyage, and made friends with everybody. Really it brought a thrill of pleasure for the first time into my poor heart to see her delight. She will be the best of companions in all my wanderings.

In such good company, we have passed over the great and wide sea, and now set foot upon the land, thanking Him who has led us safely through the mighty waters. Yesterday morning, after the English service had been read in the saloon, Dr. Schaff gave out the hymn,

Nearer, my God, to Thee,

and my heart responded fervently to the prayer, that all the experiences of this mortal state, on the sea and on the land – the storms of the ocean and the storms of life – may serve this one supreme object of existence, to bring us nearer to God.



    The Lakes of Killarney, May 26th.

There is never but one first impression; all else is second in time and in degree. It is twenty-eight years since I first saw the shores of England and of Ireland, and then they were to me like some celestial country. It was then, as now, in the blessed spring-time – in the merry month of May:

The corn was springing fresh and green,
The lark sang loud and high;

and the banks of the Mersey, as I sailed up to Liverpool, were like the golden shores of Paradise.

Now I am somewhat of a traveller, and should take these things more quietly, were it not for a pair of young eyes beside me, through which I see things anew, and taste again the sweetness of that earlier time. If we had landed in the moon, my companion could not have been at first more bewildered and delighted with what she saw; everything was so queer and quaint, so old and strange – in a word, so unlike all she had ever seen before. The streets were different, being very narrow, and winding up hill and down dale; the houses were different, standing close up to the street, without the relief of grass, or lawn, or even of stately ascending steps in front; the thatched cottages and the flowering hedge-rows – all were new.

To heighten the impression of what was so fresh to the eye, the country was in its most beautiful season. We left New York still looking cold and cheerless from the backward spring; here the spring had burst into its full glory. The ivy mantled every old tower and ruin with the richest green, the hawthorn was in blossom, making the hedge-rows, as we whirled along the roads, a mass of white and green, filling the eye with its beauty and the air with its fragrance. Thus there was an intoxication of the senses, as well as of the imagination; and if the girls (for two others, under the charge of Prof. Hyde, had joined our party) had leaped from the carriage, and commenced a romp or a dance on the greensward, we could hardly have been surprised, as an expression of their childish joy, and their first greeting as they touched the soil, not of merry England, but of the Emerald Isle.

But if this set them off into such ecstasies, what shall be said of their first sight of a ruin? Of course it was Blarney Castle, which is near Cork, and famous for its Blarney Stone. A lordly castle, indeed, it must have been in the days of its pride, as it still towers up a hundred feet and more, and its walls are eight or ten feet thick: so that it would have lasted for ages, if Cromwell had not knocked some ugly holes through it a little more than two hundred years ago. But still the tower is beautiful, being covered to the very top with masses of ivy, which in England is the great beautifier of whatever is old, clinging to the mouldering wall, covering up the huge rents and gaps made by cannon balls, and making the most unsightly ruins lovely in their decay. We all climbed to the top, where hangs in air, fastened by iron clamps in its place, the famous Blarney Stone, which is said to impart to whoever kisses it the gift of eloquence, which will make one successful in love and in life. As it was, only one pressed forward to snatch this prize which it held out to our embrace. Dr. Schaff even "poked" the stone disdainfully with his staff, perhaps thinking it would become like Aaron's rod that budded. The lack of enthusiasm, however, may have been owing to the fact that the stone hangs at a dizzy height, and is therefore somewhat difficult of approach; for on descending within the castle, where is another Blarney Stone lying on the ground, and within easy reach, I can testify that several of the party gave it a hearty smack, not to catch any mysterious virtue from the stone, but the flavor of thousands of fair lips that had kissed it before.

Before leaving this old castle, as we shall have many more to see hereafter, let me say a word about castles in general. They are well enough as ruins, and certainly, as they are scattered about Ireland and England, they add much to the picturesqueness of the landscapes, and will always possess a romantic interest. But viewed in the sober light of history, they are monuments of an age of barbarism, when the country was divided among a hundred chiefs, each of whom had his stronghold, out of which he could sally to attack his less powerful neighbor. Everything in the construction – the huge walls, with narrow slits for windows through which the archers could pour arrows, or in later times the musketeers could shower balls, on their enemies; the deep moat surrounding it; the drawbridge and portcullis – all speak of a time of universal insecurity, when danger was abroad, and every man had to be armed against his fellow.

As a place of habitation, such a fortress was not much better than a prison. The chieftain shut himself in behind massive walls, under huge arches, where the sun could never penetrate, where all was dark and gloomy as a sepulchre. I know a cottage in New England, on the crest of one of the Berkshire Hills, open on every side to light and air, kissed by the rising and the setting sun, in which there is a hundred times more of real comfort than could have been in one of these old castles, where a haughty baron passed his existence in gloomy grandeur, buried in sepulchral gloom.

And to what darker purposes were these castles sometimes applied! Let one go down into the passages underneath, and see the dungeons underground, dark, damp, and cold as the grave, in which prisoners and captives were buried alive. One cannot grope his way into these foul subterranean dungeons without feeling that these old castles are the monuments of savage tyrants; that if these walls could speak, they would tell many a tale, not of knightly chivalry, but of barbarous cruelty, that would curdle the blood with horror. These things take away somewhat of the charm which Walter Scott has thrown about these old "gallant knights," who were often no better than robber chiefs; and I am glad that Cromwell with his cannon battered their strongholds about their ears. Let these relics remain covered with ivy, and picturesque as ruins, but let it never be forgotten that they are the fallen monuments of an age of barbarism, of terror, and of cruelty.

There is one other feature of this country that cannot be omitted from a survey of Ireland – it is the beggars, who are sure to give an American a warm welcome. They greet him with whines and grimaces and pitiful beseechings, to which he cannot harden his heart. My first salutation at Queenstown on Monday morning, on coming out in front of the hotel to take a view of the beautiful bay, was from an old woman in rags, who certainly looked what she described herself to be, "a poor crathur, that had nobody to care for her," and who besought me, "for the love of God, to give her at least the price of a cup of tea!" Of course I did, when she gave me an Irish blessing: "May the gates o Paradise open to ye, and to all them that loves ye!" This vision of Paradise seems to be a favorite one with the Irish beggar, and is sometimes coupled with extraordinary images, as when one blesses her benefactor in this overflowing style: "May every hair on your head be a candle to light you to Paradise!"

This quick wit of the Irish serves them better than their poverty in appealing for charity; and I must confess that I have violated all the rules laid down by charitable societies, "not to give to beggars," for I have filled my pockets with pennies, and given to hordes of ragamuffins, as well as to old women, to hear their answers, which, though largely infused with Irish blarney, have a flavor of native wit. Who could resist such a blessing as this: "May ye ride in a fine carriage, and the mud of your wheels splash the face of your inimies," then with a quick turn, "though I know ye haven't any!"

Yesterday we made an excursion through the Gap of Dunloe, a famous gorge in the mountains around Killarney, and were set upon by the whole fraternity – ragtag and bobtail. At the foot of the pass we left our jaunting car to walk over the mountain, C – alone being mounted on a pony. I walked by her side, while our two theological professors strode ahead. The women were after them in full cry, each with a bowl of goat's milk and a bottle of "mountain dew" (Irish whiskey), to work upon their generous feelings. But they produced no impression; the professors were absorbed in theology or something else, and setting their faces with all the sternness of Calvinism against this vile beggary, they kept moving up the mountain path. At length the beggars gave them up in despair, and returned to try their mild solicitations upon me. An old siren, coming up in a tender and confiding way, whispered to me, "You're the best looking of the lot; and it is a nice lady ye have; and a fine couple ye make." That was enough; she got her money. I felt a little elated with the distinguished and superior air which even beggars had discovered in my aspect and bearing, till on returning to the hotel, one of our professors coolly informed me that the same old witch had previously told him that "he was the darling of the party!" After that, who will ever believe a beggar's compliment again?

But we must not let the beggars on the way either amuse or provoke us, so as to divert our attention from the natural grandeur and beauty around us. The region of the Lakes of Killarney is at once the most wild and the most beautiful portion of Ireland. These Lakes are set as in a bowl, in the hollow of rugged mountains, which are not like the Green Mountains, or the Catskills, wooded to the top, but bald and black, their heads being swept by perpetual storms from the Atlantic, that keep them always bleak and bare. Yet in the heart of these barren mountains, in the very centre of all this savage desolation, lie these lovely sheets of water. No wonder that they are sought by tourists from America, and from all parts of the world.

Nor are their shores without verdure and beauty. Though the mountain sides are bare rock, like the peaks of volcanoes, yet the lower hills and meadows bordering on the Lakes are in a high state of cultivation. But these oases of fertility are not for the people; they all belong to great estates – chiefly to the Earl of Kenmare and a Mr. Herbert, who is a Member of Parliament. These estates are enclosed with high walls, as if to keep them not only from the intrusion of the people, but even from being seen by them. The great rule of English exclusiveness here obtains, as in the construction of the old feudal castles, the object in both cases being the same, to keep the owners in, and to shut everybody else out. Hence the contrast between what is within and what is without these enclosures. Within all is greenness and fertility; without all is want and misery. It will not do to impute the latter entirely to the natural shiftlessness of the Irish people, as if they would rather beg than work. They have very little motive to work. They cannot own a foot of the soil. The Earl of Kenmare may have thousands of acres for his game, but not a foot will he sell to an Irish laborer, however worthy or industrious. Hence the inevitable tendency of things is to impoverish more and more the wretched peasantry. How long would even the farmers of New England retain their sturdy independence, if all the land of a county were in a single estate, and they could not by any possibility get an acre of ground? They would soon lose their self-respect, as they sank from the condition of owners to tenants. The more I see of different countries, the more I am convinced that the first condition of a robust and manly race is that they should have within their reach some means, either by culture of the soil or by some other kind of industry, of securing for themselves an honest and decent support. It is impossible to keep up self-respect when there is no means of livelihood. Hence the feeling of sadness that mingles with all this beauty around me; that it is a country where all is for the few, and nothing for the many; where the poor starve, while a few nobles and rich landlords can spend their substance in riotous living. Kingsley, in one of his novels, puts into the mouth of an English sailor these lines, which always seemed to me to have a singular pathos:

"Oh! England is a pleasant place for them that's rich and high;
But England is a cruel place for such poor folks as I."

That is the woe of Ireland – a woe inwrought with its very institutions, and which it would seem only some social convulsion could remove. Sooner or later it must come; we hope by peaceful methods and gentle influences. We shall not live to see the time, but we trust another generation may, when the visitor to Killarney shall not have his delight in the works of God spoiled by sight of the wretchedness of man; when instead of troops of urchins in rags, with bare feet, running for miles to catch the pennies thrown from jaunting cars, we shall see happy, rosy-cheeked children issuing from school-houses, and see the white spires of pretty churches gleaming in the valleys and on the hills. That will be the "sunburst" indeed for poor old Ireland, when the glory of the Lord is thus seen upon her waters and her mountains.