Page:Paine--Lost ships and lonely seas.djvu/251

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

Among the annals of the vanished days of the old navies, of the tarry, pigtailed seamen with hearts of oak, the story of a shipwreck has been preserved in a letter written to his mother by a lieutenant of the frigate Phoenix in the year 1780. He tells her about the tragic episode as though he had actually enjoyed it, scribbling the details with a boyish gusto which conveys to us, in a manner exceedingly vivid, how ships and men lived and toiled in the age of boarding-pikes, hammock-nettings, and single topsails. Few young men write such long letters to their mothers nowadays, and even in that era of leisurely and literary correspondence a friend who was permitted to read the narrative was moved to comment:

"Every circumstance is detailed with feeling and powerful appeals are continually made to the heart. It must likewise afford considerable pleasure to observe the devout heart of a seaman frequently bursting forth and imparting sublimity to the relation."

This stilted admiration must not frighten the modern reader away, for Lieutenant Archer held his old-fashioned piety well under control, and was as brisk, slangy, and engaging a young officer as you could find afloat in a skittish destroyer of the present day. The forty-four-gun frigate Phoenix was commanded by Captain Sir Hyde Parker, who