THE STRANGE AND YET NATURAL ESCAPE OF OUR HERO. Our hero, having with wonderful resolution thrown himself into the sea, as we mentioned at the end of the last chapter, was miraculously within two minutes after replaced in his boat; and this without the assistance of a dolphin or a seahorse, or any other fish or animal, who are always as ready at hand when a poet or historian pleases to call for them to carry a hero through the sea, as any chairman at a coffee-house door near St. James's to convey a beau over a street, and preserve his white stockings. The truth is, we do not chuse to have any recourse to miracles, from the strict observance we pay to that rule of Horace,
Nec Deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus.
The meaning of which is, do not bring in a supernatural agent when you can do without him; and indeed we are much deeper read in natural than supernatural causes. We will therefore endeavour to account for this extraordinary event from the former of these; and in doing this it will be necessary to disclose some profound secrets to our reader, extremely well worth his knowing, and which may serve him to account for many occurrences of the phenomenous kind which have formerly appeared in this our hemisphere.
Be it known then that the great Alma Mater, Nature, is of all other females the most obstinate, and tenacious of her purpose. So true is that observation,
Naturam expellas furca licet, usque recurret.
Which I need not render in English, it being to be found in a book which most fine gentlemen are forced to read. Whatever Nature, therefore, purposes to herself, she never suffers any reason, design, or accident to frustrate. Now, though it may seem to a shallow observer that some persons were designed by Nature for no use or purpose whatever, yet certain it is that no man is born into the world without his particular allotment; viz., some to be kings, some statesmen, some ambassadors, some bishops, some generals, and so on. Of these there be two kinds; those to whom Nature is so generous to give some endowment qualifying them for the parts she intends them afterwards to act on this stage, and those whom she uses as instances of her unlimited power, and for whose preferment to such and such stations Solomon himself could have invented no other reason than that Nature designed them so. These latter some great philosophers have, to shew them to be the favourites of Nature, distinguished by the honourable appellation of NATURALS. Indeed, the true reason of the general ignorance of mankind on this head seems to be this; that, as Nature chuses to execute these her purposes by certain second causes, and as many of these second causes seem so totally foreign to her design, the wit of man, which, like his eye, sees best directly forward, and very little and imperfectly what is oblique, is not able to discern the end by the means. Thus, how a handsome wife or daughter should contribute to execute her original designation of a general, or how flattery or half a dozen houses in a borough-town should denote a judge, or a bishop, he is not capable of comprehending. And, indeed, we ourselves, wise as we are, are forced to reason ab effectu; and if we had been asked what Nature had intended such men for, before she herself had by the event demonstrated her purpose, it is possible we might sometimes have been puzzled to declare; for it must be confessed that at first sight, and to a mind uninspired, a man of vast natural capacity and much acquired knowledge may seem by Nature designed for power and honour, rather than one remarkable only for the want of these, and indeed all other qualifications; whereas daily experience convinces us of the contrary, and drives us as it were into the opinion I have here disclosed.
Now, Nature having originally intended our great man for that final exaltation which, as it is the most proper and becoming end of all great men, it were heartily to be wished they might all arrive at, would by no means be diverted from her purpose. She therefore no sooner spied him in the water than she softly whispered in his ear to attempt the recovery of his boat, which call he immediately obeyed, and, being a good swimmer, and it being a perfect calm, with great facility accomplished it.
Thus we think this passage in our history, at first so greatly surprising, is very naturally accounted for, and our relation rescued from the Prodigious, which, though it often occurs in biography, is not to be encouraged nor much commended on any occasion, unless when absolutely necessary to prevent the history's being at an end. Secondly, we hope our hero is justified from that imputation of want of resolution which must have been fatal to the greatness of his character.
THE CONCLUSION OF THE BOAT ADVENTURE, AND THE END OF THE SECOND BOOK. Our hero passed the remainder of the evening, the night, and the next day, in a condition not much to be envied by any passion of the human mind, unless by ambition; which, provided it can only entertain itself with the most distant music of fame's trumpet, can disdain all the pleasures of the sensualist, and those more solemn, though quieter comforts, which a good conscience suggests to a Christian philosopher.
He spent his time in contemplation, that is to say, in blaspheming, cursing, and sometimes singing and whistling. At last, when cold and hunger had almost subdued his native fierceness, it being a good deal past midnight and extremely dark, he thought he beheld a light at a distance, which the cloudiness of the sky prevented his mistaking for a star: this light, however, did not seem to approach him, at least it approached by such imperceptible degrees that it gave him very little comfort, and at length totally forsook him. He then renewed his contemplation as before, in which he continued till the day began to break, when, to his inexpressible delight, he beheld a sail at a very little distance, and which luckily seemed to be making towards him. He was likewise soon espied by those in the vessel, who wanted no signals to inform them of his distress, and, as it was almost a calm, and their course lay within five hundred yards of him, they hoisted out their boat and fetched him aboard.
The captain of this ship was a Frenchman; she was laden with deal from Norway, and had been extremely shattered in the late storm. This captain was of that kind of men who are actuated by general humanity, and whose compassion can be raised by the distress of a fellow-creature, though of a nation whose king hath quarrelled with the monarch of their own. He therefore, commiserating the circumstances of Wild, who had dressed up a story proper to impose upon such a silly fellow, told him that, as himself well knew, he must be a prisoner on his arrival in France, but that he would endeavour to procure his redemption; for which our hero greatly thanked him. But, as they were making very slow sail (for they had lost their main-mast in the storm), Wild saw a little vessel at a distance, they being within a few leagues of the English shore, which, on enquiry, he was informed was probably an English fishing-boat. And, it being then perfectly calm, he proposed that, if they would accommodate him with a pair of scullers, he could get within reach of the boat, at least near enough to make signals to her; and he preferred any risque to the certain fate of being a prisoner. As his courage was somewhat restored by the provisions (especially brandy) with which the Frenchmen had supplied him, he was so earnest in his entreaties, that the captain, after many persuasions, at length complied, and he was furnished with scullers, and with some bread, pork, and a bottle of brandy. Then, taking leave of his preservers, he again betook himself to his boat, and rowed so heartily that he soon came within the sight of the fisherman, who immediately made towards him and took him aboard.
No sooner was Wild got safe on board the fisherman than he begged him to make the utmost speed into Deal, for that the vessel which was still in sight was a distressed Frenchman, bound for Havre de Grace, and might easily be made a prize if there was any ship ready to go in pursuit of her. So nobly and greatly did our hero neglect all obligations conferred on him by the enemies of his country, that he would have contributed all he could to the taking his benefactor, to whom he owed both his life and his liberty.
The fisherman took his advice, and soon arrived at Deal, where the reader will, I doubt not, be as much concerned as Wild was, that there was not a single ship prepared to go on the expedition.
Our hero now saw himself once more safe on terra firma, but unluckily at some distance from that city where men of ingenuity can most easily supply their wants without the assistance of money, or rather can most easily procure money for the supply of their wants. However, as his talents were superior to every difficulty, he framed so dextrous an account of his being a merchant, having been taken and plundered by the enemy, and of his great effects in London, that he was not only heartily regaled by the fisherman at his house, but made so handsome a booty by way of borrowing, a method of taking which we have before mentioned to have his approbation, that he was enabled to provide himself with a place in the stage-coach; which (as God permitted it to perform the journey) brought him at the appointed time to an inn in the metropolis.
And now, reader, as thou canst be in no suspense far the fate of our great man, since we have returned him safe to the principal scene of his glory, we will a little look back on the fortunes of Mr. Heartfree, whom we left in no very pleasant situation; but of this we shall treat in the next book.