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ART. II. — THE OCEAN AND ITS MEANING IN
It is one of the peculiarities of the Ocean, that from whatever side we look at it, it makes a strong impression upon our mind. We may contemplate it merely with the physical eye, as it extends uninterrupted and restless beyond the limits of our perception; or we may consider it in a scientific point of view, with the eye of our intellect, as an agent of natural power, and ascertain the part which it has played in the history of our planet; or in its relation to natural history, as the principal seat of animal life ; or in an economical and historical point of view, pointing out its bearing upon civilization and human development in general.
We intend to consider the Ocean in these different points of view, but, before entering upon the subject, we think it proper to say a few words about its relation to human nature, and the light in which it has been considered by the different nations from the beginning of history.
Let us first speak of the Ocean in its relation to human nature.
It may be said that there is between the liquid element and our inmost nature a deep affinity which is independent of external condition, since it is found among men in a savage state as well as among the cultivated. It is anterior to education, and is even witnessed in the child before he is able to understand its meaning.*
The impression which water naturally produces upon us becomes still more profound when we combine with it the idea of extent. Water under the form of the Ocean becomes then the emblem of all that is vast, illimitable, immeasurable. We adopt it immediately as the truest image of the Infinite. It is, as a poet said, “ l'infini visible qui fait sentir aux yeux les bornes du temps et entrevoir l'existence sans bornes.”
In a philosophical point of view, it would no doubt be an object of interesting study, to ascertain why this image is so natural and so generally received. It is obvious that it is not extent alone which suggests it, since there are other phenomena — such as a desert, a prairie — whose dimensions, though not equalling the Ocean, nevertheless far exceed the limits of our vision, without impressing us in the same manner. Neither is it the vividness of oceanic impressions which constitute their striking character. Other phenomena of nature such as high mountains, glaciers, great cascades - sometimes produce upon our mind an impression not less strong and perhaps more exciting. But this emotion is of a very different nature. That which strikes and moves us in them is, besides their dimensions, their definite form, their distinct outlines, their contrast with the surrounding objects, their individuality, in one word.
* Those who live on the border of a sheet of water, the sea, a lake, or a large river, have often observed children, even of a lively and restless temperament, spend whole hours in looking at the water.
The Ocean has no definite form, no individuality, and this is the reason why it cannot be described. It is precisely in this absence of form that we have to look for the secret of its power. Indeed, if it be true that the solid form with its sharp outlines, - a crystal, for example, - is the most perfect expression of matter, the liquid form, on the other hand, wanting as it does a fixed outline, ever changing and impressible in all its parts, does it not remind us, in some degree, of this pervading essence that we feel existing within us, which is the foundation of our organization, and which has also neither form nor limit?
“ To try to paint the Ocean is like trying to paint a soul,” said an eminent critic.* And yet there is in the Ocean a real beauty, a real poetry, which in a measure is felt by every body, but which he alone can fully understand who from a high cliff has some time contemplated, at the edge of the hori. zon, the brilliant and warm colors of the sky melting into the soft and quiet tone of the surface of the waters, or he who has watched the waves in a storm, in their well-defined but transient forms, as they chase each other in endless succession. He also who, upon a still summer night in the tropical Ocean, has seen the stars glistening with equal lustre on the bosom of the deep or in the celestial vault, can understand why it was that the ancients made the Goddess of Beauty rise out of the Ocean.
This natural charm of the Sea is a sufficient explanation of the universal interest in all events which belong to the Ocean, which is felt even by those who have but a vague idea of it, which causes, for example, the chamois-hunter to forget the dangers and attractions of his mountains, and the backwoodsman the panther of his wild forest, while listening to the narrative of the sailor, who tells him of the wonders of the Ocean. Even the adventures of Ulysses — would they have the same charm without his struggles against the waves and the tempest ?
* The author of " The Modern Painters."
Admitting thus an intimate relation between the Sea and our inmost nature, we do not wonder at the beneficent influence which the Ocean has upon us, and which we find even in the generous dispositions and the open although rude character of the simple sailor. The Ocean is truly the friend of man. It not only affords pleasure for him upon whom life smiles, it has also consolation for him who has sorrow for his portion. The soul that suffers finds in it an almost instinctive assurance that there must be somewhere similar spaces, where his powers of expansion may be freely unfolded.
It is in this affinity between human nature and the Ocean that we have to look for the explanation not only of the importance which is given to the Ocean in the different cosmogonies, but also for this other fact that most of them agree sidering the Ocean as the origin of all things. According to the Hindoo mythology, Brahma caused the earth to rise by stirring the Ocean with the mountain Menu. Homer represents the Ocean as the source of all that exists,
'Ωκεανού, όπερ γένεσις πάντεσσι τέτυκται, (Iliad, XIV., 246,)and even of the gods themselves. He calls it the father of all the gods :
'Ωκεανόν τε, θεών γένεσιν και μητέρα Τηθύν, (liad, XIV., 201.) It is the same idea which we find, at a later epoch, at the foundation of several philosophical schools, especially of those of the Ionians and Eleatics, who considered water as the original element of all beings; and we know that the Stoics represented Neptune as the spirit of the universe manifested in the liquid element.
Karà tijd kís Td úypov diaraoiv. (Diog. Laert., vii., 147.) Even among the Indian tribes of the West we find the same idea. According to their tradition, the Great Spirit, in the form of a beaver, brought from the depth of the Ocean a mouthful of earth, with which he builded an island, which became afterwards the American continent.
When the nations of antiquity had reached a certain degree of civilization and attempted to personify the forces of nature, it was natural that they should assign an eminent rank to the Ocean. According to the condition in which the different people were placed, and the advantages or inconveniences they derived from the sea, they considered it sometimes as a propitious divinity and sometimes as a hostile power. For the Egyptian wha derived his prosperity from the Nile and its periodical inundations, Osiris, or the Nile, was the beneficent god, the source of good, whilst Typho (including both the sea and the desert,) was the hostile divinity, the destructive element, whose incursions were dreaded as the greatest calamity.
To the Phoenician, who looked for his fortune on the floods, the Ocean was a tutelary divinity, and history teaches us that these bold navigators used to offer numerous sacrifices to the god of the Sea, before they embarked upon their adventurous expeditions.
With the Greeks, we find Poseidon (the god of the Sea) among the protecting deities of Hellas, and we know, also, that among the Romans Neptune numbered a great many temples, where sacrifices of all kinds were offered to him.
In the Scandinavian mythology the oceanic deities do not hold, as it appears, so eminent a rank. Ran or Rana, the goddess of the Sea, is represented under the form of a frightful old woman; she lives at the bottom of the Ocean and takes possession of all those who are shipwrecked. Her husband is the god Æger, who more particularly represents the sea in tumult. It appears that he was also feared by the old Britons, and, according to Carlyle, there still exist traces of this old tradition in some parts of England. In Nottinghamshire, the fishermen say, when a strong wind drives the sea up into the river Trent, that “the Æger is coming."
The fact that the principal mythologies — those of the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, the Greeks, and the Romans — took their rise on the border of an inland sea, (the Mediterranean,) early led these people to make a distinction between the Ocean ('Sekeavós) and the Sea, (Tlóvros,) that is to say, the Mediterranean. They represent the Ocean as an immense river surrounding both the land and the sea, but without mingling his waters with the latter. It is thus, also, that it is represented on the shield of Achilles; the same idea is met with in the Greek poetry at a much later epoch. We find
it even in the Prometheus of Æschylus, at a time when geographical knowledge had long proved it absurd.*
It was natural that the Ocean, considered as distinct from the Sea, should appear to the ancients in a more vague although not less imposing character. According to Homer, it is the primitive river, from which all the waters, the Sea as well as the springs and rivers, proceed. (Iliad, xxi., 196.) This same idea is set forth in the myth, in which we find Okeanos leaving his palace on the border of the great river at the extremity of the earth, and marrying his sister Thetys, from which union sprang the principal rivers of Europe and Asia. It is from the palace of Okeanos that the sun comes in the morning, and thither he returns at night. (Iliad, VIII., 485; XVIII., 240.) The twilight also dwells in its waves. (Iliad, xix., 1. Odyssey, xxII., 197.) The stars bathe in his bosom, (Iliad, v., 6,) with the exception of one, the Polar Star. (Iliad, xvIII., 489. Odyssey, V., 275.)
Let us now speak of the Ocean in its relation to animated nature.
It would be a great mistake to consider the Ocean as barren and desert. Naturalists have long ago demonstrated that the sea and not the land is the principal seat of life. The land, to be sure, is the habitation of the most perfect animals, and as it constitutes, besides, the habitation of our own species, we feel naturally inclined to connect the idea of life more closely with it than with the Ocean. Besides, the land being less uniform, it affords more favorable conditions for the development of a greater variety of functions, among which there are several which we consider as characteristic of animal life, as, for instance, the faculty of uttering sounds and of expressing in this way feelings of pleasure and of pain, whilst almost all marine animals are dumb. Their senses in general are less sharp, and their power of locomotion not so perfect as in those animals that live on land.
But, on the other hand, it ought not to be forgotten that in the number of species, as well as of individuals, the Ocean, or at least the water, far excels the land ; so that the total amount of life is far more considerable in the water than on
* It was Herodotus who first opposed this idea of considering the Ocean as a river, since, says he, there are vast seas at the South and West, and nothing is known of the North.