Fishermen have a superstition that to see a Hare an the way down to the boat brings bad luck, and if one looks at some of the old books concerning withcraft it will be seen that it was a common belief that witches frequently disguised themselves as hares.
A fisherman wears earrings to make him lively and particularly to improve his eyesight. The fact that the ear had to be pierced may have had something to do with this, as we find that in the old prize fighting days it was a common practice to bite the ear of a man who had been knocked out in order that he might be brought round and so continue the fight.
Many fishermen are averse to using white stones for ballast or a knofe with a white handle, but none have been able to tell me why.
Of course, sailing on a Friday or the 13th of the month is of Biblical origin and is well known to everybody. To carry a Parson is often thought to be unlucky, as the Devil was considered to specially lay for the Padre and to visit the ship in order to compete with him, and it was an these grounds that his presence was considered undesireable.
To bring wind it was customary to stick a knife in the mast with the handle pointing to the direction from which the wind was desired. I have heard that this belief was founded on the idea of a storm accompanied by lightning springing up from the wished for direction.
In the West Country I have heardthe belief expresses that the souls of old sailors inhabit sea gulls. Of course, the legend of the Ancient Mariner is well known to every-body, but there is a quaint similarity between this belief and that held in North Russia, where it is thought that for three weeks after death the soul of the departed enters into a pigeon. In many other countries similar beliefs also exist.
During the Dwina River campaign I know that villagers who frequently had relatives fighting on both sides were most careful to feed any pigeons that were about and were highly incensed by the fact that British Officers frequently shot these birds for the pot.
To permit a glass to ring is supposed to sound the knell of a sailor who will die by drowning. If. however the ringing is stopped "The Devil will take two soldiers in lieu."
In conclusion let me quote an extract from a letter of JOHN PAUL JONES to the Naval Committee of Congress and dated September 14th. 1776, regarding his opinion of what he considers desirable in a Naval Officer:
"It is by no means enough that an Officer of the Navy should be a capable mariner; he must be that of course, and also a good deal more. He should be as well a gentleman of liberal education, refined manners, punctilious courtesy, and nicest sense of personal Honour. Coming now to view the Naval Officer aboard ship and in relation to those under his command. he should be the soul of tact, patience, justice. firmness, and charity. No meritorious act of a subordinate should escape his attention or be left to pass without its reward, even if the reward be only one of approval. Conversely, he should not be blind to a single fault in any subordinate, though at the same time he should be quick and unfailing to distinguish error from malice, thoughtlessness from incompetency, and well-meant shortcomings from heedless or stupid blunder. As he should be universal and impartial in his rewards and approval of merit, so should he be judicial and unbending in his punishment or reproof of misconduct.
In his intercourse with subordinates he should ever maintain the attitude of the Commander, but that need by no means prevent him from the amenities of cordiality or the cultivation of good cheer within the proper limits. Every Commanding Officer should hold with subordinates such relations as will make them constantly anxious to sit at his table, and his bearing towards them should be such as encourages them to express their opinions to him with freedom and to ask his views without reserve. The Navy is essentially and necessarily aristocratic. True as may be the political principles for which we now contend, they can never be perfectly applied or even admitted onboard ship, out of port or off soundings. This may seem a hardship, but it is nevertheless the simplest of truths. Whilst the ships sent forth by Congress may and must fight for the principles of human rights and republican freedom, the ships themselves must be ruled and commanded at sea under a system of absolute despotism."
I believe this letter is used, as a preamble for the Articles of War of the United States Navy, and I can only think of one better, namely, our own, which is more than 500 years old and states that "It is the Navy whereon, under the good providence of God, the wealth, safety and strength of the Kingdom chiefly depend." The periodical reading of the Articles of War dates from an order issued by the Lord High Admiral of CHARLES II., and the fact that the Articles of War have been read is considered of such importance that a notation to the effect that they have been read quarterly to the ship’s company has to be signed by the Captain when the ship’s ledger is closed.
Fur the benefit of, and as a sop to those, whose "Principles" and views are to be deplored and who still consider that "The Service has gone to the Devil" and yet do nothing to rectify the matter, I suggest that they lay to heart the following line attributed to Captain Marryat, which were engraved on a board and formerly were displayed in the old Admiralty wailing room, where Officers of a bygone period were detained when Waiting on My Lords in order to seek employment. The board and words now hang in the office of the Drafting Commander, Royal Naval Barracks, Portsmouth.
sore affliction, tried by Gods command,
of Patience, Job, the great example stands;
But in these days a trial more severe
Had been Job’s lot, if God had sent him here.