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    Aboard the Galley

    by Kenneth Grahame
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    He was cruising in the Southern Seas (was the Ulysses who told me this
    tale), when there bore down upon him a marvellous strange fleet, whose
    like he had not before seen. For each little craft was a corpse,
    stiffly ''marlined,'' or bound about with tarred rope, as mariners do
    use to treat plug tobacco: also ballasted, and with a fair mast and
    sail stepped through his midriff. These self-sufficing ships knew no
    divided authority: no pilot ever took the helm from the captain's
    hands; no mutines lay in bilboes, no passengers complained of the
    provisions. In a certain island to windward (the native pilot
    explained) it was the practice, when a man died, to bury him for the
    time being in dry, desiccating sand, till a chief should pass from his
    people, when the waiting bodies were brought out and, caulked and
    rigged secumdum artem, were launched with the first fair breeze, the
    admiral at their head, on their voyage to the Blessed Islands. And if
    a chief should die, and the sand should hold no store of corpses for
    his escort, this simple practical folk would solve the little
    difficulty by knocking some dozen or twenty stout fellows on the head,
    that the notable might voyage like a gentleman. Whence this gallant
    little company, running before the breeze, stark, happy, and extinct,
    all bound for the Isles of Light! 'Twas a sight to shame us sitters at
    home, who believe in those Islands, most of us, even as they, yet are
    content to trundle City-wards or to Margate, so long as the sorry
    breath is in us; and, breathless at last, to Bow or Kensal Green;
    without one effort, dead or alive, to reach the far-shining

    ''Dans la galère, capitane, nous étions quatre-vingt rameurs!'' sang
    the oarsmen in the ballad; and they, though indeed they toiled on the
    galley-bench, were free and happy pirates, members of an honoured and
    liberal profession. But all we -- pirates, parsons, stockbrokers,
    whatever our calling -- are but galley-slaves of the basest sort,
    fettered to the oar each for his little spell. A common misery links
    us all, like the chain that runs the length of the thwarts. Can
    nothing make it worth our while not to quarrel with our fellows? The
    menace of the storms is for each one and for all: the master's whip
    has a fine impartiality. Crack! the lash that scored my comrade's back
    has flicked my withers too; yet neither of us was shirking -- it was
    that grinning ruffian in front. Well: to-morrow, God willing, the
    evasion shall be ours, while he writhes howling. But why do we never
    once combine -- seize on the ship, fling our masters into the sea, and
    steer for some pleasant isle far down under the Line, beyond the
    still-vexed Bermoothes? When ho for feasting! Hey for tobacco and
    free-quarters! But no: the days pass, and are reckoned up, and done
    with; and ever more pressing cares engage. Those fellows on the
    leeward benches are having an easier time than we poor dogs on the
    weather side? Then, let us abuse, pelt, vilify then: let us steal
    their grub, and have at them generally for a set of shirking,
    malingering brutes! What matter that to-morrow they may be to
    windward, we to lee? We never can look ahead. And they know this well,
    the gods our masters, pliers of the whip. And mayhap we like them none
    the worse for it.

    Indeed, there is a traitor sort among ourselves, that spins facile
    phrases in the honour of these whipmasters of ours -- as ''omnes eodem
    cogimur,'' and the rest; which is all very pretty and mighty
    consoling. The fact is, the poets are the only people who score by the
    present arrangement; which it is therefore their interest to maintain.
    While we are doing all the work, these incorrigible skulkers lounge
    about and make ribald remarks; they write Greek tragedies on Fate, on
    the sublimity of Suffering, on the Petty Span, and so on; and act in a
    generally offensive way. And we are even weak enough to buy their
    books; offer them drinks, peerages, and things; and say what
    superlative fellows they are! But when the long-looked-for combination
    comes, and we poor devils have risen and abolished fate, destiny, the
    Olympian Council, early baldness, and the like, these poets will
    really have to go.

    And when every rhymester has walked the plank, shall we still put up
    with our relations? True members of the ''stupid party,'' who never
    believe in us, who know (and never forget) the follies of our
    adolescence; who are always wanting us not to do things; who are
    lavish of advice, yet angered by the faintest suggestion of a small
    advance in cash: shall the idle singers perish and these endure? No:
    as soon as the last poet has splashed over the side, to the sharks
    with our relations!

    The old barkey is lightening famously: who shall be next to go? The
    Sportsman of intolerable yarns: who slays twice over -- first, his
    game, and then the miserable being he button-holes for the tedious
    recital. Shall we suffer him longer? Who else? Who is that cowering
    under the bulwarks yonder? The man who thinks he can imitate the
    Scottish accent! Splash! And the next one? What a crowd is here! How
    they block the hatchways, lumber the deck, and get between you and the
    purser's room -- these fadmongers, teetotallers, missionaries of
    divers isms! Overboard with them, and hey for the Fortunate Isles!
    Then for tobacco in a hammock 'twixt the palms! Then for wine cooled
    in a brooklet losing itself in silver sands! Then for -- but O these
    bilboes on our ankles, how mercilessly they grip! The vertical sun
    blisters the bare back: faint echoes of Olympian laughter seem to
    flicker like Northern Lights across the stark and pitiless sky. One
    earnest effort would do it, my brothers! A little modesty, a short
    sinking of private differences; and then we should all be free and
    equal gentlemen of fortune, and I would be your Captain! ''Who? you?
    you would make a pretty Captain!'' Better than you, you scurvy,
    skulking, little galley-slave! ''Galley-slave yourself, and be ---
    Pull together, boys, and lie low! Here's the Master coming with his
    If you're writing a Aboard the Galley essay and need some advice, post your Kenneth Grahame essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

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