MY last experience in ocean travel having been acquired on the steamship Oregon on her disastrous trip to America in March, 1886, some reflections are naturally suggested, in. essaying the passage of the Atlantic once more, by the recollection of the exciting and dramatic scenes attendant upon the destruction of that noble vessel.
If such collisions as that which sunk the Oregon were likely to occur on an average pas-sage, few people would undertake the voyage. But the chances, when the vast expanse of the Atlantic and the comparatively few craft of different kinds that float upon its surface are considered, are one in thousands.
And yet we barely escaped a serious collision on the third day out. Our good ship was ploughing along under a full head of steam, in a thick fog, at 4 P.M. Suddenly the ominous whistle blew a shrill blast, the bells were rung for the engine to stop, and a signal given to alter the course of the steamer. Every one rushed to the bulwarks. There was a moment of intense suspense ; then, right across our bow, we saw emerging from the fog a large vessel, which passed so close to us that some of the passengers declared they felt the grazing of the two ships. Then followed a ringing cheer, in which the passengers and crews of both vessels joined.
Such an occurrence as this seems only to verify the old adage that ” the exception proves the rule.”
The best day’s run 003 miles) of the steam-ship Etruria on her recent unparalleled trip from Europe to America was accomplished on the Newfoundland banks in a dense fog, showing how small is the danger of a collision at sea. And in case of collisions those most competent to judge declare that there is less danger in a high rate of speed than in a moderate rate, as the swifter vessel is likely to escape with the least damage, while the danger of damage to the other is not increased. At all events, it is only by accepting this theory and acting upon it that these remarkable passages are possible.
During the first four days we are much of the time enveloped in a fog, and there is a general prevalence among the passengers of that peculiar feeling of apprehension and uncertainty which usually accompanies this condition of things on shipboard. The passengers amuse themselves by playing shuffleboard, and by other similar methods of passing the monotonous hours. Comparatively few are quite disabled by sickness, but many are in that condition of helplessness which is always the result of a mild attack of the malady. The ladies seem specially helpless, and as they grow paler and paler they more and more need the strong arm to steady them across the deck or down the stairway, which the chivalrous gentlemen are ever ready to proffer them. But as these details constitute an “oft-told tale,” and are not interesting to the general reader, I will turn my attention to other topics.
Conspicuous in the list of our passengers are the names of two persons somewhat widely known both in the Old and New WorldLaurence Oliphant,* the author, traveller, and reformer, and Rosamond Dale Owen, lecturer and writer on special phases of reform.
Mr. Oliphant is fifty-nine years of age. He is tall and well formed, though somewhat round-shouldered. He treads the deck with the light, elastic step of a young man. His searching gray eyes, peering out from under a broad-brimmed hat, are apparently seeking the point where the sky and the water meet. The lines of his grand profile stand out like a silhouette against the cloudy background, and his long, graceful beard strays away with the breeze. He has a most charming personality, being witty, genial, and companionable, and everybody he comes in contact with is attracted to him. He has been everywhere, seen everything, and mingled in every variety of life.
Mr. Oliphant’s father, who did not seem quite to understand his son’s nature, chose for him the profession of the law, and at the age of fifteen Laurence read for Cambridge, but did not enter. He accompanied his father, who had been appointed chief-justice there, to Ceylon, where the young man readily procured a license to practise, though he had had scarcely any previous preparation. He gained quite a reputation for success in several cases, which astonished everybody, and most of all himself, for he realized that he was not adapted to the calling. As he himself expressed it, “it was foreign to his nature to attempt to make the worse appear the better reason,” and the life of a lawyer who plods over the same stones, from office to court, each day, seemed inexpressibly dull to him, while the whole world lay before him, full of interest and excitement, awaiting his exploration. He abandoned the law, greatly to his father’s disappointment, and embarked upon a career which naturally brought him especial and unusual opportunities for the development of his peculiar characteristics.
He shortly returned to Europe with his father, who came home on a two years’ absence, which time was mostly spent in travelling with the family on the Continent. This covered the revolutionary period of 1848. He saw the Pope bless Garibaldi prior to his departure to fight the Austrians.
The end of that year found him again in Ceylon, but this time as private secretary to the chief-justice. In 1850 he accompanied the prime minister of Nepaul to that country, reaching the frontier of Thibet, traversing the whole of India from Calcutta to Bombay. Then he returned to England and published his first book, ” A Journey to Nepaul,” which proved a success and initiated him into the field in which he has attained eminence.
In 1852 he travelled through Russia, and subsequently published an account of his journey, entitled ” The Russian Shores of the Black Sea,” which served afterwards as a guide to the English army in the Crimea. Early in 1854 he accompanied Lord Elgin, as secretary, to Washington, and assisted in the negotiation of the Reciprocity treaty. He was soon after appointed civil secretary and superintendent-general of Indian affairs in Canada.
The following year he was attached to Lord Stratford’s embassy at Constantinople, and was present at some of the final operations in the Crimean war, and afterwards was attached to the Turkish army under Omar Pasha through-out the campaign in the Caucasus. At the close of the war he returned to the United States, joined a filibustering expedition from New Orleans to Nicaragua, and, that failing, en-gaged in some explorations on the Isthmus of Panama.
In 1857 he returned to England, and was beaten in a Parliamentary contest in Sterling burroughs. Succeeding that fruitless effort he was attached to Lord Elgin’s embassy to China and Japan, and was present at all the warlike operations for two years, and at the opening of Japan in 1858. In 1859 he was once more at home, in England, but was soon appointed secretary of legation in Japan, and was seriously wounded during a midnight attack by Japanese assassins, the marks of which he still carries on his person.
He was employed on special service in Italy, Albania, and Montenegro in 1862; was in Poland during the insurrection in 1863, and in the Schleswig-Holstein war in 1864, and finally entered Parliament, as a member from the Sterling burroughs, in 1865.
During all this period he had enjoyed unusual opportunities in the social world, as he was a favorite with the royal family, and was a welcome guest in the homes of the best society in England. He was now about thirty-six years of age, had attained distinction in public and social life, and had everything which most people consider desirable in life, almost within his grasp. He had passed through these experiences with the utmost zest, and with the undefined purpose of securing whatever there was in them. He finally realized, however, that they did not satisfy him. He felt that the results so far attained were not the most worthy. He began to consider the social problem and the higher possibilities of life, feeling willing to make any sacrifice to enter upon a more promising field for investigation in this direction, and believing himself to be influenced by internal promptings.
At this juncture occurred the great crisis of his life. Prompted by a feeling of dissatisfaction at the results so far attained, and through the influence of internal promptings, he suddenly resigned his seat in Parliament and disappeared from the stage on which he had been a prominent actor, went to America, and joined a society composed of a small number of people from all parts of the worldsome even from Japandrawn thither by motives similar to those which had influenced him.
Perhaps no man ever made a more complete surrender of himself and everything he possessedposition in society, family, friends, and worldly possessions to the last dollarthan did Mr. Oliphant on joining this society. He per-formed the most menial services, blacked the boots of his companions, took care of the horses, and did all kinds of manual labor. In fact, he abandoned all he had been accustomed to do, and did everything he had never done before. He even went out into the world, from time to time, at the behest of the leader of the society, and earned large amounts of money, every dollar of which he gave up, except barely enough for his personal expenses. How much of a sacrifice all this must have been only those can tell who share with him the repugnance to the pursuit of mere money-making.
The result of all these experiences, covering a period, up to the present date, of about twenty years, it would be quite impossible to describe in any brief space. They can only be comprehended by Mr. Oliphant’s own utterances. But it would be difficult to find any man whose aims and purposes in life have been more completely changed, he having entirely abandoned his former selfish life, and become wholly absorbed in a burning desire to help and benefit humanity.
The Christianity of the day had always been repugnant to him. It seemed to him so utterly unlike the Christianity which would naturally result from the life and precepts of Christ that he rejected it altogether.
The following are the most important of his writings: “Lord Elgin’s Embassy to China and Japan”; “Piccadilly,” a caustic satire upon the manners and customs of the best English society, political, religious, and fashionable, now in its ninth edition; ” Altiora Peto,” a novel, which lias had an equally successful run ; “Fashionable Philosophy”; “Traits and Travesties”; “Massolam,” a novel; “Haifa; or, Life in Modern Palestine”; “Episodes in a Life of Adventure,” and his sketch, ” Irene McGillicuddy,” which New-Yorkers will remember created a considerable sensation a few years ago.
Mr. Oliphant married, in 1872, Miss Le Strange, who warmly shared his views, and who fell a victim to a malignant fever contracted on a camping journey around Lake Tiberias, and died in December, 1886.
In an interview accorded me on the steamer by Mr. Oliphant, during which I obtained the above facts, he related many interesting and extraordinary incidents that occurred during the period covered by the above narration. Few men have had so varied and extensive experiences, or extracted from them so much for the benefit of others.
Those interested in works of travel will be most attracted by his earlier books, while those who desire to know something of the deep things that absorb his present life may learn of them from his last two large volumes” Sympneumata” and ” Scientific Religion.”
Miss Rosamond Dale Owen, whose life has been scarcely less remarkable, though in quite another way, is the daughter of Robert Dale Owen, and granddaughter of Robert Owen, the founder of the New Harmony community in Indiana. On her mother’s side Miss Owen traces her descent directly from John Robinson, one of the Pilgrim Fathers, thus uniting in herself a remarkable inheritance of talent and high moral and social aims.
The prominent position as a spiritualist which her father occupied familiarized her from in-fancy with that region of inquiry and experience which developed lier character under exceptional conditions. At the age of fifteen she was al-ready a powerful medium. But, as she combined with this sensitiveness to spiritual impressions great independence and originality of thought, with the highest moral aspirations, she was soon brought into that conflict in her search after truth which must always attend the efforts of those who seek it through contact with the in-visible.
Her young life was a good preparation for the struggles that ensued later, for no child could have been born into a happier and more harmonious home. The principle of universal love, taught and lived by lier grandfather, was fully accepted by her mother and wisely applied in every detail of practical life.
Seven years of her youth were passed in Europe, where her father had been called to Naples. Miss Owen completed her education in New York, but mental over-exertion seriously injured her health, and she found, just as life opened to her under most favorable auspices, that her eyesight had entirely failed, and that she was unable to continue her literary pursuits. For nine years she was almost blind. It was a weary experience, but through those helpless years she learned to ponder as only the blind can.
During this time she was sent from place to place, in search of health, and as she became acquainted with the world a strong antipathy arose towards those who called themselves Christians. They seemed to her untrue to the fundamental doctrines of their master, Christ Jesus. At the age of thirty-six she was converted to a belief in the Master of men through an experience almost as remarkable as that of St. Paul. One quiet Sunday afternoon she entered the Church of the Transfiguration, in New York City so well known as ” The Little Church Around the Corner “with a friend, with a fixed prejudice against the Redeemer of mankind, and left it, after an hour’s stay, filled with love for Him, which has increased in intensity with each added year.
Shortly after this she was called to England, where she lectured for two years to large audiences, in London and the provinces, on the labor question and on religion. As her peculiar views developed, her audiences were not inclined to accept them. The spiritualists rejected Christ, the Christians rejected the idea of communion with the unseen. They could accept the fact of angel messengers in the past but not in the present.
On returning to America she made a futile effort to win Christians to a more vivid realization of angel ministration, and spiritualists to a belief in Christ as the centre of the influx from above. But she found almost none who were willing to listen. She therefore was relieved from public duty and gladly returned to private life.
In her earlier years she published stories in Harper and Lippincott, but of late has given her attention to more serious subjects” woman’s work” and “man’s spiritual possibilities.” She is now engaged on a work discussing many of the spiritual difficulties which are perplexing men and women. In the past her delicate health has greatly crippled her efforts, but her strength increases with her years, and we may hope for helpful words from her pen in the future.