Christmas Time, Or the Passage from Southampton to Guernsey, 1814

From Le Miroir Politique, January 15th, 1814. The packet for Guernsey is held up by the weather; a familiar tale! You may have to spend Christmas at Southampton; how do you fill your time as you wait for the wind to die down? You can gossip, or take a walk for the day to nearby Netley Abbey; you can eat and drink, but the passengers for Guernsey will insist on confusing the waiting staff by speaking Guernsey French: 'Of all the gibberish, linguos, tongues unknown, Methinks there’s none that beats our Guernsey own.' Interestingly, the poet has written the Guernsey French to reflect its pronunciation. The visit to the Abbey and the quays of Southampton are exactly as described by William Money in his account of a visit to Guernsey many years earlier.

THERE are, who sitting in their rooms at ease,
nought of us who have to cross the seas—
No more they may—yet now and then ‘twill hap.
Mid the deep slumbers of the soundest nap,
Some rising storm their midnight calm will wake,
And make them feel .... perhaps even make them quake;
Should the loud thunder, growling more and more,
Sound but the echo of the ocean roar.

O Collaw-Wet!! Thou, who can'st best relieve,
The lab’ring bosom, and the poet’s heave;
Thou, who invok’d or uninvok’d, wilt deign,
The full libation, sacrifice of pain,
Propitious to receive .... O aid me while I sing,
Of Passage comforts, and that other thing
Which most have felt ... all dread .... some know too well,
And which they say in words you cannot tell.

BUT to begin ... sometime throughout each day,
My custom ‘tis to walk on Hampton Quay,
And ask if Blin, or Dômawl, means to sail,
If not ...what stops? If Sacks, or Box, or Bale?
Then, turning round, another question put,
And ask how soon’s expected Captain Grut

SUCH my delight .... ‘tis pleasing then to hear,
Associate thought! How fares the Guernsey Pier;
How few at twelve frequent the South Koshee,
Who at four still take their cup of tea;
Or who assembl’d between one and two,
Talk of old times, for want of something new.

MEANWHILE the wind is foul, and coaches come,
With boys from school to spend their Christmas home;
Boys ... who in English, to their parent’s joy,
Have learnt to say, j’vou swouette un bwawn annoy
Alas! Poor boys ... they wish .... they long ... but dread,
‘Ere the wind change, that Christmas will be fled;
Yet this their hope, that though dans la rivière,
They still may be in time for les zirvière

IT this were all, ‘twere well ... but look you form,
Whose sturdy limbs are proof ‘gainst every storm;
With shappé trim ... with Inguaine bedgown gay,
And dvanté made of baylinge, colour grey—
How seems she here to attract the people’s gaze,
Dress’d as of old, à la vraye Guarneziaize—
Good creature, Margo! —she ne’er dreamt to spend,
Her Christmas here, apart form evr’y friend;
And here alas! How can she spend it well,
Except au Vawl, who ne’er has spent un Nwell.

PERSONS of various kinds, of various dress,
Wine-merchants, Barbers, and some, More or less;
Some, who on business have been staying here,
And some to say they have been en Enggliterre;
All wait a passage, anxious to return,
And scarcely know to what their minds to turn;
Oft will they gaze and watch the clouds on high,
But looking seems the more to teaze the sky.

AND now quite bankrupts in a foreign clime,
What can they do to kill or stem the time—
‘Tis heard—what news!—that four miles from this place,
Great in her ruin, Netley you may trace—Great news indeed!!
For what with Guernsey talk,
And four miles there, and four miles back in walk,
Another day at least may pass unfelt—
Day which for use propitious Heaven dealt—
Whilst the lone Abbey, wrapt in forest gloom,
Serves still to lighten sad detention’s doom,
Yet their sole tribute which my muse must tell,
Is all contained in this, mon dondons! Cack eye bel!

Is this, poor Netley, then, thy wayward lot?
Sacred to thought, is this thy hallow’d spot?
Shall ign’rance rude, thy secret walks profane,
Shall vile intrusion sport within thy fane?
No, favour’d ruin! Hear me as I pause,
In Sarnia born, to plead my country’s cause—
Great is the homage which these natives pay,
They gaze, they wonder, still they cannot say
What mixt emotions of high-felt delight,
Rise with thy view, and kindle with thy sight:
Cease then, blest spot, thy fallen state to mourn,
Fair in thy Evening, as was bright thy Morn.

I own, I’m one of those, who love to peep
Through life’s recesses, and with pleasure creep,
Where unreserv’d, peculiar modes are seen,
And human nature wears a simple mien;
Rich luxury this, to find the world a school,
Where man are sages, tutor’d without rule.

‘TIS thus that Inns frequenting you may find,
Much solid pleasure, though but little mind;
Where each himself displays in ways home-spun,
Proud of a World, that shows its little Sun—
Some who for passage wait, will stop ‘bove Bar,
Some for a time, draw lustre from the Star;
Some lodgings take, where quite remov’d from view
Their little routine they may still pursue;
Yet these perhaps, who thus a lodging take,
Compar’d with some, intend some show to make;
But they who tea, and slop, and don’t drink wine,
Or who, on nothing save on Glatney dine,
Stop at the Royal George, or fill the Vine;
And here a moment I would wish to dwell,
Where now I’ve brought my people cack aye bel;
For mid such scenes who would not pause a while,
If not to laugh, at least with cause to smile.

OF all the gibberish, linguos, tongues unknown,
Methinks there’s none that beats our Guernsey own;
Compar’d with which, the patoie and its sounds—
E’en Babels’ self with music sweet abounds.
With vortu dis, and vortu dat?—j’an ay—
Who spilt the milk?—Awe! Maffinge shetté may—
Bring more rotee—‘what Mam, what must I do’?
Some more rotee—‘me not understand you’—
More toast she means—y-no-paw, Got-dan-owl,
‘No Sir, we ha’nt,—we’ve only common fowl;’
With these, and such, as nauny già, mordi,
Tu sais, you know, chez shteenà parcordi—
Which to conceive, though ‘twere life spar'd from death,
In vain would Waiters waste their deepest breath.

Such scenes has Hampton—low, bow-window’d town,
Fam’d for Old Maids, and Scandal’s loud renown;
And oft such scenes, the Spinsters much amuse,
Glad after this to spin uncommon news.(1)
SPARE the old ladies, friends, their jokes endure,
Far worse their evils .... ills, they cannot cure;
Set is that Sun which cheer’d their hopes awhile,
Yours yet remains to brighten and to smile—
And now no more the Southern tempest blows,
Winds now are friends, who erst were adverse foes;
For us there’s hope, for us there’s comfort yet,
The North-West clears ... tomorrow sail we’ll set;
Go ... buy provisions, and to night with me,
Invoke good Collaw Wet to spare us from the sea.(to be continued.)

(1) It can scarcely be conceived with how much delight these 'Fair defects of Nature' observe the passengers who are remaining wind-bound at Southampton. From the peculiarity of their dress, inquiry is made after their mode of living, &c. Anon the distaff of ridicule is set to work, every thread of exaggeration is spun out, the loom teems with industry, and the manufactured tale is at length wrought to so enormous a size, that a Lilliputian is magnified into the citizen of Brobdignac, and the fair inhabitant of the West metamorphosed into the tawny-coloured Hottentot.

1 Of the sloop Diligent. Captain Belin commanded the Brilliant, and Captain Domaille the Aeolus, all serving the Southampton-Guernsey route. Captain Lidstone also served Southampton, in the Speedy. Travelling days were Tuesdays and Fridays.

'During the greater part of the war with France, from 1803 to 1814, and until the establishment of steamers, the communication between Southampton and Guernsey, was maintained chiefly by three cutters, of about eighty tons each, the Diligent, Aeolus, and Brilliant, which had no fixed days for sailing, but crossed as often as their cargoes and the winds permitted. These cutters were fortunate enough to run, during and after the war, without loss or capture. [The Brilliant was captured in 1814, on her way to Southampton, by an American privateer, and dispatched for a French port; but the prize-master, mistaking Alderney for the coast of France, gave charge of the helm to a seaman of the Brilliant, who, happy to escape imprisonment, wisely kept up the deception, and steered the cutter Into the harbour of Alderney, where she was immediately retaken.]And now two fine cutters, the Aeolus and Princess Charlotte, sail from Southampton and Guernsey every Thursday.' From Communication with England, 85 years ago.

2 Les irvières, New Year Gift.