As we look to, and prepare for the oncoming Trafalgar Celebrations, it is fitting that we enquire into all aspects of Naval life at sea, whether in war or peace, and in this case, pre Radio Communication times, thus looking at the period pre 20th century.

Today is the 5th day of the 5th month of the 5th year of this century and it is the day of the 2005 General Election. I would image that like myself, you too are fed up with electioneering and the 'wind-bags' uttering promises which will never be kept. Therefore, after I had voted, I had in mind to write a short page on which I would consider the problem of being far from home with no means of finding out what was going on - from office [the Admiralty] or from home.

Then I decided to use a piece of prôse which I have long had sitting in My Documents which I consider covers both subjects above - lonely sailors and hot-air politicians.

The prôse was written by Thomas Carlyle in May 1850.  He was considering the merits of speech [talk] and how it is and should be used in society, and in the preceding paragraphs he had argued that being eloquent was one kind of talent and being quiet was another, that latter the more difficult skill to acquire.

 In the first paragraph below, he states that when war comes to our Joint or United Services [armed forces] the time for talking stops and the time for doing [seeing off the enemy] starts and that the SILENT TALENT comes to the fore. Without war or after war, he says that the senior officers return to 'showing off', where pipeclay was a fine white powder used to whiten leather uniform belts, straps etc and blank cartidges suggests non-combatant status.  However, he also mentions the importance [even advantage] of remaining SILENT, when he writes "except that Naval men are occasionally, on long voyages, forced to hold their tongue, and converse with the dumb elements, and illimitable oceans, that moan and rave there without you and within you, which is a great advantage to the Naval man"

I am not sure what he meant by "dumb elements", although around this time with the Ironclads, already on the drawing board [HMS Warrior 1860], the embryonic days of the engine room branch  and the stoker had started, so.........NO! I am only teasing.....ok, cooks and stewards: there are fewer of them to argue back. Anyway, now we know what they did at sea before Radio Communications: they talked to the trees [masts] and to the sea, and when they came back to harbour, our senior officers joined up with the army and they all walked around showing off in their finery and whitened uniform adornments. {My comments in blue brackets}.

"From dinners up to woolsacks and divine mitres, {meaning Ordinary people to House of Lord and Bishops} here in England, much may be gathered by talk; without talk, of the human sort nothing {would be gathered}. Is Society become wholly a bag of wind, then, ballasted by guineas {stabilised only by money}? Are our interests in it as a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal?{a passing loud brass band} --In Army or Navy, when unhappily we have war on hand, there is, almost against our will, some kind of demand for certain of the silent talents. But in peace, that too passes into mere demand of the ostentations, of the pipeclays and the blank cartridges; and,--except that Naval men are occasionally, on long voyages, forced to hold their tongue, and converse with the dumb elements, and illimitable oceans, that moan and rave there without you and within you, which is a great advantage to the Naval man,--our poor United Services have to make conversational windbags and ostentational paper-lanterns of themselves, or do worse, even as the others." {civilians}

Need I say more about this second paragraph?  

"My friends, must I assert, then, what surely all men know, though all men seem to have forgotten it, That in the learned professions as in the unlearned, and in human things throughout, in every place and in every time, the true function of intellect is not that of talking, but of understanding and discerning with a view to performing! An intellect may easily talk too much, and perform too little. Gradually, if it get into the noxious habit of talk, there will less and less performance come of it, talk being so delightfully handy in comparison with work; and at last there will no work, or thought of work, be got from it at all. Talk, except as the preparation for work, is worth almost nothing;--sometimes it is worth infinitely less than nothing; and becomes, little conscious of playing such a fatal part, the general summary of pretentious nothingnesses, and the chief of all the curses the Posterity of Adam are liable to in this sublunary world!"

 I reckon that Thomas Carlyle was a shrewd judger of men.