Toilers of the Sea by Victor Hugo
First Part-Sieur Clubin
Book III. Durande and Deruchette.
IV. Continuation of the Story of Utopia.
IT may well be imagined that the new enterprise did not prosper much at first. The owners of cutters passing between the island of Guernsey and the French coast were loud in their outcries. They denounced this attack upon the Holy Scriptures and their monopoly. The chapels began to fulminate against it. One reverend gentleman, named Elihu, stigmatised the new steam-vessel as an "atheistical construction," and the sailing-boat was declared the only orthodox craft. The people saw the horns of the devil among the beasts which the fire-ship carried to and fro. This storm of protest continued a considerable time. At last, however, it began to be perceived that these animals arrived less tired and sold better, their meat being superior; that the sea-risk was less also for passengers; that this mode of travelling was less expensive, shorter, and more sure; that they started at a fixed time, and arrived at a fixed time; that consignments of fish travelling faster arrived fresher, and that it was now possible to find a sale in the French markets for the surplus of great takes of fish so common in Guernsey. The butter, too, from the far-famed Guernsey cows made the passage quicker in the "Devil Boat" than in the old sailing vessels, and lost nothing of its good quality, insomuch that Dinan, in Brittany, began to become a customer for it, as well as St. Brieuc and Rennes. In short, thanks to what they called "Lethierry's Galley," the people enjoyed safe travelling, regular communication, prompt and easy passages to and fro, an increase of circulation, an extension of markets and of commerce, and, finally, it was felt that it was necessary to patronise this "Devil Boat", which flew in the face of the Holy Scriptures, and brought wealth to the island. Some daring spirits even went so far as to express a positive satisfaction at it. Sieur Landoys, the registrar, bestowed his approval upon the vessel-an undoubted piece of impartiality on his part, as he did not like Lethierry. For, first of all, Lethierry was entitled to the dignity of "Mess," while Landoys was merely "Sieur Landoys." Then, although registrar of St. Peter's Port, Landoys was a parishioner of St. Sampson. Now, there was not in the entire parish another man besides them devoid of prejudices. It seemed little enough, therefore, to indulge t themselves with a detestation of each other. Two of a trade, says the proverb, rarely agree.
Sieur Landoys, however, had the honesty to support the steamboat. Others followed Landoys. By little and little these facts multiplied. The growth of opinion is like the rising tide. Time and the continued and increasing success of the venture, with the evidence of real service rendered and the improvement in the general welfare, gradually converted the people; and the day at length arrived when, with the exception of a few wiseacres, every one admired "Lethierry's Galley."
It would probably win less admiration nowadays. This steamboat of forty years since would doubtless provoke a smile among our modern boat-builders; for this marvel was ill-shaped; this prodigy was clumsy and infirm.
The distance between our grand Atlantic steam-vessels of the present day and the boats with wheelpaddles which Denis Papin floated on the Fulda in 1707 is not greater than that between a three-decker, like the Montebello, 200 feet long, having a mainyard of 115 feet, carrying a weight of 3,000 tons, 1,100 men, 120 guns, 10,000 cannon-balls, and 160 packages of canister, belching forth at every broadside, when in action, 3,300 pounds of iron, and spreading to the wind, when it moves, 5,600 square metres of canvas, and the old Danish galley of the second century, discovered, full of stone hatchets, and bows and clubs, in the mild of the seashore, at Wester-Satrup, and preserved at the Hotel de Ville at Flensburg.
Exactly one hundred years-from 1707 to 1807-separate the first paddle-boat of Papin from the first steamboat of Fulton. Lethierry's galley was assuredly a great improvement upon those two rough sketches; but it was itself only a sketch. For all that, it was a masterpiece in its way. Every scientific discovery in embryo presents that double aspect-a monster in the foetus, a marvel in the germ.