The Ship That Found Herself
For instance, the builders of railroad equipment or of a steamship would be immersed in industrial machines during the day, and might take a streetcar home after work. But once at home, as John Brunner points out in a introduction to the story, a bicycle or treadle-operated sewing-machine might be the most complex machines at hand. Among Rudyard Kipling's several geniuses, or range of sensitivities, is a feeling for the character of machines, of things built by men that do work in aid of mankind. Kipling saw into the nature of such workaday wonders as steamships, saw their inwardness that gave them character — and even, as in the case of "The Ship That Found Herself", the characters or personalities of the structural parts of a steamship.
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Now, I wouldn't call this a pantheism; but there is something in Kipling akin to the archaic Greeks who peopled their woods and meadow-banks with exotic spirits, not so much deities as embodying or signifying some distinctive quality of material objects in their settings. It's a truism that poets describe flowers in more sensuous detail than we normally notice.
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Kipling's prose can make the man-wrought metal and wood speak to us:. Wooden ships shriek and growl and grunt, but iron vessels throb and quiver through all their hundreds of ribs and thousands of rivets.
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The Dimbula was very strongly built, and every piece of her had a letter or number, or both, to describe it; and every piece had been hammered, or forged, or rolled, or punched by man, and had lived in the roar and rattle of the ship-yard for months. Therefore, every piece had its own separate voice in exact proportion to the amount of trouble spent upon it. Cast-iron, as a rule, says very little; but mild steel plates and wrought-iron, and ribs and beams that have been much bent and welded and riveted, talk continuously.
As soon as she had cleared the Irish coast a sullen, gray-headed old wave of the Atlantic climbed leisurely over her straight bows, and sat down on her steam-capstan used for hauling up the anchor. We can no more than drive and steer her, and so forth; but if we have rough weather this trip - it's likely - she'll learn the rest by heart!
The deck-beams, the stringers, the garboard-strake, the triple-expansion engine and other parts, have particular functions, and their characters are correspondingly distinct. Stringers "always consider themselves most important, because they are so long"; the garboard-strake says "I'm twice as thick as most of the others, so I ought to know something". The Steam, who "had been to sea many times before As the Dimbula enter the Port of New York, the ship's parts stop talking and after a long silence there is a "new, big voice After the assassination of Gustav III in , the ship was placed in a shed.
There she remained until , when she was repaired and refurbished. But it was a brief moment of renewed glory. By the s Amphion had been turned into a quarantine ship for cholera victims. And in she found herself converted into a barracks ship.
Ten years later, in , Amphion was broken up. The stern was preserved and is now on display at the Maritime Museum in all its former glory.
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Built as a pleasure yacht, tricky to sail and almost without any weaponry, yet she would feature at the heart of the Swedish Navy when it won its greatest ever victory at Svensksund in The story of the Amphion is legendary at the Maritime Museum.