Notes on Life and Letters HTML version
Some Reflections On The Loss Of The Titanic—1912
It is with a certain bitterness that one must admit to oneself that the late S.S.
Titanic had a "good press." It is perhaps because I have no great practice of daily
newspapers (I have never seen so many of them together lying about my room)
that the white spaces and the big lettering of the headlines have an
incongruously festive air to my eyes, a disagreeable effect of a feverish
exploitation of a sensational God-send. And if ever a loss at sea fell under the
definition, in the terms of a bill of lading, of Act of God, this one does, in its
magnitude, suddenness and severity; and in the chastening influence it should
have on the self- confidence of mankind.
I say this with all the seriousness the occasion demands, though I have neither
the competence nor the wish to take a theological view of this great misfortune,
sending so many souls to their last account. It is but a natural REFLECTION.
Another one flowing also from the phraseology of bills of lading (a bill of lading is
a shipping document limiting in certain of its clauses the liability of the carrier) is
that the "King's Enemies" of a more or less overt sort are not altogether sorry that
this fatal mishap should strike the prestige of the greatest Merchant Service of
the world. I believe that not a thousand miles from these shores certain public
prints have betrayed in gothic letters their satisfaction-- to speak plainly--by
rather ill-natured comments.
In what light one is to look at the action of the American Senate is more difficult
to say. From a certain point of view the sight of the august senators of a great
Power rushing to New York and beginning to bully and badger the luckless
"Yamsi"--on the very quay-side so to speak--seems to furnish the Shakespearian
touch of the comic to the real tragedy of the fatuous drowning of all these people
who to the last moment put their trust in mere bigness, in the reckless
affirmations of commercial men and mere technicians and in the irresponsible
paragraphs of the newspapers booming these ships! Yes, a grim touch of
comedy. One asks oneself what these men are after, with this very provincial
display of authority. I beg my friends in the United States pardon for calling these
zealous senators men. I don't wish to be disrespectful. They may be of the
stature of demi-gods for all I know, but at that great distance from the shores of
effete Europe and in the presence of so many guileless dead, their size seems
diminished from this side. What are they after? What is there for them to find out?
We know what had happened. The ship scraped her side against a piece of ice,
and sank after floating for two hours and a half, taking a lot of people down with
her. What more can they find out from the unfair badgering of the unhappy
"Yamsi," or the ruffianly abuse of the same.
"Yamsi," I should explain, is a mere code address, and I use it here symbolically.
I have seen commerce pretty close. I know what it is worth, and I have no
particular regard for commercial magnates, but one must protest against these
Bumble-like proceedings. Is it indignation at the loss of so many lives which is at
work here? Well, the American railroads kill very many people during one single
year, I dare say. Then why don't these dignitaries come down on the presidents