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CONVERSATION XVI.

OF SHIPPING.

MR. HARCOURT. OUR late conversations on the subject of the various kinds of timber, have led me to consider their extensive use in the building of ships; whether for the purpose of conveying us to the distant regions of the earth, or transporting the productions of one climate to its opposite extreme.

Henry. Pray tell us how they first contrived to build a ship: it must be very curious to know the manner of putting the parts together on the water.

AUGUSTA. I am far more desirous of being informed of the name of the man, who had sufficient courage to venture upon so unstable an element.

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MRS. HARCOURT. A long period of time was necessary to bring either navigation, or the art of constructing vessels, to any degree of perfection. The first efforts were rude and imperfect. Observation taught the early inhabitants of the earth, that light substances floated upon the surface of the water: experience, that sure but slow guide, instructed them that any thing would swim, that displaced a body of the fluid equal to its own weight. It is probable that the inhabitants of countries bordering on the sea, at first only ventured close along the shore, on a few planks fastened together, and pushed themselves along by the assistance of a stick or pole: repeated attempts suggested various improvements, till, by degrees, men became capable of building floating houses, and sailing in them to the most distant regions of the earth. The advancement of science in general still contributes to improve and perfect the invention of constructing vessels, and guiding them through the pathless ocean. That small instrument, the mariner's compass, said to be the contrivance of Flavio, a Nea

politan, about the beginning of the fourteenth century, has been of the greatest advantage, in enabling persons at sea to know the course they are pursuing. It principally consists of a needle of iron, impregnated with the magnetic powers of the loadstone, which influence it always to point nearly to the north: thus, by being exactly acquainted with one of the cardinal points, it is easy to find out the others. As Charles is a better classical scholar than I am, I leave him to reply to Augusta's query.

CHARLES. It is supposed that Neptune, called by the Pagans god of the sea, was the founder of these inventions; and that his discovery was immortalized, by attributing to him the dominion of the element he had subdued. Many give the honour to Dædalus, and imagine that the wings he is said to have invented, to save himself from the resentment of Minos, king of Crete, whom he had offended, were nothing but sails, which he applied to the vessel in which he escaped : but all these accounts are uncertain. Scripture affords us some authentic records. Noah

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