Fresh Sea-Water, a Poem.

Original title page

The poem opens with some lines on Man’s conquest of the Sea:

“Now ev’ry Day his Conquest Man improves,
And unoppos’d o’r the wide Ocean moves;
Now unconfin’d he visits ev’ry Shore,
And takes from each its Tributary Store;
Rips up the Bowels of the pregnant Earth,
And crowds his Coffers with the dazzling Birth.
While on the Waves, safe as at Land, he dwells,
Born o’r their Backs in floating Cittadels;
Nor on their Surface onely pleas’d to keep,
He dives to all the Secrets of the Deep,
And with the shining Tribute of its Womb,
Returns at once adorn’d and laden home.”

Then comes a bit on “happy Britain” and its ships:

“While some abroad for Golden Plenty rome,
The rest secure us downy Peace at Home.
We know no Terrour of invading Foes,
While these strong Bulwarks our safe Isle inclose.”

But though man had conquered the Ocean with his daring adventures, the Sea still had one ‘weapon’ up its sleeve: you couldn’t drink it!

“But though so far Man quell’d the Ocean’s Rage,
That open War it durst no longer wage,
The private Rebel did its Spleen retain,
And fell to Stratagem, since Force prov’d vain;
And with its Briny Humour murder’d more
Than all its Billows had devour’d before:
While at the Sailers baneful Thirst it laught,
Who swallow’d Death in ev’ry greedy Draught.”

Or if not death, something pretty unpleasant:

“Or, if they met not there an early Tomb,
Came loaden with Disease and Torment home,
Who, swoln with Dropsies, and with Scurvies worn,
Begg’d more their speedy Ruine, than Return.”

Again, on the same theme:

“Thus, like a Miser, starv’d amidst his Store,
Whom only his Abundance renders Poor,
Amidst the Waters with strange Thirst they dy,
A Thirst encreasing with its Remedy.”

And again:

“Whilst the Salt-Tyrant, lest they shou’d complain,
Locks up their Throats, and does their Words restrain:
Pleas’d with their Woes, it makes their Grief its Game,
As Nero smil’d at Rome’s encreasing Flame.”

The poem then gets a bit obscure, with “a rising Venus” and “Cynthia’s bright Retenue” putting in an appearance. But then the fog clears, and all of a sudden Mr Boyle, the inventor, appears:

“But precious Ointments of Eternal Fame,
Embalm great Boyle’s most celebrated Name!
Boyle the bless’d Moses of our happy Land,
Who from the Ocean does fresh Springs command.”

Now, Boyle is almost certainly Robert Boyle, which is a little puzzling since (so far as I know) it wasn’t actually he who devised this method of purifying sea-water (apparently by a method of distillation.) The actual invention was by a Captain Robert Fitzgerald and some associates, Fitzgerald being a relative of Boyle’s. Boyle himself appears only to have tested the purity of the fresh water produced, and to have given the project his support. (For details see Salt-Water Sweetened, or a True Account of the Great Advantages of this New Invention both by Sea and Land, written by Fitzgerald, and published in 1683.)

But to continue with the poem. After a little more seventeenth century obscurity, we read:

“By him the Waters, Acid and Marine,
Are purg’d and freed from their Destructive Brine.
The Sailer now to farthest Shores may go,
Since in his Road these lasting Fountains flow;
The Sea, corrected by this wondrous Pow’r,
Preserves those now, whom it destroyed before;
No more with Thirst the Feav’rish Sea-man dyes,
The Briny Waves afford him fresh Supplies.
The mighty Boyle does by his pow’rful Art,
The Ocean to a Well of Life Convert.”

Then a little later:

“Boyle, our good Angel, stirs the Sov’reign Pool,
That makes the Hydropic-Leprous Seaman whole.”

Mr Arwaker waxes lyrical for another seven pages after this, about the riches of India, “England’s Caesars” and King Canute. But not, unfortunately, about the details of ‘Boyle’s’ method, or about the good Captain Fitzgerald, who warrants not a mention. But then how many words rhyme with Fitzgerald?