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The workmen were now hurriedly disembarking and clambering up the numerous steps which terminated at the fore-part of the ship. I, with head upturned, and my body thrown back, surveyed the wheels of the 'Great Eastern,' like a tourist looking up at a high edifice.

At six o'clock next morning, after passing a sleepless night, I got up and dressed myself, as well as I could with one hand, while with the other I clutched at the sides of my cabin, for without support it was impossible to keep one's feet, and I had quite a serious struggle to get on my overcoat. I left my cabin, and helping myself with hands and feet through the billows of luggage, I crossed the saloon, scrambling up the stairs on my knees, like a Roman peasant devoutly climbing the steps of the 'Scala santa' of Pontius Pilate; and at last, reaching the deck, I hung on firmly to the nearest kevel.

After having passed the great hatchway of the engine-rooms, I observed a 'small hotel' on my left, and then the spacious side walls of a palace surmounted by a terrace, the railings of which were being varnished. At last I reached the stern of the steam-ship, and the place I had already noticed where the scaffolding was erected.

This steam-ship is indeed a masterpiece of naval construction; more than a vessel, it is a floating city, part of the country, detached from English soil, which after having crossed the sea, unites itself to the American Continent. I pictured to myself this enormous bulk borne on the waves, her defiant struggle with the wind, her boldness before the powerless sea, her indifference to the billows, her stability in the midst of that element which tosses 'Warriors' and 'Solferinos' like ship's boats.

It is an immense depression of the land filled with water, in fact nothing more than a hole, the depth of which allows it to receive ships of the heaviest tonnage, such as the 'Great Eastern,' to which almost every other port in the world is closed. Thanks to this natural condition, the streams of the Thames and the Mersey have seen two immense commercial cities, London and Liverpool, built almost at their mouths, and from a similar cause has Glasgow arisen on the Clyde.

One would have taken her for a small island, hardly discernible in the mist. She appeared with her bows towards us, having swung round with the tide; but soon the tender altered her course, and the whole length of the steam-ship was presented to our view; she seemed what in fact she was enormous!

About nine o'clock the bearings of the 'Great Eastern' were west-north-west I was just going on deck, when I met Captain Mac Elwin, accompanied by a friend, a tall, robust man, with a light beard and long moustache which mingled with the whiskers and left the chin bare, after the fashion of the day. This tall fellow was the exact type of an English officer; his figure was erect without stiffness, his look calm, his walk dignified but easy; his whole appearance seemed to indicate unusual courage, and I was not mistaken in him.

On the spacious mastheads of the second and third masts a band of soldiers could easily manœuvre. Of these six masts, supported by shrouds and metallic back-stays, the second, third, and fourth are made of sheet-iron, and are really masterpieces of ironwork. At the base they measure 43 inches in diameter, and the largest (the main-mast) rises to the height of 207 French feet, which is higher than the towers of Notre Dame.

The 'Great Eastern' turned in time to avoid her, thanks to the promptitude with which the men on watch warned the steersman. These well-regulated signals are given by means of a bell, fastened to the poop at the bows. One ring signifies ship a-head; two, ship-starboard; three, ship a-larboard; and immediately the man at the helm steers in order to avoid a collision.

The hull of the 'Great Eastern' is proof against the most formidable seas; it is double, and is composed of a number of cells placed between the deck and hold; besides these, thirteen compartments, separated by water-tight partitions, increase the security against fire or the inlet of water. Ten thousand tons of iron were used in the construction of this hull, and 3,000,000 rivets secured the iron plates on her sides.

The spectators hurried towards the unfortunate men, the wounded were taken to the hospital at the stern; as for the four already dead, preparations were immediately made to send them on shore: so lightly do Anglo-Saxons regard death, that this event made very little impression on board. These unhappy men, killed and wounded, were only tools, which could be replaced at very little expense. The tender, already some distance off, was hailed, and in a few minutes she was alongside.

At two o'clock the fog grew dense again, the wind fell and rose at the same time. The thickness of the fog was so intense that the officers on the bridge could not see the men at the bows. These accumulated vapours rising from the sea constitute the greatest danger of navigation. They cause accidents which it is impossible to avoid, and a collision at sea is more to be dreaded than a fire.

I was going to reply to this wise observation, when there was a loud cry, and immediately my companion and I were hurled towards the bows; every man at the capstan-bars was knocked down; some got up again, others lay scattered on the deck. A catch had broken, and the capstan being forced round by the frightful pressure of the chains, the men, caught by the rebound, were struck violently on the head and chest. Freed from their broken rope-bands, the capstan-bars flew in all directions like grape-shot, killing four sailors, and wounding twelve others; among the latter was the boatswain, a Scotchman from Dundee.

Fabian was looking at the magic of the waves without speaking. What did he see in this liquid mirror, which gave scope to the most capricious flights of imagination? Was some vanished face passing before his eyes, and bidding him a last farewell? Did he see a drowning shadow in these eddying waters? He seemed to me sadder than usual, and I dared not ask him the cause of his grief.

Thus, in the midst of the fog, officers and sailors were obliged to keep a strict watch, which soon proved to be necessary, for about three o'clock a three-master appeared at less than two hundred yards from the 'Great Eastern,' her sails disabled by a gust of wind, and no longer answering to her helm.

First of all the anchor had to be raised. The 'Great Eastern' swung round with the tide; all was now clear, and Captain Anderson was obliged to choose this moment to set sail, for the width of the 'Great Eastern' did not allow of her turning round in the Mersey. He was more master of his ship and more certain of guiding her skilfully in the midst of the numerous boats always plying on the river when stemming the rapid current than when driven by the ebb-tide; the least collision with this gigantic body would have proved disastrous.

Three or four colliers alongside were pouring their cargoes of coal into her port-holes. Beside the 'Great Eastern,' these three-mast ships looked like barges; their chimneys did not even reach the first line of light-ports in her hull; the yards of their gallant-sails did not come up to her bulwarks. The giant could have hoisted these ships on its davits like shore-boats.

The 'Great Eastern' draws 30 feet of water with a cargo of 28,500 tons, and with a light cargo, from 20 to 30 feet. She is capable of receiving 10,000 passengers, so that out of the 373 principal districts in France, 274 are less populated than this floating sub-prefecture with its average number of passengers.

The water from the skies and sea mingled in a dense fog. The atmosphere was grey, and birds flew screeching through the damp mists. At ten o'clock a three-mast ship was hailed, sailing astern of us, but her nationality could not be recognized. So that, although the pressure of the boilers had risen, the ship's speed had not increased; but this might be attributed to the westerly wind, which caught the ship ahead, and considerably impeded her progress.

At this moment numerous groups appeared at the doors of the cabins, at the bows and stern; the boulevards were soon filled with men, women, and children carefully dressed for the occasion. Friends exchanged quiet greetings; every one held a Prayer-book in his hand, and all were waiting for the last bell which would announce the beginning of service. I saw also piles of Bibles, which were to be distributed in the church, heaped upon trays generally used for sandwiches.