the precaution of laying but a few days in any one harbour


New Member
Vietnamese - Vietnam
Joseph Balestier, US Consul in Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia) in the 1840s wrote some letters to US Secretary of State Forsyth recommended himself as a possible successor to Roberts, who has negotiated unsuccessfully with Vietnam and died of illness, to be resident Agent to watch over US interests in Southeast Asia and islands in the south Pacific Ocean. He would represent US Government to negotiate commercial treaties with Vietnam, Thailand...
The following is an excerpt from a letter by Consul Balestier sent to US Secretary of State at that time to persuade the Secretary to appoint him as negotiator for a commercial treaty with Vietnam:

"During my long residence in the E. Indies I have acquired some knowledge of the languages, manners, peculiarities & commerce of these people and it would be gratifying to my feelings to be appointed to negotiate the proposed treaties. I beg leave further to suggest that it would be of essential service to our commerce in those India Seas if one of our frigates or sloops of war should be kept cruising there, where piracies are frequent.
There is no part of the world where a ships company may enjoy better health, adopting the precaution of laying but a few successive days in any one harbour, than, the mild climate, clear skies, and numerous Islands, shoals, etc. would afford facilities to our officers to acquire knowledge & experience peculiar to their profession, equal if not superior to any other part of the Globe. The Congress frigate was the last American ship of war in those seas, since when ten years have elapsed, during which time the English & Dutch have always had several national vessels, & the French from time to time. < ---- >"

I don't understand the underlined sentence "adopting the precaution of laying but a few successive days in any one harbour", especially the phrase "precaution of laying", I completely don't understand the meaning of verb lay (laying) and as a result, for the whole context.
Can you please explain the sentence? thanks a lot.

< ---- > Removed one short sentence to comply with our 4-sentence limit on quotation.

Cagey, moderator.
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  • Glenfarclas

    Senior Member
    English (American)
    First, note that "but" means "only, merely" here; it is not a conjunction. "Laying but a few successive days" means "remaining for only a few days at a time" ("laying" is a nautical term meaning "leaving the ship stationary"). To remain for only a couple of days at any particular harbor was a precaution (an action taken in advance to avoid harm), which the ships adopted (used, undertook) presumably because of the pirates.
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    New Member
    Vietnamese - Vietnam
    I now understood the sentence. Thank you, Glenfarclas, for your very clear explanation.
    Again, thanks a lot. Have a nice Sunday!
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