We do not intend to review our own work; if we did it justice we might be accused of partiality, and we are not such fools as to abuse it. We leave that to our literary friends who may have so little taste as not to appreciate its merits. Not that there would be anything novel in reviewing our own performances—that we have discovered since we have assumed the office of editor; but still it is always done sub rosa, whereas in our position we could not deny our situation as editor and author. Of Peter Simple, therefore, we say nothing, but we take this opportunity of saying a few words to the public…. The Naval Officer was our first attempt, and its having been our first attempt must be offered in extenuation of its many imperfections; it was written hastily, and before it was complete we were appointed to a ship. We cared much about our ship and little about our book. The first was diligently taken care of by ourselves, the second was left in the hands of others to get on how it could. Like most bantlings put out to nurse, it did not get on very well. As we happen to be in a communicative vein, it may be as well to remark that, being written in the autobiographical style, it was asserted by friends, and believed in general, that it was a history of the author's life. Now, without pretending to have been better than we should have been in our earlier days, we do most solemnly assure the public that had we run the career of vice of the hero of the Naval Officer, at all events we should have had sufficient sense of shame not to have avowed it. Except the hero and heroine, and those parts of the work which supply the slight plot of it as a novel, the work in itself is materially true, especially in the narrative of sea adventure, most of which did (to the best of our recollection) occur to the author. We say to the best of our recollection, as it behoves us to be careful. We have not forgotten the snare in which Chamier found himself by asserting in his preface that his narrative was fact. In The Naval Officer much good material was thrown away; but we intend to write it over again some day of these days, and The Naval Officer, when corrected, will be so improved that he may be permitted to stand on the same shelf with Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.1
"The confounded licking we received for our first attempts in the critical notices is probably well known to the reader—at all events we have not forgotten it. Now, with some, this severe castigation of their first offence would have had the effect of their never offending again; but we felt that our punishment was rather too severe; it produced indignation instead of contrition, and we determined to write again in spite of all the critics in the universe; and in the due course of nine months we produced The King's Own. In The Naval Officer we had sowed all our wild oats; we had paid off those who had ill-treated us, and we had no further personality to indulge in. The King's Own, therefore, was wholly fictitious in characters, in plot, and in events, as have been its successors. The King's Own was followed by Newton Forster, Newton Forster by Peter Simple. These are all our productions. Reader, we have told our tale."
This significant document was published by Captain Marryat in the Metropolitan Magazine 1833, of which he was at that time the editor, on the first appearance of Peter Simple, in order, among other things, to disclaim the authorship of a work entitled the Port Admiral, which contained "an infamous libel upon one of our most distinguished officers deceased, and upon the service in general." It repudiates, without explaining away, certain unpleasant impressions that even the careful reader of to-day cannot entirely avoid. Marryat made Frank Mildmay a scamp, I am afraid, in order to prove that he himself had not stood for the portrait; but he clearly did not recognise the full enormities of his hero, to which he was partially blinded by a certain share thereof. The adventures were admittedly his own, they were easily recognised, and he had no right to complain of being confounded with the insolent young devil to whom they were attributed. It would, however, be at once ungracious and unprofitable to attempt any analysis of the points of difference and resemblance; any reader will detect the author's failings by his work; other coincidences may be noticed here.
It has been said, in the general introduction, that Marryat's cruises in the Imperieuse are almost literally described in Frank Mildmay. We have also independent accounts of certain personal adventures there related.
The episode, chap, iv., of being bitten by a skate—supposed to be dead—which is used again in Peter Simple, came from Marryat's own experience; and he declared that he ran away from school on account of the very indignity—that of being compelled to wear his elder brother's old clothes—which Frank Mildmay pleads as an excuse for sharing at least the sentiments of Cain. Marryat, again, was trampled upon and left for dead when boarding an enemy (see chap, v.); he saved the midshipman who had bullied him, from drowning, though his reflections on the occasion are more edifying than those recounted in chap. v. "From that moment," he says, "I have loved the fellow as I never loved friend before. All my hate is forgotten. I have saved his life." The defence of the castle of Rosas, chap, vii., is taken straight from his private log-book; while Marshall's Naval Biography contains an account of his volunteering during a gale to cut away the main-yard of the Aeolus, which scarcely pales before the vigorous passage in chap. xiv.:—
"On the 30th of September, 1811, in lat. 40° 50' N., long. 65° W. (off the coast of New England), a gale of wind commenced at S.E., and soon blew with tremendous fury; the Aeolus was laid on her beam ends, her top-masts and mizen-masts were literally blown away, and she continued in this extremely perilous situation for at least half-an-hour. Directions were given to cut away the main-yard, in order to save the main-mast and right the ship, but so great was the danger attending such an operation considered, that not a man could be induced to attempt it until Mr Marryat led the way. His courageous conduct on this occasion excited general admiration, and was highly approved of by Lord James Townsend, one of whose company he also saved by jumping overboard at sea."
The edition of 1873 contained a brief memoir of the author, by "Florence Marryat," frequently reprinted.
Frank Mildmay, originally called The Naval Officer; or, Scenes and Adventures in the Life of Frank Mildmay, is here printed from the first edition published in 1829 by Henry Colborn, with the following motto on the title-page:—
My muse by no means deals in fiction;
She gathers a repertory of facts,
Of course with some reserve and slight restriction,
But mostly traits of human things and acts.
Love, war, a tempest—surely there's variety;
Also a seasoning slight of lubrication;
A bird's-eye view, too, of that wild society;
A slight glance thrown on men of every station
These are the errors, and these are the fruits of misspending our prime youth at the schools and universities, as we do, either in learning mere words, or such things chiefly as were better unlearned.—MILTON.
My father was a gentleman, and a man of considerable property. In my infancy and childhood I was weak and sickly, but the favourite of my parents beyond all my brothers and sisters, because they saw that my mind was far superior to my sickly frame, and feared they should never raise me to manhood; contrary, however, to their expectations, I surmounted all these untoward appearances, and attracted much notice from my liveliness, quickness of repartee, and impudence: qualities which have been of much use to me through life.
I can remember that I was both a coward and a boaster; but I have frequently remarked that the quality which we call cowardice in a child, is no more than implying a greater sense of danger, and consequently a superior intellect. We are all naturally cowards: education and observation teach us to discriminate between real and apparent danger; pride teaches the concealment of fear, and habit renders us indifferent to that from which we have often escaped with impunity. It is related of the Great Frederick that he misbehaved the first time he went into action; and it is certain that a novice in such a situation can no more command all his resources than a boy when first bound apprentice to a shoemaker can make a pair of shoes. We must learn our trade, whether it be to stand steady before the enemy, or to stitch a boot; practice alone can make a Hoby or a Wellington.
I pass on to my school-days, when the most lasting impressions are made. The foundation of my moral and religious instruction had been laid with care by my excellent parents; but, alas! from the time I quitted the paternal roof not one stone was added to the building, and even the traces of what existed were nearly obliterated by the deluge of vice which threatened soon to overwhelm me. Sometimes, indeed, I feebly, but ineffectually endeavoured to stem the torrent; at others, I suffered myself to be borne along with all its fatal rapidity. I was frank, generous, quick, and mischievous; and I must admit that a large portion of what sailors call "devil" was openly displayed, and a much larger portion latently deposited in my brain and bosom. My ruling passion, even in this early stage of life, was pride. Lucifer himself, if he ever was seven years old, had not more. If I have gained a fair name in the service, if I have led instead of followed, it must be ascribed to this my ruling passion. The world has often given me credit for better feelings, as the source of action, but I am not writing to conceal, and the truth must be told.
I was sent to school to learn Latin and Greek, which there are various ways of teaching. Some tutors attempt the suaviter in modo, my schoolmaster preferred the fortiter in re; and, as the boatswain said, by the "instigation" of a large knotted stick, he drove knowledge into our skulls as a caulker drives oakum into the seams of a ship. Under such tuition, we made astonishing progress; and whatever my less desirable acquirements may have been, my father had no cause to complain of my deficiency in classic lore. Superior in capacity to most of my schoolfellows, I seldom took the pains to learn my lesson previous to going up with my class: "the master's blessing," as we called it, did occasionally descend on my devoted head, but that was a bagatelle; I was too proud not to keep pace with my equals, and too idle to do more.
Had my schoolmaster being a single man, my stay under his care might have been prolonged to my advantage; but unfortunately, both for him and for me, he had a helpmate, and her peculiarly unfortunate disposition was the means of corrupting those morals over which it was her duty to have watched with the most assiduous care. Her ruling passions were suspicion and avarice, written in legible characters in her piercing eyes and sharp-pointed nose. She never supposed us capable of telling the truth, so we very naturally never gave ourselves the trouble to cultivate a useless virtue, and seldom resorted to it unless it answered our purpose better than a lie. This propensity of Mrs Higginbottom converted our candour and honesty into deceit and fraud. Never believed, we cared little about the accuracy of our assertions; half-starved, through her meanness and parsimony, we were little scrupulous as to the ways and means, provided we could satisfy our hunger; and thus we soon became as great adepts in the elegant accomplishments of lying and thieving, under her tuition, as we did in Greek and Latin under that of her husband.
A large orchard, fields, garden, and poultry-yard, attached to the establishment, were under the care and superintendence of the mistress, who usually selected one of the boys as her prime minister and confidential adviser. This boy, for whose education his parents were paying some sixty or eighty pounds per annum, was permitted to pass his time in gathering up the windfalls; in watching the hens, and bringing in their eggs, when their cackling throats had announced their safe accouchement; looking after the broods of young ducks and chickens, et hoc genus omne; in short, doing the duty of what is usually termed the odd man in the farmyard. How far the parents would have been satisfied with this arrangement, I leave my readers to guess; but to us who preferred the manual to mental exertion, exercise to restraint, and any description of cultivation to that of cultivating the mind, it suited extremely well; and accordingly no place in the gift of government was ever the object of such solicitude and intrigue, as was to us schoolboys the situation of collector and trustee of the eggs and apples.
I had the good fortune to be early selected for this important post, and the misfortune to lose it soon after, owing to the cunning and envy of my schoolfellows and the suspicion of my employers. On my first coming into office, I had formed the most sincere resolutions of honesty and vigilance; but what are good resolutions, when discouraged on the one hand by the revilings of suspicion, and assailed on the other by the cravings of appetite? My morning's collection was exacted from me to the very last nut, and the greedy eyes of my mistress seemed to inquire for more. Suspected when innocent, I became guilty out of revenge; was detected and dismissed. A successor was appointed, to whom I surrendered all my offices of trust, and having perfect leisure, I made it my sole business to supplant him.
It was an axiom in mathematics with me at that time, though not found in Euclid, that wherever I could enter my head, my whole body might follow. As a practical illustration of this proposition, I applied my head to the arched hole of the hen-house door, and by scraping away a little dirt, contrived to gain admittance, and very speedily transferred all the eggs to my own chest. When the new purveyor arrived, he found nothing but "a beggarly account of empty boxes;" and his perambulations in the orchard and garden, for the same reason were equally fruitless. The pilferings of the orchard and garden I confiscated as droits; but when I had collected a sufficient number of eggs to furnish a nest, I gave information of my pretended discovery to my mistress, who, thinking she had not changed for the better, dismissed my successor, and received me into favour again. I was, like many greater men, immediately reinstated in office when it was discovered that they could not do without me. I once more became chancellor of the hen-roost and ranger of the orchard, with greater power than I had possessed before my disgrace. Had my mistress looked half as much in my face as she did into my hatful of eggs, she would have read my guilt; for at that unsophisticated age I could blush, a habit long since discarded in the course of my professional duties.
In order to preserve my credit and my situation, I no longer contented myself with windfalls, but assisted nature in her labours, and greatly lightened the burthen of many a loaded fruit-tree; by these means, I not only gratified the avarice of my mistress at her own expense, but also laid by a store for my own use. On my restoration to office, I had an ample fund in my exchequer to answer all present demands; and by a provident and industrious anticipation, was enabled to lull the suspicions of my employers, and to bid defiance to the opposition. It will readily be supposed that a lad of my acuteness did not omit any technical management for the purpose of disguise; the fruits which I presented were generally soiled with dirt at the ends of the stalks, in such a manner as to give them all the appearance of "felo de se," i.e. fell of itself. Thus, in the course of a few months, did I become an adept of vice, from the mismanagement of those into whose hands I was intrusted to be strengthened in religion and virtue.
Fortunately for me, as far as my education was concerned, I did not long continue to hold this honourable and lucrative employment. One of those unhappy beings called an usher peeped into my chest, and by way of acquiring popularity with the mistress and scholars, forthwith denounced me to the higher powers. The proofs of my peculation were too glaring, and the amount too serious to be passed over; I was tried, convicted, condemned, sentenced, flogged, and dismissed in the course of half-an-hour; and such was the degree of turpitude attached to me on this occasion, that I was rendered for ever incapable of serving in that or any other employment connected with the garden or farm; I was placed at the bottom of the list, and declared to be the worst boy in the school.
This in many points of view was too true; but there was one boy who bade fair to rival me on the score of delinquency; this was Tom Crauford, who from that day became my most intimate friend. Tom was a fine spirited fellow, up to everything; loved mischief, though not vicious; and was ready to support me in everything through thick and thin; and truly I found him sufficient employment. I threw off all disguise, laughed at any suggestion of reform, which I considered as not only useless, but certain of subjecting me to ridicule and contempt among my associates. I therefore adopted the motto of some great man "to be rather than seem to be." I led in every danger; declared war against all drivellers and half-measures; stole everything that was eatable from garden, orchard, or hen-house, knowing full well that whether I did so or not, I should be equally suspected. Thenceforward all fruit missed, all arrows shot into pigs, all stones thrown into windows, and all mud spattered over clean linen hung out to dry, were traced to Tom and myself; and with the usual alacrity of an arbitrary police, the space between apprehension and punishment was very short—we were constantly brought before the master, and as regularly dismissed with "his blessing," till we became hardened to blows and to shame.
Thus, by the covetousness of this woman, who was the grey mare, and the folly of the master, who, in anything but Greek and Latin, was an ass, my good principles were nearly eradicated from my bosom, and in their place were sown seeds which very shortly produced an abundant harvest.
There was a boy at our school lately imported from the East Indies. We nick-named him Johnny Pagoda. He was remarkable for nothing but ignorance, impudence, great personal strength, and, as we thought, determined resolution. He was about nineteen years of age. One day he incurred the displeasure of the master, who, enraged at his want of comprehension and attention, struck him over the head with a knotted cane. This appeal, although made to the least sensitive part of his frame, roused the indolent Asiatic from his usual torpid state. The weapon, in the twinkling of an eye, was snatched out of the hand, and suspended over the head of the astonished pedagogue, who, seeing the tables so suddenly turned against him, made the signal for assistance. I clapped my hands, shouted "Bravo! lay on, Johnny—go it—you have done it now—you may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb;" but the ushers began to muster round, the boy hung aloof, and Pagoda, uncertain which side the neutrals would take, laid down his arms, and surrendered at discretion.
Had the East-Indian followed up his act by the application of a little discipline at the fountain-head, it is more than probable that a popular commotion, not unlike that of Mas' Aniello would have ensued; but the time was not come: the Indian showed a white feather, was laughed at, flogged, and sent home to his friends, who had intended him for the bar; but foreseeing that he might, in the course of events, chance to cut a figure on the wrong side of it, sent him to sea, where his valour, if he had any, would find more profitable employment.
This unsuccessful attempt of the young Oriental, was the primary cause of all my fame and celebrity in after-life. I had always hated school; and this, of all others, seemed to me the most hateful. The emancipation of Johnny Pagoda convinced me that my deliverance might be effected in a similar manner. The train was laid, and a spark set it on fire. This spark was supplied by the folly and vanity of a fat French dancing-master. These Frenchmen are ever at the bottom of mischief. Mrs Higginbottom, the master's wife, had denounced me to Monsieur Aristide Maugrebleu as a mauvais sujet; and as he was a creature of hers, he frequently annoyed me to gratify his patroness. This fellow was at that time about forty-five years of age, and had much more experience than agility, having greatly increased his bulk by the roast beef and ale of England. While he taught us the rigadoons of his own country, his vanity induced him to attempt feats much above the cumbrous weight of his frame. I entered the lists with him, beat him at his own trade, and he beat me with his fiddle-stick, which broke in two over my head; then, making one more glorious effort to show that he would not be outdone, snapped the tendon Achilles, and down he fell, hors de combat as a dancing-master. He was taken away in his gig to be cured, and I was taken into the school-room to be flogged.
This I thought so unjust that I ran away. Tom Crauford helped me to scale the wall; and when he supposed I had got far enough to be out of danger from pursuit, went and gave information, to avoid the suspicion of having aided and abetted. After running a mile, to use a sea phrase, I hove to, and began to compose, in my mind, an oration which I intended to pronounce before my father, by way of apology for my sudden and unexpected appearance; but I was interrupted by the detested usher and half a dozen of the senior boys, among whom was Tom Crauford. Coming behind me as I sat on a stile, they cut short my meditations by a tap on the shoulder, collared and marched me to the right about in double quick time. Tom Crauford was one of those who held me, and outdid himself in zealous invective at my base ingratitude in absconding from the best of masters, and the most affectionate, tender, and motherly of all school-dames.
The usher swallowed all this, and I soon made him swallow a great deal more. We passed near the side of a pond, the shoals and depths of which were well known to me. I looked at Tom out of the corner of my eye, and motioned him to let me go; and, like a mackerel out of a fisherman's hand, I darted into the water, got up to my middle, and then very coolly, for it was November, turned round to gaze at my escort, who stood at bay, and looked very much like fools. The usher, like a low bred cur, when he could no longer bully, began to fawn; he entreated and he implored me to think on "my papa and mamma; how miserable they would be, if they could but see me; what an increase of punishment I was bringing on myself by such obstinacy." He held out by turns coaxes and threats; in short, everything but an amnesty, to which I considered myself entitled, having been driven to rebellion by the most cruel persecution.
Argument having failed, and there being no volunteers to come in and fetch me out of the water, the poor usher, much against his inclination, was compelled to undertake it. With shoes and stockings off, and trousers tucked up, he ventured one foot into the water, then the other; a cold shiver reached his teeth, and made them chatter; but, at length, with cautious tread he advanced towards me. Being once in the water, a step or two farther was no object to me, particularly as I knew I could but be well flogged after all, and I was quite sure of that, at all events, so I determined to have my revenge and amusement. Stepping back, he followed, and suddenly fell over head and ears into a hole, as he made a reach at me. I was already out of my depth, and could swim like a duck, and as soon as he came up, I perched my knees on his shoulders and my hands on his head, and sent him souse under a second time, keeping him there until he had drunk more water than any horse that ever came to the pond. I then allowed him to wallow out the best way he could; and as it was very cold, I listened to the entreaties of Tom and the boys who stood by, cracking their sides with laughter at the poor usher's helpless misery.
Having had my frolic, I came out, and voluntarily surrendered myself to my enemies, from whom I received the same mercy, in proportion, that a Russian does from a Turk. Dripping wet, cold, and covered with mud, I was first shown to the boys as an aggregate of all that was bad in nature; a lecture was read to them on the enormity of my offence, and solemn denunciations of my future destiny closed the discourse. The shivering fit produced by the cold bath was relieved by as sound a flogging as could be inflicted, while two ushers held me; but no effort of theirs could elicit one groan or sob from me, my teeth were clenched in firm determination of revenge: with this passion my bosom glowed, and my brain was on fire. The punishment, though dreadfully severe, had one good effect—it restored my almost suspended animation; and I strongly recommend the same remedy being applied to all young ladies and gentlemen who, from disappointed love or other such trifling causes, throw themselves into the water. Had the miserable usher been treated after this prescription, he might have escaped a cold and rheumatic fever which had nearly consigned him to a country churchyard, in all probability to reappear at the dissecting-room of St Bartholomew's Hospital.
About this time Johnny Pagoda, who had been two years at sea, came to the school to visit his brother and schoolfellows. I pumped this fellow to tell me all he knew: he never tried to deceive me, or to make a convert. He had seen enough of a midshipman's life, to know that a cockpit was not paradise; but he gave me clear and ready answers to all my questions. I discovered that there was no schoolmaster in the ship, and that the midshipmen were allowed a pint of wine a day. A man-of-war, and the gallows, they say, refuse nothing; and as I had some strong presentiment from recent occurrences, that if I did not volunteer for the one, I should, in all probability, be pressed for the other, I chose the lesser evil of the two; and having made up my mind to enter the glorious profession, I shortly after communicated my intention to my parents.
From the moment I had come to this determination, I cared not what crime I committed, in hopes of being expelled from the school. I wrote scurrilous letters, headed a mutiny, entered into a league with the other boys to sink, burn and destroy, and do all the mischief we could. Tom Crauford had the master's child to dry nurse: he was only two years old: Tom let him fall, not intentionally, but the poor child was a cripple in consequence of it for life. This was an accident which under any other circumstances we should have deplored, but to us it was almost a joke.
The cruel treatment I had received from these people, had so demoralized me, that those passions,—which under more skilful or kinder treatment, had either not been known, or would have lain dormant, were roused into full and malignant activity: I went to school a good-hearted boy, I left it a savage. The accident with the child occurred two days before the commencement of the vacation, and we were all dismissed on the following day in consequence. On my return home I stated verbally to my father and mother, as I had done before by letter, that I was resolved to go to sea. My mother wept, my father expostulated. I gazed with apathy on the one, and listened with cold indifference to the reasoning and arguments of the other; a choice of schools was offered to me, where I might be a parlour boarder, and I was to finish at the University, if I would but give up my fatal infatuation. Nothing, however, would do; the die was cast, and for the sea I was to prepare.
What fool was it who said that the happiest times of our lives is passed at school? There may, indeed, be exceptions, but the remark cannot be generalized. Stormy as has been my life, the most miserable part of it (with very little exception) was passed at school; and my mind never received so much injury from any scenes of vice and excess in after-life, as it did from the shameful treatment and bad example I met with there. If my bosom burned with fiend-like passions, whose fault was it? How had the sacred pledge, given by the master, been redeemed? Was I not sacrificed to the most sordid avarice, in the first instance, and almost flayed alive in the second, to gratify revenge? Of the filthy manner in which our food was prepared, I can only say that the bare recollection of it excites nausea; and to this hour, bread and milk, suet pudding, and shoulders of mutton, are objects of my deep-rooted aversion. The conduct of the ushers, who were either tyrannical extortioners, or partakers in our crimes—the constant loss of our clothes by the dishonesty or carelessness of the servants—the purloining our silver spoons, sheets, and towels, when we went away, upon the plea of "custom"—the charges in the account for windows which I had never broken, and books which I had never received—the shameful difference between the annual cost promised by the master, and the sum actually charged, ought to have opened the eyes of my father.
I am aware how excellent many of these institutions are, and that there are few so bad as the one I was sent to. The history of my life will prove of what vital importance it is to ascertain the character of the master and mistress as to other points besides teaching Greek and Latin, before a child is intrusted to their care. I ought to have observed, that during my stay at this school, I had made some proficiency in mathematics and algebra.