THE ADVENTURES OF JOHN SMITH IN MALAYA; 1600-1605.*
Tina book of fictitious adventures, which we have come across by accident, has given us a peculiar pleasure. Few kinds of fiction are more attractive to the heart of British man than those which conform to the great model of Defoe. It is a puzzle to us why this story, which of its nature snakes so sure an appeal to English readers, should have been published in Holland ; it has the appearance of a school text-book, and has more misprints than almost any book we have read. There is a rollicking list of errata at the end, but though this quite superfluously calls attention to the mistakes, it does not by any means dispose of them. The scene of the story is laid first in West Africa, and secondly in the Malay Archi- pelago, in the days when the Dutch and the "Port ugals," as Hakluyt calls them, were fighting out in the East just such an issue as England and Spain were fighting out in the West. James Neccy, a Haarlem merchant, fits out three ships for trade and adventure—two galleons and a crompster—and John Smith, an Englishman of irregular birth, who finds that it simplifies matters for himself and his embarrassed mother to serve under the Dutch instead of under the English flag, sails in one of them as chief supercargo. The statement that the expedition was fitted out at Haarlem is the only clue—aud it is a poor one—we can find to the mystery that the book was undertaken by a Dutch publisher. The damages suffered by the ships in a fight off the West Coast of Africa cause them to put into a suitable river, where one of the ships is careened and repaired. During the months necessary for seasoning the new timbers the adventurers gradually establish a trade with the natives. The description of the pantomime on both sides by which barter is arranged, of the slow stages by which the traders are led to ally themselves with a tribe of dwarfs against the hostile "big savages," and of the pitched battle in which the big savages are defeated is worthy of the great pages of pioneering adventure when the world was younger. In West Africa, as well as in Malaya, John Smith excites the Canine devotion of a certain number of savages, par- ticularly of women, and we fancy that the author has • Ti, Adventures of John Smith in Malaya, 1800-1006. By A. Hale. Leyden: Late E. J. Brill. LW& Gd. uet. ] taken one hint in the course of his very wide reading' from the real and immortal John Smith of Virginia and his relations with Pocahontas. Before leaving the river on the West Coast of Africa John Smith and another officer of the expedition were acknowledged as the kings of the district (it is easy to become a king, after all, if you can oppose bow and arrows with a matchlock) ; but they regarded their kingship evidently as a hind of miner's claim which did not bear working too long. The quasi-political description of how they succeeded to the kingship is typical of the author's circuin- stantiality, which, after all, is the whole secret of this .kind of writing. One is tempted to say: "What is necessary is circumstantiality, and again circumstantiality, and always circumstantiality." Defoe revelled in it; Swift, though his purpose was satirical, and not, like Defoe's, the direct joy of pretending for pretending's sake, inevitably founded himself upon it; even Voltaire—and even in such a work as Candide- knew very well that he could not dispense with it.
In the Malayan part of the book we trace not only the same diligent reading as in the earlier part, but also what seems to be first-hand knowledge of the legends, customs, and intimate life of the Malayans. John Smith is left behind by his fellow- adventurers in Patani to establish a trading centre, and becomes so useful to the Queen that she proposes to make him her consort. Some readers may be reminded of the story current about fifteen years ago that a similar honour was offered to an English soldier of fortune in Madagascar just before the French occupation. Indeed, it is characteristic of the whole narrative that it should touch life—the life of real adventure as it is recorded—at innumerable points. The refusal of James Neccy to perform the customary act of homage before the Queen of Patani reminds us of the similar refusal of Lord Macartney before the Emperor of China. He was quite right not to crawl, and we are glad that he did not, even though he was Dutch, not English, and even though he was only a fictitious Dutchman. We hope to read more by Mr. Hale, and, with the object of preparing the ground for our enjoyment, may point out a few defects. He has suggested a philosophical dreaminess in his hero which he has done very little indeed to corroborate in the narrative. An excursus on the beauties of sun-worship in not very original terms, and like passages on pantheism, do not help us to get over the disappointment of an empty invitation to behold the particularly attractive combination of culture and daring in the same soul. We need not complain much about occasional errors in words, such as "laid" for "lain," and "instalment" for "installation" (but was this the Dutch printer at work ?), or in the use of incongruous language, such as the talk about "the fun beginning" when a battle is meant, or not "seeing the force" of doing some- thing. These things look clumsy in an atmosphere of the early seventeenth century, even though the book does not profess to be contemporary narrative; but we infinitely prefer a,certain boldness in inappropriateness to the narrow, stuffy air of Wardour Street. Our last criticism is that there is an unnecessary frankness in some of the incidents which prevents us from saying, what we should otherwise have said, that this is a grand book for boys. Mr. Hale's method adds to the verisimilitude, of course, and we ought to say that it is not aggressive; but it is not essential, and its absence would subtract nothing from what is peculiarly attractive in the book. Mr. Masefield is perhaps the only other English writer who would have been likely to spin such a yarn as this. He would have done it with more artistry, made something more of a literary accomplishment of it, and certainly put more poetry into it ; but he would not, we think, have written it with more learning or with so good an instinct for following the classical tradition in a large, simple, and direct way.