THE NAVAL CLUB.
THIS new work of the Old Sailor consists of a series of tales set in an ingenious framework. A club is supposed to have been formed at Greenwich, consisting of retired naval officers of all grades, to- gether with a marine or two, and the different veteran servants of each member, who sit as it were below the dais. The rules of the club allow visiters ; and, as a matter of course, the assembly continu- ally recurs to "reminiscences of service," from a passing anecdote to a short novel. Of the mere after-dinner stories it is unnecessary to speak. The shorter tales embrace single incidents at sea or epi- sodes in a man's career,—as " Retribution," a powerful but rather shocking sketch of piracy in the West Indies ; the story of the loss of Nelson's old ship the Agamemnou, and the feelings of her crew when forced to abandon her; the " Adventure of a Jersey Man," containing an account of the daring entry of a privateer into a French port, and some passages in the life of her captain. The long stories are two,—the autobiography of a marine officer, mainly consisting of a capture at sea, and some rapid and striking inci- dents during a Negro insurrection in one of the West India islands : " Poor Ned," which contains some port and sea sketches, but in its extraordinary chances and changes approaches the Minerva Press school.
The Naval Club exhibits considerable improvement on the part of Mr. BARKER in every point of view, and may be considered as his best work. Although the conversation of the club some- times stops a story in the middle, (a defect easily remedied,) and the descriptions of the members may be occasionally overdone, yet the number of characters furnishes relief, gives a variety to the stories told, and permits the easy introduction of tales too trifling to stand alone. The general execution, too, is of a more sustained and vigorous character, with a wider range of subject, and juster views of life, or at least of that kind of life which falls within naval ken. There is also greater finish about the work ; not the finish of polish, but a greater equality, with fewer gross de- fects of taste. Further, it strikes us there is more of animation in the dialogue, and of force and boldness in the sketches ; although the piratical and Negro scenes in the West Indies call to mind Two Cringles Lou-, which the Old Sailor has probably been study- ing. Mr. BARKER, however, takes a more generous and even a more philosophical view of Negro slavery than Cringle, who had most of the Planter prejudices.
The critical defect of The Naval Club, or rather of the longer stories, is want of art. With much of the truth and individuality of nature, they have its narrowness and apparent abruptness. Per- sons and incidents are introduced to the reader with somewhat of emphasis and are heard no more of ; characters who seem designed for a conspicuous part in the story are dropped without explanation, or killed off compendiously, when no other means exist of getting rid of them. With the exception of "Poor Ned," an analogous remark applies to the tales themselves : they are rather parts than wholes, rather episodes than stories. Our extracts shall be taken from the West Indian scenes, which upon the whole are the best in the work.
A NEGRO PILOT.
It was soon after daylight in the morning, that a small sailing-vessel, carry- ing a pilot's flag, was discovered close to us, and shortly afterwards a Negro came on board to conduct the sloop into the roads. The pilot was naked ex- cept a piece of coarse linen round his loins; and I could not help feeling some- what awkward at seeing one of my own species moving about in this state, with as much unconcern as if be had been completely dressed. He was a stout elderly man, firm in his step and independent in his manner, and full of life and humour: but judge of my surprise when I was told he was a slave. His first salutation was—" Ha, mama captain ; how he do, eh? What news he bring from England ? How him Billy Pitt and King George ? Port a littly bit, boy." The Captain stumped towards him; but no sooner did the Negro hear the dot-and-go-one of the skipper's wooden pin, than he gazed more earnestly at him, and then he burst out—"Ky, he Massa Haul, eh ?" and holding out his hand—"Me happy for see you, Captain Haul; many long day since me hab de pleasure. Massa Death knock down one leg; t'other 'tan 'tiff, eh ? Miss Nancy glad for see you once more ; she hab old head now, and—"
Old Haul-of-Haul seemed to be apprehensive that probably some of his pec- cadilloes were about to be exposed, and therefore stopped the Negro with- " Weel Ben, ye're alive, I'm thinking : and now just place me in the auld spot, about twa cables length from the jetty, mon, and we'll crack of lang- syne after the anchor is gone." "Crack, mama; what he call crack ? " replied the Negro : but, catching sight of the Purser, who was also an old acquaintance, he gave a significant look, and pointing towards him—" Ab, what Lab crack dere, eL ? How he do, Massa Purser ?—Steady littly bit, boy—no run the sloop in de hush. How he do, Massa Nipvvig ? where de rum lib now ? "
The good-humoured, unembarrassed manner in which the naked Black ad- dressed the officers, quite delighted me : he had a laugh and a joke for every one, and gave his directions for steering the sloop with all the air of an admiral ; nor would he allow even the Captain to interfere with his duties. It was cer- tainly a curious sight to see this unclothed being, without even a covering to his head, standing by the side of Old Ilaul-of-Haul, arrayed in his full uni- form, with a huge regular three-cornered hat fiercely cocked over his left eye, and his hanger suspended to a broad black belt buckled round his waist. His ammunition-leg had received a more than usual polish of bees-wax, and there he stood anticipating congratulations on his good fortune.
It is customary, in conning a ship, for the man at the helm to reply to the commands of the pilot for the purpose of showing that they are heard and un- derstood; and in difficult navigation this is very essential for the prevention of mistakes. Old Haul, however, had been so accustomed at all times to work his own ship, that be considered no order could be properly executed except it came from himself; and on this account he kept repeating the directions of Ben, but which the latter, who looked upon it as an infringement of his dig- nity, did not seem to relish. The expression of his features was particularly comical, especially when the steersman responded to the order before the Cap- tain could give it utterance ; and then he muttered to himself, "Ky ! he no catch 'em dere."
" Steady boy, bearee !" cried Ben, addressing the helmsman. " Steady !" went the Captain, repeating the command.
" Steady it is!" answered the helmsman.
" Port a littly bit," cried Ben.
" Port a little."
" Port it is," responded the man.
This went on for some time, till Ben could bear it no longer. " Starboard, boy !" cried Ben.
" Starboard," repeated the Captain. Upon which the naked Negro stepped up to Old Haul, and taking hold of the gold-laced lappet of his coat, exclaimed, with the utmost gravity—" Tan, mama, and you please, let one gentleman peak at a time."
DRESSING A LINE OF SAILORS.
In a very short interval, to increase the astonishment of every class, the river was crowded with boats, pulling steadily for th7 quays ; and the marines o f the Alert, together with a body of seamen from the same ship, and as many as could possibly be spared from the merchantmen, all armed with muskets, bayonets, and cutlasses, were landed, and with a union-jack in front, proceeded to the great square, where the whole of the troops were already formed in ad- mirable order, and were undergoing inspection by the General, attended by his full staff. The arrival of Old Haul's battalion caused general merriment for the manner in which the seamen attempted to keep something like regular step, and the way in which they shouldered their arms ; as many being on the right shoulder as the left. To bring them into anything like a dress front was impossible, till an old boatswain's mate, taking one of the carpenter's crew with him, chalked a line before them, which they toed with great precision, and presented a very fair face.
A VIEW OF WEST INDIAN SOCIETY.
" The case stands thus, Sir : in former times intimacies between the female slaves and their owners originated a race of Creoles or Coloured people, who, capable of enduring all the effects of this infernal climate, are yet softened in the barbarism of their natures by the mixture of European blood in their veins. There is a great deal in blood, Sir—genteel blood, depend upon it. Now, no White man possessing ten grains of common sense would bring a wife with him to the West Indies : for what would she be ?—a perpetual burden, which no art could lighten—unfit for all the ditties which a female station requires— a helpless being that would require other hands than her own to dress and sus- tain her. Mind, young gentleman, do not mistake me ; it is the climate that does all this, and therefore is the misfortune of the lady, and not her fault."
" But surely this is not always the case," said I, my thoughts reverting to Mrs. Herbert. " I think I know one European female in this colony Who merits a better opinion : there is the wife of Major Herbert, for instance."
"There is no rule without an exception, young gentleman," returned he. "Mrs. Herbert is the exception to the rule. But what has her life been 2—that which would have made any other heart but the Major's ache. She has con- quered all her miseries, because she has outlived them ; but rely upon it, in nine cases out of ten my picture is correct. European females are wholly un- fit for this cursed country : their sensibilities dwindle into affectation, their de- licacy is deadened and destroyed by the constant spectacle of men and women appearing in a state bordering upon nudity, and the baneful effects of climate render them utterly incapable of self-assistance. so that a husband is compelled to procure and maintain additional servants solely for the purpose of waiting on his wife. The settlers found that out in time, and came over unmarried: but as female society is desirable, and in cases of sickness absolutely requisite, the Coloured women are resorted to, who undertake all the duties of a wife, but bearing only the title of housekeeper, for the Negro taint is an insuperable bar to matrimony ; nor is the woman who thus superintends his family arrange- ments allowed even to sit down in the presence of her master or his guests, and their children are involved in the same degradation. Should sickness come, the Coloured woman is the kind, attentive nurse ; in household affairs, she is the careful manager; as superintendent of the Negroes, she is well-acquainted with their habits and their wants ; and the White man has nothing to wish for but that polish which is given by the acquirements of education ; nor is this at all times wanted, fur many of the Coloured women are fit society for the supe- rior class of English ladies. Now, as a natural consequence of all this, a vast deal of property in this and other colonies will descend to the Coloured generation ; and whether they will continue subjects of Great Britain or not remains to be seen. One thing, however, to my view, is certain—that they never will consent to remain a sort of outcast race, as they are looked upon at present. if they are sent to England to be educated, (and many of the Co- loured young men have been entered at our Universities,) they are treated as gentlemen, and admitted into the best society ; but when they return to the West Indies, they also return to their former position of compulsory debase-, ment. This is a strange anomaly, yet 'tis nevertheless the fact."
The difficulties touched upon in this passage seem to have been partly removed by emancipation and "amalgamation." There is no doubt, however, that the two together have given a check to Euro- pean emigration to the West Indies, (no capitalist at present would turn his attention thither); and that a Creole race of mixed or European descent will eventually possess the property of those countries. Their following stage is not very easy to foresee. The remote future of the emancipated colonies is too difficult a matter even for conjecture.