THE LIFE OF CAPTAIN MARRYAT.*
TEE author of such admirable naval novels as Peter Simple, of such excellent boys' books as Masterman Ready, is so great a favourite with all classes of readers, that his biography will be eagerly wel- comed. We feel a natural curiosity about the history of one who provided our youth as well as our manhood with such delightful reading, and who belongs just sufficiently both to the present and the past generation to have a twofold claim upon our regard. Thus we look forward to a book of more than common interest, but we are disappointed. It is much to be regretted that Captain Marryat's daughter should give us so little information about her father. She prepares us, indeed, to some extent for our disap- pointment by stating in her preface that her own recollections are vague, and that the materials at her command were scanty, yet we cannot help thinking that if she had applied to her father's friends more would have been placed at her disposal. We should have thought that any biographer of Captain Marryat might have given a fuller account of his literary career than is contained in a bare enumeration of the titles of his works. Mrs. Ross Church does not always take the pains to refer to her father's novels where they contain incidents drawn from his own adventures, as we find in the record of the sailing of the Imperieuse from Portsmouth. But whatever may be her familiarity with Captain Marryat's books, she tells us scarcely anything of their origin, though it would be highly interesting to know how far any of them were suggested by real events, or contained sketches of real characters. We learn indeed that when Captain Marryat had settled in the country, it was his habit to write on a table that commanded a view of the lawn on which his favourite bull was tethered, yet that savours more of his desire to be a country gentleman than of any purely literary peculiarity. We may say, on the whole, that this biography presents Captain Marryat in two characters only, those of a naval man and of a country gentleman, to the exclusion of the one by which he is most conspicuous, that of an author. He says himself in one of his letters, "I should like to disengage myself from the fraternity of authors, and be known in future only in my profession as a good officer and seaman." Yet his admirers will not be contented with such a character as this, which deprives Captain Marryat of his chief claim to distinction, while it only gives him a title to be shared with many persons of comparative obscurity.
No doubt it hardly needed this biography to remind us that in all Captain Marryat's works there was an absence of the purely
* Life and Letters of Captain Jlarryat. By Florence Marryat (Mrs. BON Church). 2 yola. London; Bentley and Son. ism literary element. Although he wrote on other subjects than those connected with his profession, and was seldom deficient in point and spirit, there was a want of variety in his non-naval works, a straining which bespoke unfamiliarity with general nature. Vigorous as his humour is—as, for example, in the letter to Fraser's Magazine, printed in these volumes—it wants ease and lightness. Marryat's genius always has its sea-legs on, and when fairly in its element it is unapproachable. We see from many incidents in this life, as we know from all Marryat's novels, that he was wrapt up in his profession. His first cruise was made under the command of Lord Cochrane, and having such an example of dash and courage set him, Marryat soon distinguished himself. We need not follow the biographer through the list of engagements, prizes, cuttings-out, and boardings which occupy several pages. Marryat had his share in many of them, and was favourably mentioned by so good a judge of gallantry as his captain. In one respect, however, Marryat made himself exceptionally prominent, and that was in leaping overboard to save drowning men. We have many instances of his thus risking his own life ; once, indeed, he was only rescued himself when on the point of sinking, and we are told that he received twenty-seven certificates for these services, besides the gold medal of the Humane Society. From amongst the experiences which Marryat's first cruise on the coast of Spain brought before him, we may select the following singular incident — " A long brass twenty-four-pounder not having been properly 81:lunged out, went off while the men were reloading it, and a marine of the name of Folkes and a mizen-top man, who were ramming the cartridge home, were the sufferers. The state of the poor marine was dreadful ; his face was blown off to the bones ; nose, eyes, lips, every feature had disappeared, and the remains were left black as charcoal. Both his arms were blown off short at the shoulders ; and the flesh of his chest had been carried away, so that you might perceive the motion of the vitals within. A more dreadful object could not have been imagined, and the poor fellow was carried away and laid down in a corner to die. Now the strange feature in this case was that the man never complained, or appeared to feel the least pain. With his bared and blackened jaws he continued to abuse the French, and to swear that as soon as he was well again he would have his revenge upon them. He imagined himself to be very slightly hurt. I watched him for about two hours before he died ; his voice gradually failed him, as he bled to death, and at last he spoke no more. It would appear, then, that a shock to excess does not carry pain with it, and, indeed, I have observed this in more instances than in the one I have now mentioned. The mizen-top man had his arm blown off, and, at the same time, he was himself blown over the castle walls, and fell on the hard rook from a height which, in any other case, would have dashed a man to atoms. We went down to his assistance, expecting to find him dead; on the contrary, he was quite sensible and collected. He was taken on board the frigate, his arca was amputated, and he was put into his hammock. Now, it is most singular that the man was not injured by the fall, and he never complained of the least pain from it, nor was there to be observed the least contusion. He recovered, and was sent home."
Marryat's active service ended in 1830, after he had been twenty- four years afloat. We gather from a saying of William 'V.'s which is recorded in these volumes, and from a letter of complaint written to the First Lord of the Admiralty, that Captain Marryat, like most other naval men, had his grievances. He tells the First Lord in the letter to which we have referred that the mortifica- tion caused by the reception he met with at the Admiralty was such as to make him break a blood-vessel. Of William IV. it is recorded that he refused to allow Captain Marryat to wear the cross of the Legion of Honour, because the Captain had written against the impressment of seamen. Succeeding generations have thank Captain Marryat if his fictions helped to make the bar- barities of the old Service impossible, and looking at some of the
he worked, we see that he served his country with his pen as signally as with his sword. His daughter mentions with proper pride a fact which is well known in the Navy, that the rule by which. corporal punishment cannot be administered without an interval of twenty-four hours between the sentence and its execution, was made in consequence of a passage in one of Captain Marryat's novels. Yet Captain Marryat held the doctrine of the "necessary Cat," and when he stood for the Tower Hamlets he showed this very clearly by the answer given to one of his questioners. An elector who had heard him speak on the subject, and thought he had not definitely pledged himself, asked him point-blank whether or no he was opposed to flogging, giving as a reason for the ques- tion, "I am a father, and either I or my sons might go to sea and might be under your command." Captain Marryat's reply was characteristic, "Sir, you say the answer I gave you is not direct.. I will answer you again. If ever you or one of your eons should come under my command and deserve punishment, if there be no other effectual mode of conferring it, I shall flog you."
Marryat's name is so inseparably connected with his naval career and the fruits of it, that we are somewhat indifferent to his subsequent attempts at living the life of a country gentleman. Of course we are not surprised to learn that the pecuniary results of his farming were not satisfactory. His total receipts from that source in the year 1842 were £154 2s. 9d., while the opposite column showed an expenditure of £1,637 Os. 6d. Mrs. Roes Church talks of her father's agricultural vagaries appearing like insanity to steady, plodding minds ; of his passion for sinking money in land, and of the extravagant sums he spent on his place in Norfolk. At one time he had a hobby for making a decoy ; he flooded some hundred acres of his best grazing-ground, got his decoy into full working order, so as to send some five thousand 'birds yearly to the London market, and then,—drained it again.
In the following passage we have a sketch of Marryat as he appeared in his own home, one of the rare glimpses of her father's ways and habits with which Mrs. Ross Church favours us in these volumes :—
" Many people have asked whether Captain Marryat when at home was not very funny.' No decidedly not. In society, with new topics to discuss, and other wits about him on which to sharpen his own—or, like flint and steel, to emit sparks by friction—he was as gay and humorous as the best of them; but at home he was always a thoughtful, and, at times, a very grave man ; for he was not exempt from those ills that all flesh is heir to, and had his sorrows and his difficulties and moments of depression, like the rest of us. At such times it was dangerous to thwart or disturb him, for he was a man of strong passions and indomitable determination ; but whoever felt the effects of his moods of perplexity or disappointment, his children never did. To them 'he was a most indulgent father and friend, caring little what escapades they indulged in, so long as they were not afraid to tell the truth. Tell truth and shame the devil, was a quotation constantly upon his lips; and he always upheld falsehood and cowardice as the two worst vices of mankind. He never permitted anything to be locked or hidden away from his children, who were allowed to indulge their appetites at their own discretion' nor were they ever banished from the apartments which he occupied. Even whilst he was writing, they would pass freely in and out of the room, putting any questions to him that occurred to them, and the worst rebuke they ever encountered was the short, -determined order, 'Cease your prattle, my child, and leave the room,' an order that was immediately obeyed. For, with all his indulgence Of them, Captain Marryat took care to impress one fact upon his children —that his word was law."
And the result of this training seems to have been that Marryat's boys were as mischievous as their father had been before them. his own school-days, which were passed in company with Babbage, furnish a record of constant pranks, tricks, and runnings-away, while his master said that neither he nor Babbage could ever come to any good, or turn out otherwise than dunces. One or two of the escapades of his eldest son Frederick, who was lost at sea, and whose death gave Captain Marryat a shock from which he never recovered, have a strong hereditary character. We may mention the trick played on a blind Admiral by making him constantly return imaginary salutes, and the revenge taken on a Captain for not inviting young Marryat to a ball, that consisted in jumping into the midst of all the crockery hired for the occasion. There were, however, nobler traits of family likeness in his son which Marryat might have been proud to recognise. His own gallantry and daring were handed down un- impaired, and if the disregard for literary distinction which he professed had been genuine, he would have cared little to bequeath any of his other qualities. But as we have said, the world will not accept Captain Marryat at the value which he has put upon himself ; it will look to his real merits, that are so imperfectly reflected in this book, and will regard him as the creator of some of the most striking types of nautical character, the truest painter of nautical life.