1902 Encyclopedia > Frederick Marryat

Frederick Marryat
English sailor and novelist
(1792-1848)




FREDERICK MARRYAT (1792-1848), has never been surpassed as a writer of tales of nautical adventure. His own life supplied him with abundant raw materials for his art. The son of a wealthy London gentleman (who sat in parliament for several years for the boroughs of Horsham and Sandwich, and was a writer of verses and political pamphlets), he distinguished himself as a boy by frequently running away towards sea ; and at last, at the age of fourteen, he was allowed to enter the navy. His first service was under Lord Cochrane in the famous " Impérieuse," and no midshipman ever had a livelier apprenticeship to the sea. " The cruises of the 'Impérieuse ' were," he says, " periods of continual excitement, from the hour in which she hove up her anchor till she dropped it again in port; the day that passed without a shot being fired in anger was with us a blank day." During his two and a half years of service under the daring and active Cochrane, the young midshipman witnessed more than fifty engagements, many of them extremely brilliant, and had experience of every description of service, fighting duels with fairly matched ships of war, engaging gunboats, engaging batteries, storming forts, capturing and cutting out merchantmen. Before the general peace of 1815 he had added considerably to this experience of active service, and gained a wide knowledge of conditions of life on board ship under various commanders. He frequently received honourable mention for his behaviour in action, and in 1818 he received the medal of the Humane Society for " at least a dozen " gallant rescues. He commanded with distinction in the Burmese war of 1824-25. And Marryat's honours were not confined to gallant exploits ; he was the inventor of a code of signals, obtained some celebrity as a caricaturist, and was elected an F.R.S.





Marryat brought ripe experience and unimpaired vivacity to his work when he commenced novelist. His first production was Frank Mildmay, or the Naval Officer, published in 1829, and his second, published nine months later, The King's Own. " I think," Washington Irving wrote to him soon after, " the chivalry of the ocean quite a new region of fiction and romance, and to my taste one of the most captivating that could be explored." This was the general feeling. The freshness of the new field opened up to the imagination, so full of vivid lights and shadows, light-hearted fun, grinding hardship, stirring adventure, heroic action, warm friendships, bitter hatreds, was felt all the more keenly from its contrast with the world of the historical romancer and the fashionable novelist, to which the mind of the general reader was at that date given over, The novels of the sea captain at once won public favour. His first attempt was somewhat severely criticized from an artistic point of view. It was without form, though the reverse of void; he had packed into it matter enougli for half a dozen novels. Marryat was accused also of gratifying private grudges by introducing real personages too thinly disguised. He admitted the justice of these criticisms, and rapidly learnt the mechanical part of his new business without losing any of the vivacious charm of his style. The King's Own was a vast improvement, in point of construction, upon Frank Mildmay; and he went on, through a quick succession of tales, Newton Forster, Peter Simple, Jacob Faithful, The Pacha of Many Tales, Japhet in Search of a Father, Mr Midshipman Easy, The Pirate and the Three Gutters, till he reached his high-water mark of constructive skill in Snarleg-yow, or the Dog Fiend (1837). If he never surpassed this in story-telling art, humorous portraiture, aud richness of incident, the records of circulating libraries and the pencilled comments of their subscribers show that his subsequent works —he produced twenty-four in all during his twenty years of authorship—were no less capable of riveting the attention, especially of youthful readers. The following is the list, with the dates of publication :—The Phantom Ship (1839),^ Diary in America (1839), Olla Podrida (1840), Poor Jack (1840), Masterman Ready (1841), Joseph Rushbrook (1841), Percivcd Keene (1842), Monsieur Violet (1842), The Settlers in Canada (1843), The Privateer's Man (1844), The Mission, or Scenes in Africa (1845), The Children of the New Forest (1847), The Little Savage (1847), and Valerie, not completed by Marryat (1849). Captain Marryat retired from the naval service in 1830, and thereafter worked as hard at literature as any professional man of letters, making special historical and geographical studies for several of the works in the above list. He edited the Metropolitan Magazine for four years (1832-30). Marryat's novels were in the first flush of their success when Dickens was a youth, and they have an interest in the history of literature as forming an important link between Smollett and Fielding and the author of Sketches by Boz. He died in 1848. There is a biography by his daughter, Florence Marryat.







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