British Fiction, 18001829

TYLER, Royall. Algerine Captive, The (1802)

Contemporary Reviews

Critical Review, 2nd ser. 35 (May 1802): 113–14.

These volumes contain the real or pretended history of an American physician: and, besides a six years’ captivity in one of the states of Barbary, are interspersed with a good many pertinent remarks on the facts of the present day. Our readers will be pleased with the perusal of the following letter, written by the author’s ancestor before the middle of the seventeenth century. It will make the late attempt in the house of lords, to cut up adultery by the roots, appear a mere bagatelle. The puritans of those times, in the new colonies, were downright dragons of chastity.

‘(Indorsed)—Brother Underhill’s Epistle. To master Hanserd Knollys—these greeting.

‘Worthee and Beloved,

‘Remembrin my kind love to Mr. Hilton, I now send you some note of my tryalls at Boston.—Oh that I may come out of this, and al the lyke tryalls, as goold sevene times puryfyed in the furnice.

‘After the rulers at Boston had fayled to fastenne what Roger Harlakenden was pleased to call the damning errours of Anne Hutchinson upon me, I looked to be sent away in peace; but governour Winthrop sayd I must abide the examining of ye church; accordingly, on the thyrd day of ye weeke, I was convened before them.—Sir Harry Vane, the governour, Dudley, Haines, with masters Cotton, Shepherd, and Hugh Peters, present, with others.—They propounded that I was to be examined, touching a certain act of adultery I had committed with one mistress Miriam Wilbore, wife of Samuel Wilbore, for carnally looking to luste after her, at the lecture in Boston, when master Shepherd expounded.—This mistress Miriam hath since been dealte with for coming to that lecture with a pair of wanton open workt gloves, slit at the thumbs and fingers, for the purpose of taking snuff; for, as master Cotton observed, for what end should those vaine opennings be, but for the intent of taken filthy snuff? and he quoted Gregory Nazianzen upon good works.— Master Peters said, that these opennings were Satan’s port-holes of firy temptatione. Mistress Miriam offered in excuse of her vain attire, that she was newle married, and appeard in her bridall arraye. Master Peters said, that marriage was the occasion that the devil tooke to caste his firy darts, and lay his pit-falls of temptation, to catche frale flesh and bloode. She is to be further dealt with for [113/114] taken snuff. How the use of the good creature tobaccoe can be an offence I cannot see.—Oh, my beloved, how these prowde pharisees labour aboute the minte and cummine! Governour Winthrop inquired of mee if I confessed the matter. I said I wished a coppy of there charge.—Sir Harry Vane said, “there was no neede of any coppie, seeing I knew I was guiltie. Charges being made out where there was an uncertaintie whether the accused was guiltie or not, and to lighten the accused into the nature of his cryme, here was no need.” Master Cotton said, “Did you not look upon mistress Wilbore?” I confessed that I did. He said, “Then you are verelie guiltie, brother Underhill.” I said, “Nay, I did not look at the woman lustfully.”—Master Peters said, “Why did you not look at sister Newell or sister Upham?” I said, “Verelie they are not desyrable women, as to temporale graces.” Then Hugh Peters and al cryed, “It is enough, he hath confessed, and passed to excommunication.” I said, “Where is the law by which you condemne me?” Winthrop said, “There is a committee to draught laws. Brother Peters, are you not on that committee? I am sure you have maide a law against this cryinge sin.” Hugh Peters replyed, “that he had such a law in his minde, but had not written it downe.” Sir Harry Vane said, “It is sufficient.” Haynes said, “Ay, law enough for antinomians.” Master Cotton tooke a Bible from his coate, and read, Whoso looketh on a woman, &c.

‘William Blaxton hath been with me privelie; he weeps over the crying sins of the times, and expecteth soone to go out of the jurisdiction. “I came from England,” sais he, “because I did not like the lords bishops; but I have yet to praye to be delivered from the lords bretherenne.”

‘Salute brother Fish and others, who, havinge been disappointed of libertie in this wilderness, are ernestlie lookinge for a better countre.

‘Youre felloe traveller in this vale of tears,
‘ JOHN UNDERHILL.
‘Boston, 28th Fourth Month, 1638.’ Vol. i. P. 14.

Notes: Listed under ‘Monthly Catalogue: Novels’. Format: 2 vols 12mo; price 6s. Publisher: Robinsons.

Flowers of Literature (1803): 440.

This is more a memoir than a novel; it is founded in fact, and does not give a flattering picture either of Algiers or of the American colonies. It, however, contains many amusing and interesting anecdotes.

Notes: Format: 2 vols; publisher: Robinson.

Monthly Review, 2nd ser. 42 (Sept 1803): 86–93.

After having duly commemorated his honest ancestor, Captain John Underhill, this interesting writer informs us that his own birth and misfortunes, like those of other notable worthies, were prefigured to his mother in a dream; and that a number of young tawny savages, playing at foot-ball with his head, were a type of his captivity among a ferocious people.—According to the custom of New Hampshire, his native province, he was sent to a woman’s school in the summer, and to a man’s in the winter. In his twelfth year, he read a lesson in Dilworth’s Spelling-Book, with such powers of vociferation as procured for him the distinguished notice of a stentorian clergyman, who, with some difficulty, obtained him for his pupil. Under his new master, he studied Greek and Latin during four years. ‘As to the English Grammar,’ he says, ‘my preceptor, knowing nothing of it himself, could ‘communicate nothing to me.’ Many were the compliments which young Updike received on his proficiency in the deceased languages. ‘Thus, flattered by the learned that I was in the high road to fame, I gulped down portions of Greek daily, while my preceptor made quarterly visits to my father’s barnyard for pay for my instruction.’ [86/87]

In consequence of a shrewd conversation with a worthy divine of Boston, who happened to be a little enamoured of Greek and Latin, the father, who was more desirous that his son should learn useful things than hard words, determined to make him labour on the farm:

‘But, alas! a taste for Greek had quite eradicated a love for labour. Poring so intensely on Homer and Virgil had so completely filled my brain with the Heathen mythology, that I imagined a Hamadryad in every sapling, a Naïad in every puddle; and expected to hear the sobbings of the infant Fauns as I turned the furrow. I gave Greek names to all our farming tools, and cheered the cattle with hexameter verse. My father’s hired men, after a tedious day’s labour in the woods, inspecting our stores for refreshment, instead of the customary bread and cheese and brandy, found Homer’s Iliad, Virgil Delphini, and Schrevelius’s Lexicon in the basket.

‘After I had worked on the farm some months, having killed a fat heifer of my father’s, upon which the family depended for their winter’s beef, covered it with green boughs, and laid it in the shade to putrefy, in order to raise a swarm of bees, after the manner of Virgil,—which process, notwithstanding I followed closely the directions in the Georgics, somehow or other failed,—my father consented to my mother’s request, that I should renew my career of learning.’

Updike therefore engaged to keep a school in the neighbouring town: but his elevation brought not with it that respect and independence which hope and vanity had so fondly pictured. His sixty boys were clamorous and petulant, the school-house was burned down by their carelessness, the promised salary proved unproductive, and the humbled pedagogue gladly purchased his emancipation with the loss of his reputation of a Gradus ad Parnassum.

As he next resolved to study physic, he was placed under a physician and oculist, not less celebrated for his skill than beloved for his amiable manners and his pure benevolence. A young gentleman very amiable and highly accomplished, though born stone-blind, is described as performing wonders by means of his other organs of perception:

‘Upon this young man, my preceptor operated successfully. I was present during the whole process, though few were admitted. Upon the introduction of the couching instrument, and the removal of the film from the retina, he appeared confused. When the operation was completed, and he was permitted to look around him, he was violently agitated. The irritability of the ophthalmic muscles faintly expressed the perturbation of his mind. After two-and-twenty years of total darkness, to be thus awakened to a new world of sensation and light, to have such a flood of day poured on his benighted eye-balls, overwhelmed him: the infant sight was too weak for the shock, and he fainted. The doctor immediately intercepted the light with the proper bandages, and, by the application [87/88] of volatiles, he was revived. The next day the dressing were removed: he had fortified his mind, and was more calm. At first he appeared to have lost more than he had gained by being restored to vision. When blind, he could walk tolerably well in places familiar to him. From sight, he collected no ideas of distance. Green was a colour peculiarly agreeable to the new-born sight. Being led to a window, he was charmed with a tree in full verdure, and extended his arms to touch it, though at ten rods distance. To distinguish objects within reach, he would close his eyes, feel for them with his hands, and then look earnestly upon them.

‘According to a preconcerted plan, the third day his bandages were removed, in the presence of his parents, brothers, sisters, friends, and of the amiable lovely girl to whom he was shortly to be married. By his request, a profound silence was to be observed, while he endeavoured to discover the person of her who was the object of his dearest affection. It was an interesting scene. The company obeyed his injunction. Not a finger moved, or a breath was aspirated. The bandage was then removed; and when he had recovered from the confusion of the instant effusion of light, he passed his eye hastily over the whole group. His sensations were novel and interesting. It was a moment of importance: for aught he knew, he might find the bosom partner of his future life, the twin soul of his affection, in the fat scullion of his father’s kitchen, or in the person of the toothless, palsied, decrepit nurse, who held the bason [sic] of gruel at his elbow.

‘In passing his eye a second time over the circle, his attention was arrested by his beloved cousin. The agitations of her lovely features, and the evanescent blush on her cheek, would have at once betrayed her to a more experienced eye. He passed his eye to the next person, and immediately returned it to her. It was a moment big with expectation. Many a finger was raised to the lips of the spectators, and many a look expressive of the silence she should preserve was cast towards her. But the conflict was too violent for her delicate frame. He looked more intensely; she burst into tears, and spoke. At the well known voice he closed his eyes, rushed towards her, and clasped her in his arms. I envied them their feelings; but I thought then, and do now, that the sensations of my preceptor, the skilful, humane operator, were more enviable. The man who could restore life and usefulness to the darling of his friends, and scatter light in the paths of an amiable young pair, must have known a joy never surpassed; except, with reverence be it spoken, by the satisfaction of our benevolent Saviour, when, by his miraculous power, he opened the eyes of the actually blind, made the dumb to sing, and the lame and impotent leap for joy.’

On his introduction to the polite circles, Mr. Updike Underhill occasionally ventured to quote Greek: but the finest lines of the Iliad were received with coldness. One young lady only affected to be pleased; and to her the young Esculapius addressed an ode: but his classical compliments of golden tresses and ox-eyed were peculiarly unfortunate, ‘as the [88/89] young lady was remarkable for very prominent eyes, which resembled what, in horses, are called wall-eyes. Her hair was what is vulgarly called carroty; its unfashionable colour she endeavoured in vain to conceal by the daily use of a leaden comb.’

Disgusted with the frivolity of the young and the deceit of the antiquated ladies, the Doctor now applied himself in good earnest to the study of his profession; and, in the autumn of 1785, he mounted his horse, and sallied from the paternal mansion in quest of practice, fame, and fortune: none of which he procured. It required, however, little sagacity to discern the ignorance and jealousy of several brethren of the trade, who had obtained advantageous situations.

Hoping for more encouragement in the south;

‘I carried,’ says the Doctor, ‘a request to the late Dr. Benjamin Franklin, then president of the state of Pennsylvania, for certain papers I was to deliver further southward. I anticipated much pleasure from the interview with this truly great man. To see one, who, from small beginnings, by the sole exertion of native genius and indefatigable industry, had raised himself to the pinnacle of politics and letters; a man who, from a humble printer’s boy, had elevated himself to be the desirable companion of the great ones of the earth; who, from trundling a wheelbarrow in bye lanes, had been advanced to pass in splendour through the courts of kings; and, from hawking vile ballads, to the contracting and signing treaties, which gave peace and independence to three millions of his fellow citizens, was a sight interesting in the extreme.

‘I found the doctor surrounded by company, most of whom were young people. He received me with the attention due to a young stranger. He dispatched a person for the papers I wanted; asked me politely to be seated; inquired after the family I sprang from; and told me a pleasing anecdote of my brave ancestor, captain Underhill. I found in the doctor all that simplicity of language which is remarkable in the fragment of his life, published since his decease, and which was conspicuous in my Medical Preceptor. I have since been in a room a few hours with governor Jay, of New York; and am now confirmed in the opinion I have suggested, that men of genuine merit, as they possess the essence, need not the parade of great knowledge. A rich man is often plain in his attire; and the man who has abundant treasures of learning, simple in his manners and style.

‘The doctor, in early life, was economical from principle; in his latter days, perhaps from habit. Poor Richard held the purse-strings of the president of Pennsylvania. Permit me to illustrate this observation by an anecdote. Soon after I was introduced, an airy thoughtless relation, from a New England state, entered the room. It seems he was on a party of pleasure; and had been so much involved in it, for three weeks, as not to have paid his respects to his [89/90] venerable relative. The purpose of his present visit was to solicit the loan of a small sum of money, to enable him to pay his bills, and transport himself home. He preluded his request with a detail of embarrassments which might have befallen the most circumspect. He said that he had loaded a vessel for B—; and, as he did not deal on credit, had purchased beyond his current cash, and could not readily procure a draft upon home. The doctor inquiring how much he wanted, he replied, with some hesitation, fifty dollars. The benevolent old gentleman went to his escritoir, and counted him out a hundred. He received them with many promises of punctual payment, and hastily took up the writing implements, to draught a note of hand for the cash. The doctor, who saw into the nature of the borrower’s embarrassment better than he was aware, and was possessed with the improbability of ever recovering his cash again, stepped across the room, and laying his hand gently upon his cousin’s arm, said, “Stop, cousin, we will save the paper; a quarter of a sheet is not of a great value, but it is worth saving;”—conveying, at once, a liberal gift and gentle reprimand for the borrower’s prevarication and extravagance. Since I am talking of Franklin, the reader may be as unwilling to leave him as I was. Allow me to relate another anecdote. I do not recollect how the conversation was introduced, but a young person in company mentioned his surprise that the possession of great riches should ever be attended with such anxiety and solicitude; and instanced Mr. R—M—, who, he said, though in possession of unbounded wealth, yet was as busy and more anxious than the most assiduous clerk in his counting-house. The doctor took an apple from a fruit-basket, and presented it to a little child, who could just totter about the room. The child could scarce grasp it in his hand. He then gave it another, which occupied the other hand. Then choosing a third, remarkable for its size and beauty, he presented that also. The child, after many ineffectual attempts to hold the three, dropped the last on the carpet, and burst into tears. See there, said the philosopher; there is a little man with more riches than he can enjoy.’

In the course of his peregrinations, Dr. U. was witness to an extraordinary Sunday scene:

‘When we arrived at the church, we found a brilliant collection of well-dressed people, anxiously waiting the arrival of the parson —who, it seems, had a small branch of the river M—to pass; and, we afterwards learned, was detained by the absence of his negro boy, who was to ferry him over. Soon after, our impatience was relieved by the arrival of the parson in his canonicals—a young man, not of the most mortified countenance, who, with a switch called a supple jack in his hand, belaboured the back and head of the faulty slave all the way from the water to the church door, accompanying every stroke with suitable language. He entered the church, and we followed. He ascended the reading desk, and, with his face glowing with the exercise of his supple jack, began the service with, “I said I will take heed unto my ways, that I sin not with my tongue.—I will keep my tongue as it were with a bridle, when I am [90/91] before the wicked.—When I mused, the fire burned within me, and I spake with my tongue,” &c. &c. He preached an animated discourse, of eleven minutes, upon the practical duties of religion, from these words, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy;” and read the fourth commandment in the communion. The whole congregation prayed fervently that their hearts might be inclined to keep this holy law. The blessing was pronounced; and parson and people hastened to the horse race. I found the parson as much respected on the turf as upon the hassock. He was one of the judges of the race; descanted, in the language of the turf, upon the points of the two rival horses; and the sleeve of his cassock was heavily laden with the principal bets. The confidence of his parishioners was not ill founded; for they assured me, upon oath and honour, that he was a gentleman of as much uprightness as his grace the archbishop of Canterbury. Ay, they would sport him for a sermon or a song against any parson in the union.’

Failing of success also in the southern states, our adventurer now accepted a surgeon’s birth [sic] in a ship bound for London, and thence to the coast of Africa. Omitting the lions in the Tower, the Doctor brings us into the company of Thomas Paine, whom he honours with three chapters.

A few additional pages transport us to that shore on which professing Christians and professing admirers of a free constitution continue to outrage the most sacred rights of our species. Here the narrative assumes a tone at once indignant and pathetic: but we purposely spare our readers the shocking recitals which close the first volume, and which are continued with little interruption in the second; rather inviting them to contemplate the picture of the government, character, and manners of the Algerines, and the author’s concise but temperate view of the Mahometan religion. The latter concludes with the following important hint:

‘Upon the whole, there do not appear to be any articles in their faith which incite them to immorality, or can countenance the cruelties they commit. Neither their Alcoran nor their priests excite them to plunder, enslave, or torment. The former expressly recommends charity, justice, and mercy, towards their fellow men. I would not bring the sacred volume of our faith in any comparative view with the Alcoran of Mahomet; but I cannot help noticing it as extraordinary, that the Mahometan should abominate the Christian on account of his faith, and the Christian detest the Musselman for his creed; when the Koran of the former acknowledges the divinity of the Christian Messias, and the Bible of the latter commands us to love our enemies. If either would follow the obvious dictates of his own scripture, he would cease to hate, abominate, and destroy the other.’ [91/92]

Dr. U. was no sooner allowed by the Algerians to exercise his professional talents, than he enjoyed relaxation from hard labour, and respite from cruel sufferings. His fees belonged to his master: but his perquisites, as a slave, at length amounted to a considerable sum. Being aided by the purse and the ingenuity of a benevolent Jew, he was on the point of obtaining his freedom: but, at this critical moment, his benefactor died of an apoplexy, and his son not only affected ignorance of the whole proceedings, but retained the ransom-money.

The director of the hospital now proposed that our author should accompany a party of merchants on their voyage and journey to Medina and Mecca, and perform the functions of their medical attendant. On his return from this pilgrimage, he had the pleasure of rescuing from a severe illness the son of his late patron: but the young man, instead of repaying the money which he now acknowledged he possessed, secretly sold him, and artfully decoyed him on board a Tunisian vessel. A fortunate storm drove the latter on the coast of Sardinia, where she was captured by a Portuguese frigate. At length, relieved from thraldom, and treated with much kindness by the Portuguese officers, Dr. U. embarked for Bristol:

‘We had a prosperous voyage to the Land’s End; and, very fortunately for me, just off the little isle of Lundy, spake with a brigantine bound to Chesapeak Bay, captain John Harris commander. In thirty-two days we made Cape Charles, the north chop of the Chesapeak, and I prevailed upon the captain to set me on shore; and on the third day of May, 1795, I landed in my native country after an absence of seven years and one month; about six years of which I had been a slave. I purchased a horse, and hastened home to my parents, who received me as one risen from the dead. I shall not attempt to describe their emotions, or my own raptures. I had suffered hunger, sickness, fatigue, insult, stripes, wounds, and every other cruel injury; and was now under the roof of the kindest and tenderest of parents. I had been degraded to a slave, and was now advanced to a citizen of the freest country in the universe. I had been lost to my parents, friends, and country; and now found, in the embraces and congratulations of the former, and the rights and protections of the latter, a rich compensation for all past miseries. From some minutes I preserved, I compiled these memoirs; and, by the solicitations of some respectable friends, have been induced to submit them to the public. A long disuse of my native tongue will apologise to the learned reader for any inaccuracies.

‘I now mean to unite myself to some amiable woman, to pursue my practice as a physician, which I hope will be attended with more success than when essayed with the inexperience and giddiness of youth; to contribute cheerfully to the support of our excellent government, which I have learnt to adore in schools of despotism; and [92/93] thus secure to myself the enviable character of a useful physician, a good father, and worthy FEDERAL citizen.

‘My ardent wish is, that my fellow citizens may profit by my misfortunes. If they peruse these pages with attention, they will perceive the necessity of uniting our federal strength to enforce a due respect among other nations. Let us one and all endeavour to sustain the general government. Let no foreign emissaries inflame us against one nation, by raking up the ashes of long extinguished enmity; or delude us into the extravagant schemes of another, by recurring to fancied gratitude. Our first object is union among ourselves. For to no nation besides the United States can that ancient saying be more emphatically applied,—BY UNITING WE STAND, BY DIVIDING WE FALL.’

Such is a sketch of the principal incidents recorded in this narrative. Of the style, it may be proper to observe that it is more easy than elegant, more expressive than correct, and abounds with trans-atlantic peculiarities. If the management of the story yield in comparison with the Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, the reader is nevertheless carried along by a train of probable and touching events; and if he discern few traces of the exquisite humour which pervades Gulliver’s Travels, or of the delicate and refined irony which gives zest to the Persian Letters, he is yet pleased with natural and lively painting, distinctly figures each passing scene, and smiles or sighs as he contemplates the folly or wickedness of human kind.

As the privation of a blessing most forcibly teaches us its importance, the writer of this performance has wisely exhibited the miseries of captivity, in order that his countrymen may perceive and feel the value of that independence for which they fought and conquered. An able and warm advocate of civil and religious freedom, he nobly reprobates the narrow distracted views of European policy, and feelingly deplores the systematic oppression of the ignorant and unoffending African. The display of such generous sentiments may be allowed to atone for partial failures in the execution of his plan. As friends rather than as critics, we shall only beg leave to observe, that the contents of the first volume are more diversified and more amusing than those of the second; that the moral picture of London is darkened with shading not its own; and that, in the dialogue with the Mollah, the author too feebly defends that religion which he professes to revere.

Notes: Format: 2 vols 12mo; price 6s. Boards. Publisher: Robinsons.

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