British Fiction, 18001829

GLASCOCK, William Nugent. Naval Sketch-Book (1826)

Contemporary Reviews

Monthly Review, n.s. 1 (Feb 1826): 200–12.

By far the greater part of these volumes must be utterly unintelligible to all but naval men: to them it will afford a considerable treat; and as we were at sea ourselves, long ago, in our youth, we also can taste its humour perfectly. There is a strange disposition, however, among readers, to relish what they do not perfectly understand; and we have no doubt that a considerable portion of the interest of the Waverley novels, particularly in all the Scotch parts, arises from their being in a language of which we barely comprehend the meaning. What is odd enough, this is seldom admitted by the English, who pretend they understand what is written completely, and, in point of fact, they have no means of measuring their ignorance: they feel gratified, and they imagine it is from comprehending the matter thoroughly; while it is only Scotch people who can by possibility enter into the full spirit of many passages, which, nevertheless, in England, have the highest popularity. So it is with writings such as this, where the sea-slang, which must be Hebrew to most readers, will be read with interest. In both cases, however, one essential point must be attended to,—the language must be correct in its way, otherwise it totally fails to produce the effect. An English reader, quite ignorant of the Scottish language, will not indeed be able to rectify the errors of a pretended Scotch expression; but such false writing will strike the eye of the reader, and be felt as inaccurate, he does not know why. Whereas, if the whole be true to the life, it will leave an impression of fidelity, and convey an interest which it is the writer’s object to inspire: just as we say of certain portraits of persons we have never seen; we are certain they must be likenesses. It is the same with nautical or any other professional phraseology: if it be strictly such as is used by men engaged in those employments, it [200/201] bears the stamp of authenticity, and is felt to be characteristic, by every reader, however ignorant of the particular habits and occupations to which the language has reference. The contrary is still more striking; and when an author, such as the writer of a recent novel, who has never been in blue water in his life, pretends to introduce old admirals, who talk of ‘splicing the mainmast,’ and such nonsense, the most inexperienced reader detects at once that the author’s ocean is a mere horse-pond.

From all pretensions of this kind, the reader of the Naval Sketch-Book is quite safe: every word smells of pitch and tar; and really some parts of it are so well done, that, like the panorama of Leith Roads, they are apt to make one a little qualmish. Even in places where the author has no intention of being technical, and where, on the contrary, he imagines he is talking the best possible English, we detect the sailor. He wears a long coat now-a-days, but like his own capital story of a deserter, his ‘lingo’ betrays him, for all his canonicals. This, indeed, is the chief charm of the book, and is precisely the quality which, if we mistake not, gives our naval officers their acknowledged popularity in society; a sort of off-hand, jovial, reckless kind of talk, the very opposite to premeditated sententiousness, and highly characteristic of their desultory life and varied occupations.

In the introduction, our author dwells with considerable effect on the absurd misrepresentations of the naval character, which have gone abroad, and gives, as an example, an anecdote of Lord Nelson, which is currently believed to be true, though every line of it betrays the falsehood and folly of the writer.

‘Sailors,’ he well observes, ‘are thus unfortunate in more respects than one. Generally, when they sit for a portrait, the canvass is made to glow with all the characteristic traits of a bold, generous, reckless ruffian. This might be endured, because it is at once detected as a caricature; but the indignity we feel most disposed to resent, consists in mingling in the picture the maudlin mawkish attributes of the puling writer himself. The sailor becomes in such hands perfectly metamorphosed, so that his intimates would not recognize in the sketch their blunt, honest, warm-hearted acquaintance.’— Introduction, pp. xiv, xv.

As a corrective to these evils, our author promises, what he terms ‘Galley Stories,’ which he intends shall serve the double purpose of showing his opinion of ‘men and manners, ashore and afloat,’ and also, under the disguise of professional allusions, ‘convey a clear and intelligible moral.’ We think he makes out his point with considerable skill, especially in those stories which relate to several naval actions of celebrity, and which have long furnished matter for endless discussions in every rank of the service. There is no reason, indeed, to expect that these galley stories will have the effect of terminating such discussions; on the contrary, they will merely add [201/202] fuel to the flame of controversy. This, however, we by no means deprecate; since every thing which has the effect of keeping alive among professional men an interest in the details, and especially the glorious ones, of past days, is calculated to do good. Such disputes lead to the investigation of the principles upon which success or failure has depended, and the result cannot fail to be instructive to every class of officers. On this account, we have always lamented that Admiral Ekin’s book, written, as he professes, for the benefit of the younger members of the profession, should have been published in so unavailable a size.

The first sketch relates to the début of a young naval hero, and is well calculated to recall to the mind of every one who has entered the navy, the miserable transition from a life on shore to that on the ocean. It is said there is no royal road to the mathematics, and it may be said, with equal truth, that there is no royal way to high station in the navy. Most fortunately it is so; for, however unpleasant it may be at first for the wretched urchins, who, to use the Lieutenant’s phrase, in this story, are like young bears, with all their sorrows to come, there can be no doubt, that the rough discipline exerted over them at that season fits them better than any thing else, and by the most judicious degrees, for the right use of that power they would inevitably abuse, were they to come to it without the long train of experience to which we allude. Much useless pity, however, is often wasted upon these young ‘aspirants’ by their mothers, and especially by their goodly maiden aunts, who judge of the matter as if they themselves were exposed to the hardship of a midshipman’s birth. Nothing can be more fallacious: the boy is astounded at first, no doubt, and he suffers a little from the ridicule of his companions, and from the rough duties he has to perform; his little heart, too, saddens at the thoughts of home, as he sails away, and the white cliffs of his country sink beneath the horizon. But at his age life is elastic, and when his sea-sickness is over, and he has learned a few phrases to fling back upon his tormentors, he feels that his situation is not so bad, and, compared with what he has left, greatly preferable. He has escaped the discipline of school, and the constant watch which was exerted over him at home: he sees new climates, new countries, new people; and though his usefulness is little enough at first, he still feels he is somebody in the scale of existence, and not one of a mere heap of ciphers at a grammar-school, drudging at nonsense-verses, and other pursuits, which his reason tells him are to lead to nothing: whereas, on board ship, even if his expectations of complete liberty be counteracted by the presence of a schoolmaster, he has the satisfaction of feeling that every acquisition of knowledge is practically useful; and, in proportion as he learns, is conscious of increased importance. There can be no higher stimulus than this; and we dwell upon it the more, [202/203] because, as far as our observation goes, it is a peculiar and characteristic feature of the naval profession. After a certain time, indeed, when the periods of service have been completed, and the long desired promotion does not come, the heart sickens with the grief arising from hope deferred; but in the early stages, which meet with most pity, the whole scene is bright and full of promise, and a boy of the least spirit is made to feel, at every moment, the advantage of new knowledge. If he be quick and observant, he becomes a signal midshipman; if steady and trust-worthy, he is appointed mate of a watch; if a good navigator, he is named as prize-master; if he draws well, he accompanies the surveyors; if acquainted with foreign languages, he is sent as interpreter; —in short, there is perhaps no profession in the whole range of society in which every kind of knowledge comes more immediately into play than in the navy. We speak now more particularly of the beginning: but the argument, supposing the point disputed, is tenfold stronger in the higher ranks; and it may safely be said, that an officer, be his seniority what it may, who cannot find employment, and does not discover at every turn objects of interest on which to exert his faculties to good purpose, has but few faculties of any kind to use, and would be equally insignificant in any other profession.

But we have been led away by the witchery of this delightful profession, and have almost forgot the early sufferings of our little middy. The natural mistakes into which he is led by hearing words, the technical signification of which is quite different from what he has been used to, are very happily described. ‘Nettles, whips, and lashings! thought I; nothing but terror and torture.’ For a time the poor youth is left standing on the deck, quite bewildered by the evolution of furling sails, but is at length aroused by a mandate to dine with the officers; which, however, he knows not how to obey, till the surgeon good-naturedly returns from below, and beckons him to follow.

‘Encouraged by this kindness, I descended cautiously both the quarter and main-deck ladders leading to the steerage, abaft which, in the gun-room, dinner was served up. Thither my guide and I groped our way in the dark, breaking our shins against the midshipmen’s chests, which I have been since led to believe, from an intimate acquaintance with the tricks of these “young gentlemen,” had been thus premeditatedly placed in the gangway for the annoyance of Bruno, or, as the law phrase has it, “to inflict on him some grievous bodily harm.” Experience enabled my guide to tread, with comparative security, the dark

—— ‘ “Abyss,
And through the palpable obscure find out
His uncouth way”

to a dismal dungeon-like looking place, flanked on each side by a row of miserably cramped cribs, called cabins, Overhead there was cer-[203/204]tainly what, by some poetic license, continued to be denominated a skylight; but, as to any light afforded, it might as well have been under foot, most of the panes in its frame having been fractured, and unpainted patches of solid wood substituted for what had once been transparent glass.’—Vol. i. pp. 12, 13.

A highly characteristic scene follows at the mess-table; and the party is broken up by an order to weigh, which speedily discomposes our young friend’s stomach, and exposes him to the merciless taunts of his companions.

‘A violent retching and deadly sickness overpowered me. Just then I heard a loud laugh, accompanied by a sneering compliment from the Lieutenant, upon the youngster’s punctuality in “casting up his accounts” so soon:—this insult totally unnerved me; home—kindred—parents—flashed on my recollection; and, hanging helplessly my bare head over the side, I abandoned myself to my grief, and wished I had never been born.’—pp. 17, 18.

All this is very good; but people will never be satisfied with having done enough; and our author must needs wind up with a moral reflection, which we hold to be quite foreign to the point of the story. ‘It cannot fail,’ he says, ‘to assist youth in balancing the account as to the inducements and discouragements to embrace the profession.’ Surely this author knows well enough, that no such bugbears ever influenced any boy to alter his determination a hair’s breadth, if bent upon going to sea.

The next sketch is entitled A Mêlée, and is written in the author’s best manner. It is an account of Cornwallis’s celebrated retreat, given by one of the sailors, during a night-watch, in the full idiom of the forecastle, and strictly agreeing with the following description of a sailor’s conversation given at p. 19.:

‘His narrative resembles a ship’s course in working to windward, which is fain to yield obliquely to the blast, in order to weather her object indirectly, and fetch her port in the end: for though in a conversational cruize he may make twenty digressions, and fly off in chace of every strange sail heaving in sight, no sooner has he “run ’em down,” than he will “close-haul his wind,” and resume his original course.’

We have tried in vain to abridge this ‘yarn,’ as the narrator calls it; and we have failed still more signally in attempting to translate it for the benefit of our ‘shore-going’ readers;—so we leave it entirely untouched excepting one little point, which we shall venture to give in our own words. Admiral Cornwallis, finding that one of his squadron was falling so far a-stern, as to run the risk of being captured by the enemy, whose force was infinitely superior, at once decided on sharing the fortunes of the day, and, running down in his own ship, till within hail of the Mars, called out to her Captain, Sir Charles Cotton, ‘Don’t fear, my friend—have one, have all. We’ll stick to one another, and not go to Verdun for nothing. What say you, Sir Charles?’ [204/205]

These, and numerous similar anecdotes, are excellent; but, much as we admire this style, now and then, we think the author very often misses the particular point, and makes his characters speak with a needless degree of vulgarity, when good language would he equally characteristic, and much more distinct.

The sketch called ‘Leaves from the private Log of a Captain’ is exceedingly humorous, but we fear so thoroughly nautical, as not to be intelligible to the uninitiated. To them, indeed, it will be very diverting, and to some will recall scenes which cannot be mistaken. ‘Sir Stately as stiff as a steeple—quarter-deck bows—official faces—females aloof, moored on the Mother Bank,’ is a picture to the very life. The little underplot against the ‘Galleoner’ is capital. This word means a captain who has made prize-money (taken a galleon, in strictness); but the term is applicable to any wealthy officer. The whole scene is graphic and amusing, beyond the comprehension of those who have not been to sea. ‘Dinner announced; dreadful ceremony; squadron under weigh for parlour; pride and prudery on opposite tacks; private signal from female flag for galleoner to come within hail; signal seen, though not understood.’ All this, to those who understand it, is worthy of Sterne. Again, ‘Admiral aground for dignified diction; shored up by pompous deportment. Champagne operates; flag forgetting the formals, suddenly silenced by look from female flag —gray mare.—Mem. Too much familiarity breeds contempt.’ This and a great deal more in the same style are the best things in the work; and, if we may judge from the stitch in our side, from half an hour’s hearty laughing, will secure the book’s popularity among all that class of officers who have had the fortune to be feasted after this fashion.

The suggestion contained in the next sketch, as to the advantage of having a standing committee of officers appointed to enquire into the merits of naval inventions, we consider well worthy of the attention of government. The different boards have not time to do justice to the numberless projects, good and bad, which are brought before them, and there can be no doubt that many important inventions night be turned to useful account by the means proposed, but which are not altogether neglected or unknown.

The notices under the head of ‘Naval Anomalies’ are but milk-and-water affairs. That upon the style used in addressing commanders is, however, good, as far as it goes. But while we think the commanders have much reason to complain, we are of opinion that captains likewise are entitled to some distinctive appellation to mark a difference between their rank and that of a captain in the army, to say nothing of their being treated, in this respect, no better than masters of colliers. Why should an officer, who ranks with a full colonel in the army, and who wears a suitable uniform, not have a distinctive title? How would the title Post-captain [205/206] do? It would sound awkward at first, but a few days would render it familiar.

The chapter on ‘Naval Authors’ is rather ambitiously written, and not very happily conceived. The merciless manner in which poor Lyon is treated has an unpleasant look of personal animosity about it; and we find three or four other places in these volumes where this very spirited and meritorious young officer is treated, as we think, with undue harshness. No doubt Captain Lyon did a very ill-advised thing in publishing any account of his failure. Officers should recollect that with the public fault and failure are generally convertible terms: this is often hard upon individuals; but the public service is, in the long run, greatly benefited by it; and no officer ought to admit into his vocabulary the word ‘unsuccessful.’ ‘Success,’ Lord Nelson says, ‘hides a multitude of blunders, and the want of it obscures the most brilliant services.’ Yet Captain Lyon has done good service: his African travels are in the highest degree creditable to him; the same may be said of his ‘Private Journal;’ and every one who is acquainted with him personally must have discovered that he is possessed of much energy of character, and capable of far higher things than he has yet done.

Our author has omitted one elegant writer in his list, we mean Capt. Beaufort, author of a very classical work on Caromania; and this reminds us that the pamphlet signed Scrutator is ascribed to an officer who, we are pretty certain, had no hand in that work. We have no time to enter into the squabbles of Mr. James and the navy; but we recommend what is contained in this volume to that laborious writer’s attention.

‘A Voice from the Deep’ has no fault but that of being about twice as long as it need have been. All the sketches which treat of Newfoundland are, we think, heavy; but they will amuse persons who have visited that land of fish and fog. The ‘Naval Club House’ is rather flat; and, indeed, our gallant author is never strictly at home when he comes ashore, or, at all events, when he extends his cruise beyond a sea-port. The article ‘Coast Blockade’ is written with considerable spirit, and here and there contains a graphic touch of the deepest interest. A boat employed on this service is caught in open sea by a gale of wind, and is forced to lay in the oars, and prepare to scud under a reefed sail for the nearest beach.

‘ “Lay in your oars, my lads,” cried the Lieutenant, “step the short mast—close-reef the storm-lug: we must run all hazards, and beach the galley under canvass.” Whilst executing this order, the bowman sung out, “A sail close aboard, Sir; if she don’t keep her luff, she’ll run us right down.”—“Luff, luff!” exclaimed aloud every man in the boat. The lugger’s course, however, remaining unaltered, there could be now no doubt that she had seen them first, and perceiving her to be a king’s boat, her object was to run clean over the galley, by taking her right abeam. Destruction appeared inevitable in their helpless condition. [206/207] A shriek of despair, mingled with execrations, succeeded as she neared the galley, when the Lieutenant rose in the boat, levelled his pistol at the steersman, and fired: the hand which grasped the tiller relaxed its hold, and the miscreant his life. The lugger instantly broached-to, passing to the windward of the boat.—“Out oars, my lads,” said the Lieutenant, “we’ll board the villains.”—“Aye, aye, Sir,” exclaimed several voices, with an alacrity which might be taken for the surest earnest of meditated revenge. The oars were again manned, the boat in the mean time pitching bows under, and shipping green seas fore-and-aft. Before she had got way on her, two of the weather oars snapt short in the rullocks, and her intention to board being suspected by the smuggler, she had no sooner paid-off, so as to get the wind again abaft the beam, than, shaping a course edging in for the land, she quickly dropped the galley astern. Having run so far to leeward in the former chase, no one was now able to decide on what part of the shore an attempt to land might be practicable; all was darkness around; and although, from two or three flashes, discernible at an elevation considerably above the sea, and which appeared to be signals made from the heights to assist the desperate outlaws they had just encountered, there was no doubt they could be at no great distance from the land, still to follow her was to brave unseen dangers. The men were clamorous to hoist the lug and give chase; a sentiment in which the unpresuming coxswain concurred, as he observed, “that capture or no capture, they were more likely to find a smooth by following the lugger, which clearly was herself making for the beach.” A heavy lurch, which nearly swamped the boat, soon created unanimity. The lug was hoisted at all hazards, and the Lieutenant putting the helm-up, she flew with inconceivable velocity in the lugger’s wake, though not without imminent danger of being pooped by every successive sea. The roaring of the surf was now distinctly heard; and soon the whole scene was lighted-up by its luminous appearance. The bowman, alarmed, now vociferated, “Breakers a-head!—hard-down, Sir, hard-down!” Before the word was repeated she had entered the frightfully agitated element.—“Down with the sail, or we’re lost!” exclaimed the crew.—“Hold-on! hold-on on every thing!” cried the veteran, “’tis our only chance to beach her,” The surf now reared itself in boiling masses higher than the mast, and as it fell, thundering on the shore, the wild din burst on the affrighted ears of the seamen like successive salvos of heavy artillery. An enormous sea, striking her on the quarter, swept her broadside to the surf; washing out the Lieutenant, with one of the crew; and the next, bursting with wilder fury, turned her bottom-upwards, burying beneath her the seven unhappy seamen in one common grave.’—Vol. i. pp. 192–195.

This is very powerfully written: the melancholy catastrophe is narrated with great force and a peculiar fidelity of colouring, the full merit of which can be understood by those alone who have been in similar situations. The loss of discipline, and the consequent vociferation of various opinions, is also most skilfully managed, and all the better for being just touched, and allowed to pass.

‘Nautical Nuptials’ is admirably told, and so particularly characteristic that we wish very much we could give it a place [207/208] here; but, after considering the matter for some minutes, we felt that it was not exactly such as a gentleman might read aloud to a lady, the test we always put our questionable passages to. Those, however, who, like Joe in this story, are not nice, will be well repaid by consulting the original; vol. i. p. 202.

‘Lost and Found’ is an excellent story. During the time Sir James Gordon commanded the Active, a seaman was pressed from a merchant-ship, who declared he had lost the use of one arm.

‘The Active continued two years on the Mediterranean station, and though subjected to a secret and strict watch, both night and day, J—’s faithful arm never betrayed the slightest muscular motion. Being suspected to be an excellent seaman, he was plied with every inducement and argument to desist from an unprofitable and unavailing imposture. He still appealed to his helplessness as a full title to his discharge, and though appointed to the most degrading duties, as sweeper and scavenger, his infirmity continued inflexible to the last.

‘In an engagement with one enemy’s squadron, his captain had stationed him on the quarter-deck so as to be under his own eye. During the heat of the action he never lost sight of his darling object, preserving the most perfect presence of mind, recollecting that if he had “one hand for the king, the other was for himself;” for though fighting like a lion, it was observed that one arm only was employed at the gun-tackle-fall. His gallant commander now falling severely wounded, that important secret, which neither artifice, encouragement, threats, disgrace, or even the din of battle could induce him to reveal, the generous feeling of humane concern for his esteemed commander’s misfortune betrayed in a moment. The honest tar, completely off his guard, was the first to pick up his mangled officer in both his arms. The grand discovery was first made by Sir James, who, though deprived of a limb, with admirable coolness, observed,—“Well, my boy, if I’ve lost a leg, I’m glad to see you’ve found an arm.” As the reader will anticipate, he soon proved one of the best seamen of a “crack crew,” and was ultimately promoted for his exemplary conduct.’—Vol. i. pp. 21 0–212.

To those who have had the happiness of being acquainted with the above-named excellent officer, the turn of expression, and the very look and voice with which it was spoken, will be as distinctly present as if they had heard him speak. It is not saying too much to assert, that in the whole range of the service, from top to bottom, there is not one man more universally beloved or respected, or of whom such praise could be uttered without the possibility of exciting the least spark of envy.

‘Forced-Meat Balls’ is humorous, but certainly never could have happened. The noble captain alluded to, knew well enough that it was not necessary to give a written order to enforce obedience even to an invitation to dinner: but the story is too good to be spoiled, by such criticisms. ‘Matrimonial Motives,’ in like manner, is much too excellent to be injured by any doubts as to its authenticity. [208/209]

The next two or three sketches are very well in their way, though calculated, perhaps too exclusively, for the rudder-head. That which treats of discipline is more carefully written than the rest of the book: it is full of good feeling and good sense, and not the worse for containing abundance of common-places. The author’s argument against putting culprits on what is called the Black List are quite unanswerable. Every offender should be punished according to the measure of his offence, and from that instant all recollection of the crime should be dropped, and the offender allowed a fresh start for his character. Many officers dispute the propriety of this rule, and think men who offend more than once should be punished more severely, and perhaps there may be reason in this; what we object to is the practice of letting men feel they are marked objects, and that they have not as good a chance as their associates, even when they behave equally well. This consciousness weighs on the spirits, and, by deadening generous exertion, actually conduces to those very errors which it is the object of our discipline to prevent.

We are glad to hear an officer avowing his dislike to the vulgar punishment of ‘clapping men in irons.’ The passage relating to this subject is so good, that we venture to extract the whole of it; and we shall be very happy if, by meeting the eye of any officer, it shall have the effect of discountenancing a practice highly offensive to the feelings of every seaman, and almost always unnecessary.

‘During the war, it was almost universally the case, that men were “clapped into irons” for the most trifling offences; and even in cases where the commander must have been aware, from the character of the offence, that severer punishment would be necessary, the offender, though at sea, where escape was impossible, has been constantly put in irons. [1] Nothing can be more injudicious than such treatment; first, because the disgrace of being flogged before the ship’s company is no trifling aggravation of the corporal punishment itself, whenever such punishment takes place; and next, where no such punishment ensues, the ship is deprived of the man’s services pending a confinement, for which an apportionment of extra duty might be substituted, with the best effect both on the sailor and the service. A man of any spirit will naturally broad over and repine at the unnecessary disgrace thus inflicted for trifling offences. The injurious consequences of resorting to irons in the latter case may be most aptly exemplified by referring to numerous well-known instances, where a string of men, whose offences having been trifling, have been exhibited, each bolted by the leg on the half-deck, or other most exposed part of the ship, whilst visitors from the shore have been conducted round the vessel by their own officers. A sailor must be made of stone not to feel most keenly such ill-timed degradation. The [209/210] sentiment is not confined to the prisoner: an inference is drawn by the visitant (without at all being apprized of the cause of this severity) most discreditable to the character of the seamen and respectability of the service. Thus the injury is twofold; at once inflicting on the sailor unnecessary degradation and pain, whilst it serves the malignant purposes of malcontents on shore to calumniate the character of that constitutional force, which has hitherto been, and will ever continue, the natural bulwark of these sea-girt isles.’ —Vol. i. pp. 249–251.

From the note at p. 247. of this article on Discipline, we are led to suppose that the author is not aware of the recent admirable regulations which have been established in the navy with respect to the payment of a portion of the seamen’s wages abroad, and the alterations in the allowance of provisions. We have, indeed, frequently met with officers who were unacquainted with these most considerate and valuable changes, although the Admiralty order on the subject has been widely diffused. We may add that this order affords a gratifying proof of the degree of attention, which is paid by government to this important branch of the public service.

The article on ‘Corporal Punishments’ in the second volume is written with considerable care, and is calculated to do much good. Every reflecting person, who is well-informed upon the subject, knows that in order to render so extraordinary a machine as a man-of-war at all efficient, that is to say, ready at any given moment to encounter an enemy, there must be some system of discipline so strict, as to ensure the readiest obedience to orders, often of the most irksome nature. Were all parts of this machine composed of intelligent, zealous, and patriotic materials, the affair would be one of comparative simplicity: but when, on the contrary, it is made up of the most incongruous elements, the difficulty becomes very great. A captain of a ship has a difficult task in managing even the officers, who are men of education and reflection; but if he applies the same methods to the discipline of the crew he will obtain by no means similar results. It is not contended by any means that the seamen are not to be treated as rational beings, or that every thing is to he done by mere force—very far from it: but we do say, and all experience shows this to be true, that if a large body of totally uneducated men are brought together, and expected to act in concert, entirely at the will of a superior, there must be a power of punishment in some shape or other. When to the want of education among the class we are describing, is added the want of moral habits incident, we fear necessarily, to the desultory life which they must always lead, and the peculiar nature of their duties, it becomes a most difficult problem to find out what is the sort of punishment which is best calculated to accomplish the end, which all parties allow to be essential to the well-being of the country,—namely, a highly disciplined fleet.

There can be no doubt that in former times, when there was no check, or scarcely any, on the power of the captain, a system [210/211] extremely tyrannical was thought by many officers to be indispensable to good order. Since the period, however, that all punishments are reported to the Admiralty, a most material change has taken place, not only in the amount of actual punishments, but in the feelings of officers on the subject; and a captain of a ship now finds it his interest as well as his duty, and we may add, also, his pleasure, to consider how he can keep his ship in order at the smallest expense of corporal punishment. When once the commander of a ship is duly impressed with the importance of this point, he soon communicates it to his officers, and if the co-operation in sentiment be hearty, and the due degree of vigilance be exerted by all ranks on board, a very small amount of this kind of punishment will be found sufficient. Some, we fear, will always be necessary to control those turbulent spirits, who have scarcely any feelings but those of the body to touch; and we believe it to be utterly impossible, while the character of the seafaring profession remains the same, to do away with this most disagreeable means of enforcing obedience. If a substitute could be found, well and good, and no doubt many improvements have been devised by officers who seriously set about it; but these still leave much to be done, as will be seen by consulting our author’s chapter on this head. Meanwhile we think a needless outcry is raised against naval punishments, by persons who are quite content to have daily private whippings in jails, and public exposures at the cart’s tail, without the least sympathy with this description of ‘poor suffering guilt.’

Upon the whole, however, we confess we should be very sorry to see this important subject neglected, or even less talked of than it is. For the tendency of power is ever to run into tyranny; and wherever human suffering is concerned, justly or unjustly, we cannot be too close in our scrutiny. Our gallant officers afloat must, therefore, make up their minds to have their conduct very freely canvassed; and if they wish to escape the merciless chastisement of public opinion, they must be careful how they handle the cat themselves.

The galley-story about impressment, at p. 27., vol. ii., is excellent; especially the account of the court-martial. ‘Naval Tactics and Battles’ is also very good; and though adapted principally for professional readers, contains many touches which cannot fail to interest all persons concerned in our naval glory. The chapter intitled ‘Saints at Sea’ contains much good sense; but the subject is a delicate one, and ought, we think, to have been more gravely written. It is a pity that good arguments should be hurt by incautious expressions; vulgar oaths, for example, occur too often in it, and indeed the same remark may be made of other passages in this work. It is seldom necessary for a gentleman, even in telling a sailor’s story, to make use of those words which even the printer [211/212] scruples to give at length. There is also a long notice on the North-West Passage, written in no very good taste; to which are appended two extracts from imaginary critiques of the Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews, in a strain not altogether worthy of ‘an Officer of Rank.’

[1] ‘Such a practice might be justified in harbour, as necessary to prevent the chance of the offender’s escape.’ (Note of the author.)

Notes: Format: 2 vols 8vo; no price. Publisher: Colburn.

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