1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Marryat, Frederick

MARRYAT, FREDERICK (1792–1848), English sailor and novelist, was born at Westminster on the 10th of July 1792. He was the grandson of Thomas Marryat (physician, author of The Philosophy of Masons, and writer of verse), and son of Joseph Marryat, agent for the island of Grenada, who wrote pamphlets in defence of the Slave Trade. His mother was a Bostonian of German extraction. Young Marryat distinguished himself as a boy by frequently running away to go to sea; and at last, at the age of fourteen, he was allowed to enter the navy. His first service was under Lord Cochrane (afterwards tenth earl of Dundonald) in the famous “Impérieuse,” and no midshipman ever had a livelier apprenticeship to the sea. During his two and a half years of service under Cochrane, the young midshipman witnessed more than fifty engagements, and had much experience of service on the coast of Spain in the early stage of the Peninsular War, in the attack on the French squadron in the Roads (April 1809) and in the Walcheren expedition. Before the general peace of 1815 he had served in North America and the West Indies and gained a wide knowledge of conditions of life on board ship under various commanders. In 1815 he was promoted to the rank of commander. After holding various commands he commissioned the “Larne,” 20, for the East Indies and was senior naval officer at Rangoon during the Burmese War from May to September 1824. In the early part of the next year he commanded an expedition up the Bassein River, in which Bassein was occupied and the Burmese stores seized. His services were acknowledged by a nomination as C.B. in 1826. 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. Marryat’s honours were not confined to gallant exploits. He adapted Sir Home Popham’s code of signals to a code for the Mercantile Marine, for which he was made F.R.S. in 1819, and received the Legion of Honour from Louis Philippe in 1833. A pamphlet written to propose a substitute for the system of impressment in 1822 is said to have offended King William IV.

Marryat brought ripe experience and unimpaired vivacity to his work when he began to write novels. Frank Mildmay, or the Naval Officer, was published in 1829, and The King’s Own followed in 1830. The novels of the sea captain at once won public favour. The freshness of the new field which was 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 in exhilarating contrast to the world of the historical romancer and the fashionable novelist, to which the mind of the general reader was at that date given over. He had an admirable gift of lucid, direct narrative, and an unfailing fund of incident, and of humour, sometimes bordering on farce. Of all his portraits of adventurous sailors, “Gentleman Chucks” in Peter Simple and “Equality Jack” in Mr Midshipman Easy are the most famous, but he created many other types which take rank among the characteristic figures in English fiction. Marryat’s first attempt was somewhat severely criticized from an artistic point of view, and he was accused of gratifying private grudges by introducing real personages too thinly disguised; and as he attributed some of his own adventures to Frank Mildmay he was rather shocked to learn that readers identified him with that disagreeable character. 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 (1832), Peter Simple (1834), Jacob Faithful (1834), The Pacha of Many Tales (1835), Japhet in Search of a Father (1836), Mr Midshipman Easy (1836), The Pirate and the Three Cutters (1836), till he reached his high-water mark of constructive skill in Snarley-yow, or the Dog Fiend (1837). The best of his books after this date are those written expressly for boys, the favourites being Masterman Ready (1841), The Settlers in Canada (1844), and The Children of the New Forest (1847). Among his other works are The Phantom Ship (1839); A Diary in America (1839); Olla Podrida (1840), a collection of miscellaneous papers; Poor Jack (1840); Joseph Rushbrook (1841); Percival Keene (1842); Monsieur Violet (1842); The Privateer’s Man (1844); The Mission, or Scenes in Africa (1845); The Little Savage (1848–1849), published posthumously; and Valerie, not completed (1849). His novels form an important link between Smollett and Fielding and Charles Dickens.

Captain Marryat had retired from the naval service in 1830, becoming equerry to the duke of Sussex. He edited the Metropolitan Magazine from 1832 to 1835, and some of his best stories appeared in that paper. He spent a great part of his time in Brussels, where he was very popular. He visited Canada during Papineau’s revolt and the United States in 1837, and gave a disparaging account of American institutions in a Diary published on his return to England. While at New York he wrote a play, The Ocean Waif, or Channel Outlaw, which was acted, and is forgotten. His versatility is further shown by the fact that he drew rough caricatures and other sketches with some spirit. Some capital snatches of verse are scattered throughout his novels, the best being “Poll put her arms akimbo” in Snarley-yow, and the “Hunter and the Maid” in Poor Jack. In 1843 he settled at Langham Manor, Norfolk. He indulged in costly experiments in farming, so that in spite of the large income earned by his books he was not a rich man. He died at Langham on the 9th of August 1848, his death being hastened by news of the loss of his son by shipwreck.

His daughter, Florence Marryat, herself a novelist, published his Life and Letters in 1872. See also David Hannay, Life of Marryat (1889).  (D. H.)