The Naval Officer/Prefatory Note
We do not intend to review our own work; if we did it justice we might be accused of partiality, and we are not such fools as to abuse it. We leave that to our literary friends who may have so little taste as not to appreciate its merits. Not that there would be anything novel in reviewing our own performances—that we have discovered since we have assumed the office of editor; but still it is always done sub rosa, whereas in our position we could not deny our situation as editor and author. Of Peter Simple, therefore, we say nothing, but we take this opportunity of saying a few words to the public. . . .The Naval Officer was our first attempt, and its having been our first attempt must be offered in extenuation of its many imperfections; it was written hastily, and before it was complete we were appointed to a ship. We cared much about our ship and little about our book. The first was diligently taken care of by ourselves, the second was left in the hands of others to get on how it could. Like most bantlings put out to nurse, it did not get on very well. As we happen to be in a communicative vein, it may be as well to remark that, being written in the autobiographical style, it was asserted by friends, and believed in general, that it was a history of the author's life. Now, without pretending to have been better than we should have been in our earlier days, we do most solemnly assure the public that had we run the career of vice of the hero of the Naval Officer, at all events we should have had sufficient sense of shame not to have avowed it. Except the hero and heroine, and those parts of the work which supply the slight plot of it as a novel, the work in itself is materially true, especially in the narrative of sea adventure, most of which did (to the best of our recollection) occur to the author. We say to the best of our recollection, as it behoves us to be careful. We have not forgotten the snare in which Chamier found himself by asserting in his preface that his narrative was fact. In The Naval Officer much good material was thrown away; but we intend to write it over again some day of these days, and The Naval Officer, when corrected, will be so improved that he may be permitted to stand on the same shelf with Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.
"The confounded licking we received for our first attempts in the critical notices is probably well known to the reader—at all events we have not forgotten it. Now, with some, this severe castigation of their first offence would have had the effect of their never offending again; but we felt that our punishment was rather too severe; it produced indignation instead of contrition, and we determined to write again in spite of all the critics in the universe; and in the due course of nine months we produced The King's Own. In The Naval Officer we had sowed all our wild oats; we had paid off those who had ill-treated us, and we had no further personality to indulge in. The King's Own, therefore, was wholly fictitious in characters, in plot, and in events, as have been its successors. The King's Own was followed by Newton Forster, Newton Forster by Peter Simple. These are all our productions. Reader, we have told our tale."
This significant document was published by Captain Marryat in the Metropolitan Magazine 1833, of which he was at that time the editor, on the first appearance of Peter Simple, in order, among other things, to disclaim the authorship of a work entitled the Port Admiral, which contained "an infamous libel upon one of our most distinguished officers deceased, and upon the service in general." It repudiates, without explaining away, certain unpleasant impressions that even the careful reader of to-day cannot entirely avoid. Marryat made Frank Mildmay a scamp, I am afraid, in order to prove that he himself had not stood for the portrait; but he clearly did not recognise the full enormities of his hero, to which he was partially blinded by a certain share thereof. The adventures were admittedly his own, they were easily recognised, and he had no right to complain of being confounded with the insolent young devil to whom they were attributed. It would, however, be at once ungracious and unprofitable to attempt any analysis of the points of difference and resemblance; any reader will detect the author's failings by his work; other coincidences may be noticed here.
It has been said, in the general introduction, that Marryat's cruises in the Imperieuse are almost literally described in Frank Mildmay. We have also independent accounts of certain personal adventures there related.
The episode, chap, iv., of being bitten by a skate—supposed to be dead—which is used again in Peter Simple, came from Marryat's own experience; and he declared that he ran away from school on account of the very indignity—that of being compelled to wear his elder brother's old clothes—which Frank Mildmay pleads as an excuse for sharing at least the sentiments of Cain. Marryat, again, was trampled upon and left for dead when boarding an enemy (see chap, v.); he saved the midshipman who had bullied him, from drowning, though his reflections on the occasion are more edifying than those recounted in chap. v. "From that moment," he says, "I have loved the fellow as I never loved friend before. All my hate is forgotten. I have saved his life." The defence of the castle of Rosas, chap, vii., is taken straight from his private log-book; while Marshall's Naval Biography contains an account of his volunteering during a gale to cut away the main-yard of the Aeolus, which scarcely pales before the vigorous passage in chap. xiv.:—
- "On the 30th of September, 1811, in lat. 40° 50' N., long. 65° W. (off the coast of New England), a gale of wind commenced at S.E., and soon blew with tremendous fury; the Aeolus was laid on her beam ends, her top-masts and mizen-masts were literally blown away, and she continued in this extremely perilous situation for at least half-an-hour. Directions were given to cut away the main-yard, in order to save the main-mast and right the ship, but so great was the danger attending such an operation considered, that not a man could be induced to attempt it until Mr Marryat led the way. His courageous conduct on this occasion excited general admiration, and was highly approved of by Lord James Townsend, one of whose company he also saved by jumping overboard at sea."
The edition of 1873 contained a brief memoir of the author, by "Florence Marryat," frequently reprinted.
Frank Mildmay, originally called The Naval Officer; or, Scenes and Adventures in the Life of Frank Mildmay, is here printed from the first edition published in 1829 by Henry Colborn, with the following motto on the title-page:—
My muse by no means deals in fiction;
She gathers a repertory of facts,
Of course with some reserve and slight restriction,
But mostly traits of human things and acts.
Love, war, a tempest—surely there's variety;
Also a seasoning slight of lubrication;
A bird's-eye view, too, of that wild society;
A slight glance thrown on men of every station
- The improvement was never made.—Ed.