Special Collections Department
TWO HUNDRED YEARS BEFORE THE MAST
The influence of sea voyages and their published narratives in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is reflected in the fiction of the time. The adventure of the cruise, the freedom of the open sea, the mystery of the unknown and undiscovered, the hazards of sailing life, and the ever present threat of disaster provided fertile source material for literature and a rich backdrop for satire and farce. The genre of seafaring literature may be divided into a number of subgenres, including the satire, the philosophical allegory, the imitation voyage, and the adventure romance. Each had a basis in actual voyage accounts. Vairasse, Foigny, Swift, and Defoe drew directly from these sources and the conventions of their narration and publication. In the nineteenth century, authors like Cooper, Marryat, Melville, Russell, and Conrad combined historical and contemporary nautical events with personal knowledge and experience of the mariner's life, bringing a greater measure of authenticity to their work.
Gabriel Foigny (1650-1692).
Les Avantures de Jacques Sadeur dans la Decouverte et le Voyage de la Terre Australe. Amsterdam: D. Mortier, 1732.
Originally published at Geneva in 1676, this tale is among the best known of all the accounts of Terra Australis. It is a fantastic mixture of the marvelous and the realistic, and was intended as a criticism of Christian tradition.
Denis Vairasse (1665-1681).
L'Histoire des Sevarambes, Peuples qui Habitent une Partie du Troisieme Continent Communement Appele La Terre Australe... Amsterdam: Pierre Mortier, 1715.
First published in Paris in 1677-79, Vairasse's fictitious account of the strange land and people encountered by voyagers after being blown far south off course was reprinted many times, including an English translation that was published in 1727 as Part III of Gulliver's Travels. Both these tales belong to that genre of fictitious narratives purporting to be truthful accounts of voyages made by Europeans to then little known lands. Based upon realistic detail they were intended as satires or criticisms of the existing state of society.
Raymond W. Kirkbride Memorial Fund
Daniel Defoe (1661?-1731).
The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe... Third Edition. London: W. Taylor, 1719. 2 volumes.
Defoe's Robinson Crusoe is based on reports and accounts of Alexander Selkirk's four-year, self-imposed residence on the deserted island of Juan Fernandez and his deliverance by the privateer Woodes Rogers. The accounts of Rogers and Edward Cooke are among the principle sources for Defoe's narrative. The novel was an immediate success, going through four editions in as many months. The book also followed the publication conventions for travel accounts of its time, including the obligatory map of the world showing the route followed by Crusoe in the narrative's second volume, which bears the title, The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe...
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745).
Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. London: Benj. Motte, 1726. 2 volumes.
Swift's Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, better known to the world as Gulliver's Travels, is a satirical, often contemptuous, allegory of contemporary British social and political life. Portrayed as the voyage journals of Lemuel Gulliver, "first a surgeon, and then a Captain of several ships," Swift draws upon the conventions of travel literature in his day, writing in the tradition of Vairasse and Foigny.
[William Rufus Chetwood (d. 1766)]
The Voyages and Adventures of Captain Robert Boyle.... London: A. Millar, 1728.
This anonymous work was first published in 1726 and was frequently reprinted. Beside Chetwood, this romantic adventure on the high seas, which includes a brief appearance by Captain William Dampier, has been attributed to various authors, including Daniel Defoe and Benjamin Victor. It borrows extensively from another novel, The Voyages, Dangerous Adventures and Imminent Escapes of Captain Richard Falconer (1720), also ascribed with no great certainty to Chetwood, which in turn had principal sources in other novels and seafaring accounts, including works by Defoe and Esquemeling's The Buccaneers of America (1684-85).
Gift of Joseph Y. Jeanes, Jr.
James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851).
The Pilot. N.Y: C. Wiley, 1823.
Remembered especially for his Leatherstocking stories, James Fenimore Cooper's numerous sea novels are not as widely known, the first of which was The Pilot, a dashing sea story that had much influence on the genre throughout the nineteenth century. Cooper drew upon personal experience as well as historical examples in writing his tales of the sea, having been a sailor and a midshipman between ages seventeen and twenty-two.
Frederick Marryat (1792-1848).
Masterman Ready. London: Longman, 1841.
Frederick Marryat, British navy captain, was a prolific writer of nautical adventure novels. His own adventurous seafaring life often formed the basis for his many tales. His first novel, The Naval Officer published in 1829, was an immediate literary and financial success. After resigning his commission in 1830, he settled down to a literary career, averaging about two novels a year until his death. He devoted the last decade of his life to producing nautical tales for children, and Masterman Ready, a story of shipwreck and survival in the Pacific, was the first novel in this series.
Herman Melville (1819-1891).
Omoo, a Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas. New York: Harper and Brothers; London: John Murray, 1847.
Melville's adventurous and dramatic three years at sea and on the islands of the Pacific inform nearly all of his writings, with characters and story fines lifted directly from his own life. Melville was among the first non-Polynesians to explore certain parts of the South Pacific islands, and certainly the first literary figure to do so. Omoo, Melville's second book, was based on his travels in the Pacific, and includes an account of the mutiny on board the Julia, based on Melville's experience on the Australian whaler, the Lucy Ann.
Gift of the Class of 1926
W. Clark Russell (1844-1911).
Two Captains. London: Sampson Low, Marston and Co., 1897.
Clark Russell joined the British merchant service in 1858, made several voyages to India and Australia, and while off the coast of China in 1860 witnessed the capture of the Taku forts by the combined British and French forces. He retired from the merchant service in 1866 and took up a literary career. His early seafaring experiences, as well as accounts of historical voyages, provided much of the material for his fifty-seven sea novels. Clark Russell's novels rendered the same benefit to the merchant service that those of Frederick Marryat did to the Royal Navy. They stimulated public interest in the conditions under which sailors lived, paving the way for the reform of many abuses.
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