My father had left a small collection of books in a little room up-stairs, to which I had access (for it adjoined my own) and which nobody else in our house ever troubled. From that blessed little room, Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones, the Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Blas, and Robinson Crusoe, came out, a glorious host, to keep me company. They kept alive my fancy, and my hope of something beyond that place and time, – they, and the Arabian Nights, and the Tales of the Genii, – and did me no harm; for whatever harm was in some of them was not there for me; I knew nothing of it. (Dickens, 1931, pp.51-52)
This recollection of David Copperfield's childhood is one of the many passages in Dickens' novel which are 'literally autobiographical' (Johnson, 1952, 1: 20). Indeed, the only books that his biographers can find to add to the list are 'the Tatler and Spectator papers, Johnson's Idler, Goldsmith's Citizen of the World, and Mrs. Inchbald's Collection of Farces' (Johnson, 1952, 1: 21).
The most immediately striking thing about them is, of course, that not one of these books was written specifically for children – and some of them : Roderick Random, for instance, or Tom Jones (even if it be 'a child's Tom Jones, a harmless creature' (Dickens, 1931, p.52)), are most emphatically unsuitable for the young. Let us for the moment, however, concentrate on what David (or Dickens) claims they did for him: 'They kept alive my fancy, and my hope ... and did me no harm; for whatever harm was in some of them was not there for me'. Children's imaginations must be stimulated, and – before puberty, at any rate the only things which will do this are action and adventure (whether natural: Robinson Crusoe; or supernatural: the Tales of the Genii). Nevertheless, while these books served merely to kindle 'hope' and 'fancy' in the young David, in another case they might have done more damage – inflamed and corrupted a youthful mind with the premature revelation of "grown-up" sophistication! This insidious and ever-present danger was to provide the impetus for an entirely new branch of nineteenth century literature – the children's, or boys' book ("boys" are, in effect, simply teenage children – and this is the sense in which I shall use the word from now on).
Speculation about children – and the recognition of children as more than just miniature adults – was a development of the Romantic era, and can be traced back almost directly to Rousseau's Émile, ou De l'Éducation (1762). The natural innocence and spontaneity of the child appealed greatly to Romantic writers, and inspired works such as Blake's Songs of Innocence (1789) and Wordsworth's 'We are Seven' (1798). The child was perceived as a sort of 'Noble Savage' in the midst of society – a separate species whose characteristics could be used to illuminate our own shortcomings. In Blake especially (in poems like 'The Ecchoing Green' and 'The Chimney Sweeper') the notion is never far away that the child is Prelapsarian man; still inhabiting the Garden of Eden – from which his elders have been exiled for the sin of civilization.
Dickens himself was the heir of this attitude, and there is nothing surprising in the fact that his own children seem always to have taken second place to the children of his imagination: little Nell; Paul Dombey; Pip; and, of course, his 'favourite child' (1931, p.viii), David Copperfield. Nevertheless, for all his marvellous skill in portraying them – and his positive obsession with childish innocence under threat from evil (Oliver Twist; or Florence Dombey in Dombey and Son) – not one of his novels is actually intended for children. Indeed, what would be the incentive for such a limitation – deliberately eschewing complexities, and confining his complex vision of reality to the simple standpoint of a child? Children were welcome to read his books – but he presumably preferred to think of them growing into, rather than growing out of, his novels.
It was not that there was no writing intended specifically for children at this time – simply that it was, for the most part, unreadable: ferocious and forbidding moral tracts in the half-hearted guise of fiction. The child who wished to read, therefore, had to make do with cast-offs abridged or complete versions of Gulliver's Travels, Robinson Crusoe, and The Pilgrim's Progress; and any other items of grown-up literature which they could understand and assimilate ('a few volumes of Voyages and Travels – I forget what, now' (Dickens, 1931, p.52)).
While the serious writers were still preoccupied with their own perceptions of the child, other people – both businessmen and moralists – began to realize that children might provide an audience in their own right. There were two basic motives at work: first, the desire to spare children the possible ill-effects of premature exposure to adult passions and misdemeanours (adultery, for example then, as now, a frequent subject for fiction); and second, the marvellous opportunity of educating children in history, geography, and morality at the same time as entertaining them with "harmless" excitement.
The emergence of a literature specifically for teenage boys can be assigned fairly specifically to the middle of the nineteenth century. Robinson Crusoe had already inspired a number of foreign imitations, among them The Swiss Familv Robinson, by Johann Wyss, which first appeared in English translation in 1814, and which became very popular with young readers. Captain Marryat, therefore, having promised 'my children to write a book for them' (Quayle, 1973, p.32), had his attention drawn to the book when he found himself in difficulties:
It was a hasty promise, for I never considered whether I was capable of so doing. On my requesting to know what kind of a book they would prefer, they said that they wished me to continue a work called the 'Swiss Family Robinson,' which had never been completed, and which appeared peculiarly to interest them. (Quayle, 1973, p.32)
This is from the preface of the book that he actually did write, Masterman Ready, or the Wreck of the Pacific (1841-2). There are two important points to be made about Marryat's remarks: first, in the comment 'I never considered whether I was capable of so doing', he shows that he has, perforce, been compelled to recognize the writing of books for boys (or older children generally) as a genre in itself – with its own laws and requirements and not a thing to be taken lightly; secondly, on realizing the difficulties involved, he has taken the correct. step of simply asking his potential audience what they would most like to read. The preface goes on:
I sent for the work and read it ... it is very amusing; but the fault which I find in it is, that it does not adhere to the probable, or even the possible, which should ever be the case in a book, even if fictitious, when written for children. I pass over the seamanship, or rather the want of it, which occasions impossibilities to be performed on board the wreck, as that is not a matter of any consequence ... but much ignorance, or carelessness, had been displayed in describing the vegetable and animal productions of the island on which the family had been wrecked ... This was an error I could not persuade myself to follow up. It is true that it is a child's book; but I consider, for that very reason, it is necessary that the author should be particular in what may appear to be trifles, but which really are not, when it is remembered how strong the impressions are upon the juvenile mind. Fiction, when written for young people, should, at all events, be based upon truth; and I could not continue a narrative under the objections which I have stated. Whether I have succeeded or not in the construction of my own, is another question. (Quayle, 1973, pp.32-33)
Other things being equal, Marryat is undoubtedly right in thinking that a book which is going to be drawn on for information should be accurate – but the direct consequence of this doctrine was, unfortunately, an excess of didacticism and "useful instruction" in the first generation of boys' literature (from about 1850-1880). Marryat, however, already shows a clear understanding that the problem lies in being a good enough and accurate enough writer to write something for children worthy of being read – and that it is not simply a question of condescending to their supposed level. As Ursula Le Guin points out, this is by no means an automatic assumption even today:
'You're a juvenile writer, aren't you?'
'I love your books – the real ones, I mean, I haven't read the ones for children, of course!'
Of courthe not, Daddy.
'It must be relaxing to write simple things for a change.'
Sure it's simple, writing for kids ... All you do is take all the sex out, and use little short words, and little dumb ideas, and don't be too scary, and be sure there's a happy ending.
Right? Nothing to it. (Le Guin, 1979, p.54)
Marryat, W. H. G. Kingston (Peter the Whaler (1851) etc.), and Captain Mayne Reid were all "adult" novelists who had turned to writing for boys because they found that, in any case, a 'greater interest was being taken in [their] works by the teenagers of the families into which [their] novels strayed' (Quayle, 1973, p.79). The first writer, however, to specialize solely in books for boys was R. M. Ballantyne (1825-1894). Of The Young Fur Traders (1856), his first novel, Eric Quayle remarks:
Reading the book, one is not long in gaining the impression that young Charley Kennedy's adventures display, in a highly-coloured and romanticised form, the type of life Ballantyne himself would dearly have wished to lead while acting as store-keeper and clerk at the Company's log-built trading stations ... This understandable desire on Ballantyne's part to play the hero is also evident in many of the illustrations that accompanied his works. He supplied pictures for nearly all the books he wrote, and obvious self-portraits, showing the heroes of the tales as bearded stalwarts who stand fearlessly grasping outsize Colt revolvers, or muzzle-loading rifles, while facing fearful odds, appear in many of them ... He was in the habit of conducting the many lectures he gave on life in the wilds dressed in trappers' hunting kit – leather jerkin, coon-skin hat, bowie-knife, and long-barrelled gun (Quayle, 1973, p.48).
It is difficult to see anything particularly reprehensible in this obvious wish-fulfillment. Indeed, paradoxically, it may have helped him as a writer, since his readers could feel (for the first time) that they were not being patronized; that, in effect, these adventure tales were as much a necessity to their author as to his audience. It is perhaps true (as Clive James says of Raymond Chandler), that: 'as so often happens in good-bad books, the author's obsessions are being catered to, not examined' (Gross, 1977, p.124); but as he eventually concludes – 'In worse books, the heroes are too little like us: in better books, too much' (p.126). In other words, for an audience of fantasists (even David Copperfield's books 'kept alive my fancy'), a master-fantasist was what was required.
This is not to say that Ballantyne is a good writer – his creaking, episodic plots and wooden characterization should be enough to confirm this, if confirmation is required. But the things that crippled him were, first of all, specifically literary shortcomings; and secondly, an excess of didacticism and missionary zeal (as Quayle puts it: 'It is difficult to imagine our own sophisticated youth accepting as genuine traits of character the evangelical fervour displayed so openly by the heroes Ballantyne created' (Quayle, 1973, p.56)). It was certainly not any overindulgence in romance and wish-fulfillment (if anything, he had too little of this – or was able to convey too little).
After Ballantyne, at any rate, a boys' book had to appeal to boys, and not just their parents, in order to succeed. And the market for such books had now increased to the extent that a substantial success was becoming possible. After he had found a publisher who would give him a scale of royalties, rather than just a lump-sum purchase price, Ballantyne began to earn quite a respectable living from his pen. The necessity to keep on publishing new titles was always present, however, and explains the phenomenal rate of production kept up by all of the first generation of boys' writers. ('Until the year of his death in Rome, Ballantyne always turned out at least two full-length books for boys each year' (Quayle, 1973, p.62)). Kingston's books 'fill eight closely-printed pages in the British Museum Catalogue, yet the holdings of even that august establishment are far from complete' (Quayle, 1973, p.73); while G. A. Henty wrote 'nearly a hundred tales for young people' (Quayle, 1973, p.101) between 1871 and 1902.
Not surprisingly, the books of these writers tended to follow set formulas, and to rely largely on semiplagiarization of travel-books and other works of reference. R. M. Ballantyne 'had been badly caught out when writing The Coral Island, describing coconuts hanging in bunches in the tree-tops in the same shape and form that he had seen them in his native Scotland in the fair-grounds and green-grocers' shops' (Quayle, 1973, p.54) – thereafter he used 'a small library of travel books ... as a reference background' (p.54). G. A. Henty tended to use historical, rather than geographical texts – and was able, as a consequence, to subordinate fiction to instruction to an even greater extent than his colleagues:
In this book I have devoted a somewhat smaller space to the personal adventures of my hero than in my other historical tales, but the events themselves were of such a thrilling and exciting nature that no deeds of fiction could surpass them. [from the preface to With Clive in India (1884)] (Quayle, 1973, p.106)
Moral uplift was also tiresomely obtrusive in these early boys' books. Many of Ballantyne's books were used as the models for sermons, and W. H. G. Kingston's last letter to his boy readers, written on his death-bed and published posthumously in the Boy's Own Paper, was 'quoted from pulpit and evangelistic soap-box as a shining example of "how a true Christian can compose himself to die'" (Quayle, 1973, p.77):
Dear boys, I ask you to give your hearts to Christ, and earnestly pray that all of you may meet me in Heaven. (Quayle, 1973, p.75)
As Quayle reveals, 'Many Victorian writers endeavoured to incorporate at least one death-bed conversion or dying repentance in each full-length story' (1973, p.73).
This trend was, of course, by no means confined to the boys' book. Generally speaking, as the Victorian era advanced, the moral atmosphere of literature became more stuffy and confined – things were written and published in the 1840's that would not have been tolerated in the 1860's. The "serious writers", then, whom we left a few pages back absorbed in their own perceptions of childhood, began to see a great new opportunity before them.
Robert Louis Stevenson was the first to emancipate boys' literature from moralism and didacticism, when he published Treasure Island in 1883. The book is prefaced by a poem in which he pays tribute to 'Kingston, ... Ballantyne the Brave, ... [and] Cooper of the wood and wave' (Quayle, 1973, p.63); but it is their general atmosphere of romance and adventure which he wishes to emulate, not their specific methods of writing:
If sailor tales to sailor tunes,
Storm and adventure, heat and cold,
If schooners, islands, and maroons
And Buccaneers and buried Gold,
And all the old romance, retold
Exactly in the ancient way,
Can please, as me they pleased of old,
The wiser youngsters of today:
– So be it, and fall on! (Quayle, 1973, p.63)
Stevenson, indeed, seems to have found writing for children a relief from more "adult" responsibilities – especially when one compares such tales "with a moral" as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or 'Markheim' with the glorious freedom of Kidnapped or Treasure Island.
Stevenson had set a new direction for the boys' book, but he was, himself, 'always consciously handicapped by poverty of invention' (Malcolm Elwin, "Introduction" in Rider Haggard, 1952, p.xiv). His successor, Henry Rider Haggard - whose works were swiftly adopted by teenagers, even if not originally intended for them – far exceeded him in inventive skill, but:
In this strength lay his weakness, for his fancy leaps ever faster than his pen; in his haste to pursue the quarry ahead, he slurs over one scene to be on with the next. Stevenson would have occupied a chapter in describing the horrors of the night in the ice-bound mountain cave, culminating in the terrifying discovery of Don José's corpse [in King Solomon's Mines (1885); designed specifically as a rival to Treasure Island]; Haggard takes less than two pages, scamping the details and so sacrificing much dramatic effect. The same eagerness to hurry on with his story prevented him from contriving careful studies of character (Rider Haggard, 1952, p.xiv).
Nevertheless – whichever of these two authors may be adjudged the better – what they have in common is far more significant that any such trifling dissimilarities. Both provide romance and adventure for its own sake – and both would wish the success of their works to be judged in artistic, rather than moral (or pedagogical) terms. The behaviour of their protagonists seems also to be judged principally along aesthetic lines (is this an exciting thing to happen? and is this a plausible and interesting reaction to it?) rather than as a conscious "example" for the young.
This, then, was roughly the situation in the field of the boys' book when Masefield came on the scene in 1910. The realization that children were, in some sense, a separate group – with needs and requirements of their own – had inspired the "first generation" of boys' writers (Marryat, Kingston, and Ballantyne, among others) to write books specifically for them. These books were exciting and adventurous, and based on what children were known to enjoy reading – but they also contained a good deal of instruction (both moral and factual), which tended to weigh them down. The "second generation", Stevenson and Haggard (not to mention Kipling, Barrie, and E. Nesbit), were more conscious literary artists – not so much eschewing instructive and edifying content, as (ideally) subordinating it to the interests of the whole. Writers, in effect, no longer considered themselves bound to write what they "ought" to write – but rather what they wanted to write, and what their audience (presumably) wanted to read.
Masefield, like Stevenson, had been brought up on 'romantic dreams of John Silver, the Spanish Main, and all the Tropic Island palm tree business' (Smith, 1978, p.58). He was extremely fond of the works of Marryat and Captain Mayne Reid (of the latter's The War Trail he wrote in a letter: 'this book gave me intenser joy than I can well tell, but you are over 7 this birthday' (Masefield, 1983, p.235); and of the former's The Children of the New Forest: 'I am not sure that even I could enjoy it now, but ONCE ... !' (Masefield, 1983, p.461)). Mark Twain and Stevenson inspired in him a more lasting appreciation; although he complains of Treasure Island:
RLS was a good natural sailor: but I am much puzzled by the Hispaniola – a schooner, 1750 or so, with a mizen mast. He meant her to be a schooner: the film people wronged him; but he did not allow for the smallness. Life in a schooner is more public than a town pump: & a word spoken aboard must be heard by somebody. (Masefield, 1983, p.230)
(He goes on to mention that the incident of Jim Hawkins overhearing a conversation from an apple-barrel actually happened to a relative of Stevenson's, who 'was in an apple-barrel, &, like other listeners, heard small good').
Even after his marriage he still inhabited these regions of romance, as an early visitor described:
He sits as of old in the chimney corner and gazes with grey-silver eyes into space, every now and then coming-to, to begin a story of a pirate called Slashing Roderick who sailed away in the good ship so and so – till he is brought to earth by his wife asking him to ring for tea. (Smith, 1978, p.87)
So, after the agonies and difficulties of Masefield's first two novels – Captain Margaret and Multitude and Solitude it was natural that his thoughts should turn to the freer and more congenial atmosphere of the boys' book.
If there is one point which I hope to have established in my discussion of Masefield's previous novels, it is the seriousness with which he took his vocation as a writer. Many of his early poems – 'Spanish Waters', or 'Captain Stratton's Fancy', for instance – are content merely to exploit the atmosphere of pirates and buccaneers on the old Spanish Main. Masefield was also very fond of constructing 'meaty dramas' (mainly about pirates) for his puppet theatre: 'Inspired by the example of Jack Yeats, who had a flair for producing blood-and-thunder dramas written specially for the miniature stage' (Smith, 1978, p.89). This was, however, 'not really work at all'; and it was inevitable that any books for children he wrote – at this stage in his career, at any rate – would be on a much more "serious" and elevated level.
Indeed, one suspects, on looking at Masefield's four early boys' books as a group, that he was in some ways definitely dissatisfied with the confines of the traditional boys' book. Undoubtedly Stevenson and Rider Haggard had raised it to a much higher literary level – but something had been lost, as well, with the abandonment of the "didactic" tradition of Henty and Ballantyne. There was a certain seriousness, a certain devotion to detail in the earlier writers which had been lost when "atmosphere" had begun to predominate over instruction. It was not so much, perhaps, that the "school of Ballantyne" had anything to teach the newer authors – the loathsome celebration of violence In Martin Rattler or The Gorilla Hunters should be enough to disabuse us of that notion:
'It seems to me,' said Jack, 'that notwithstanding the short time we stayed in the gorilla country, we have been pretty successful. Haven't we bagged thirty-three altogether?'
'Thirty-six, if you count the babies in arms,' responded Peterkin. (Quayle, 1973, p.58)
It was more that there was a definite tendency to portray human reactions unrealistically – as over-heroic, or larger-than-life – in the newer books; which, combined with their relative inattention to precise detail, made them even more dubious guides to conduct than those which had gone before.
It is no coincidence that Marryat's objections to The Swiss Family Robinson, and Masefield's to Treasure Island, are couched in much the same terms. Both writers are concerned with accuracy of detail – and neither is prepared to concede that this is unimportant in a tale aimed for children. In my discussion of Masefield's boys' books, therefore, I shall be pointing out the strenuous attempts he makes to introduce both antiquarian exactitude and emotional verisimilitude into his stories; while striving still to preserve the element of excitement and adventure in effect, the three factors isolated in our discussion in Chapter One of this study: Romanticism, Realism, and (in this case) emotional truth.
It would perhaps be unfair not to mention Stevenson as a predecessor of Masefield's in this endeavour – more, certainly, in Kidnapped than in Treasure Island. In many respects Masefield is simply elaborating on the pattern already laid down by him; but Stevenson too was liable to keep his "complex" reactions for his grown-up books, and magnify incident at the expense of emotion in his boys' books (particularly in a pot-boiler like The Black Arrow).
Masefield's first three children's books were published within two months of each other, between October 8th and November 25th, 1910. No doubt he had been working on them all for a year or so beforehand (his last novel, Multitude and Solitude, had appeared in June 1909, and since then he had published only four plays, a speech, and a book of poems); but, as they are all between 80,000 and 90,000 words, this still represents no mean feat of composition.
Of course it pales in comparison with the achievements of some of the serialists in boys' papers 'who, adapting the battery-hen system to literature, took on contracts to write 50,000 words a week and upwards, and fulfilled them, without benefit of "ghosts" or dictaphones or even secretaries' (Turner, 1976, p.17). The legendary 'Frank Richards', for example, (in reality Charles Hamilton, creator of Greyfriars and Billy Bunter), 'For more than thirty years ... "never failed to maintain his million and a half words a year and often exceeded that quota". (A million and a half words represents nearly twenty ordinary novels)' (Turner, 1976, pp.220-21). The work of these prodigies was, however, extremely repetitive and formulaic and had few pretensions to literary quality. Masefield, on the other hand, was trying to break new ground in the field of boys' books, and also (a nagging concern for him throughout this period) sell enough copies to live on.
The odd loose end or roughness in these early books should not be too harshly judged, therefore. Although his time for revision must have been very limited, it seems to have been sufficient to cover most of the traces of hasty composition.
Martin Hyde: The Duke's Messenger is an historical novel, set in the period of the Monmouth rebellion (the 'Duke' of the title) in 1685. This appears to have been a favourite era for Masefield – both Captain Margaret and Lost Endeavour are set in the late seventeenth century – and his knowledge of it must have been fairly comprehensive (as Wilson Knight puts it: 'Masefield's knowledge of the logistics and technicalities of ancient and modern warfare appears inexhaustible' (1971, p.263)). It is true that there are some disconcerting details: the 'metal brandy flask, with a paper roll containing hard-boiled eggs' (Masefield, 1965, p.118) which someone gives Martin, for example – and which seems more like an appurtenance of a modern picnic ("thermos and hard-boiled eggs") than an accurate piece of antiquarianism. But Masefield always seems so well-informed about ships, and history, and customs, that one feels inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt even in such a case as this. In fact, in some respects the novel is almost in the direct tradition of G. A. Henty – a narrative designed to open up some interesting corner of history, with an occasional potted lecture on the rights and wrongs of the situation. One therefore hopes (and trusts) that Masefield took the trouble to verify his details – that the nautical information is correct can be assumed without question.
Far more than Henty, though, Masefield keeps his hero to the fore – there are no chapters devoted to mere "background information". It is written in the first person: the purported autobiography of Martin Hyde, written in his later years, but dealing with his adventures as a teenage boy. As usual, the reactions recorded in the text are, for the most part, those of a young boy rather than a more mature commentator (for all the "if only I had known" asides); but this is a recognized convention of the genre in any case.
Martin Hyde is the son of a country clergyman who is sympathetic to the anti-Catholic cause. On his father's death, he is taken to London to live with his uncle, Gabriel Hyde, an old bachelor and merchant. After a number of mischievous sallies into the streets and waterways of London, he is locked up in his room to repent of his misdeeds. Not content with so tame a fate, he balances a plank across the narrow street (the houses slope up towards each other) and climbs into the opposite row. There he overhears a conversation between a group of conspirators; and, on being discovered, is given the choice of either joining their plot to overthrow King James, or being imprisoned until the danger is over. In great excitement he decides to join them – partially because it seems the more attractive of the two propositions, and partially because his father's opinions have already undermined his loyalty to the Catholic King.
We are now given an account of Martin's voyage to Holland, where the conspirators have their base. His vaulting ambitions are somewhat checked when he is forced to serve as a drudge and cabin-boy on board ship; but he soon recovers his natural equanimity when he manages to forestall a plot to steal some secret papers from the Duke (travelling incognito as 'Mr. Scott'). This is the first of many somewhat implausible adventures in Holland in which he pits himself against the agents of the royalist party - among them a young girl named Aurelia Carew, who appears to be a master of disguise (a 'lanky pedlar' (Masefield, 1965, p.61), a 'great lady' (p.72), and an old puppet-man with a long white beard, are among the various characters she adopts). Finally, after a string of these encounters, he is sent to England with secret messages (the ostensible reason for his being in the conspiracy at all is that 'We think that a boy will have less difficulty in getting about the country in its present state than any man, provided, of course, that you travel by different routes on each journey' (p.38)).
On the voyage home, Martin is forced to adopt a number of subterfuges to safeguard his letters against the Captain and Aurelia (who has been smuggled on board without his knowledge), but he is finally successful – and even strikes up a friendship with Aurelia, whom he rescues from an accident on board ship. When he arrives in England he delivers his letters, and then goes to meet the Duke, who had landed with a small force in the West Country.
The rest of the story tells of Martin's involvement with Monmouth's disastrous campaign. He is counselled to desert on a number of occasions by Aurelia (in various disguises) – and is actually imprisoned by her and her uncle, Sir Travers Carew, for a fortnight – but he still feels loyal to the incompetent Duke. He finally escapes from the uncle's country house and is just in time to witness the fatal battle of Sedgemoor – which ends in a defeat for Monmouth. Martin is rounded up with the rest of the rebels, and is only saved from summary execution by the intervention of Aurelia and Sir Travers. The book ends with him sailing away to the West Indies in order to serve as private secretary to the latter, who has been 'newly appointed Governor of St. Eulalie' (Masefield, 1965, p.187).
Martin Hyde is, as I hope I have conveyed, a most amusing adventure story – but Masefield has done his best to make it something more than that as well. Since the story consists entirely of the reactions and observations of one character, Masefield has attempted to suggest a rather complex melange of motives in his hero.
Martin is, on the one hand, a fairly robust and resilient boy, always ready for adventure and excitement – almost in the best traditions of the "brave English boy" of the nineteenth century boys' book: 'I felt that even if I died, even if I was shot there, as I sailed along with my King's orders, I should have tasted life in that wild gallop' (Masefield, 1965, p.76); 'I was excited; but I remember that I enjoyed it. I felt so like an ancient Briton lying in wait for his enemy' (Masefield, 1930, p.126). Perhaps best of all: 'I felt my heart leap a t the thought of being in another adventure with the lady' (Masefield, 1965, p.86). On leaving for Holland, he exults:
We were off. I was on my way to Holland. I was a conspirator travelling with a King. There ahead of me was the fine hull of the schooner la Reina, waiting to carry us to all sorts of adventure, none of them (as I planned them then) so strange, or so terrible, as those which happened to me. As we drew up alongside her, I heard the clack-clack of the sailors heaving at the windlass. They were getting up the anchor, so that we might sail from this horrible city to all the wonderful romance which awaited me, as I thought, beyond, in the great world. (Masefield, 1965, p.39)
In context, I think 'strange' and 'terrible' can only be taken as positive appellations for adventure; but in the phrase 'as I thought' there is already a hint of mocking irony. The reality which Martin finds at sea, far from being 'romantic', is a nightmare of drudgery and bruised nerves (one suspects a touch of autobiography here referring to Masefield's own experiences on the Conway or as an apprentice aboard the Gilcruix, going around Cape Horn):
'There you are,' said the mate of the schooner. 'Now down on your knees. Scrub the floor here. See you get it mucho blanco.'
He left me feeling much ashamed at having to work like a common ship's boy, instead of like a prince's page, which is what I had thought myself. (Masefield, 1965, p.43)
The mature Martin, looking back, sees a certain value in this humiliation:
I will not tell you how I finished the deck. I will say only this, that at the end I began to take a sort of pride or pleasure in making the planks white. Afterwards, I always found that there is this pleasure in manual work. There is always pleasure of a sort in doing anything that is not very easy. (Masefield, 1965, p.45)
But one feels that this is only understood in retrospect.
Nevertheless, it is clear that Masefield is trying here to give an unvarnished and unfalsified picture of life at sea – to contrast with the romantic implausibility of much that goes before and after ('"Take this. You'll have to go armed in future." He handed me a beautiful little double-barrelled pocket pistol' (Masefield, 1965, p.64); for example). The picture must not be entirely black, however ('At the galley door was the cook, a morose little Londoner with ear-rings in his ears. "Miaow, Miaow," he said, pretending to mimic my sobs' (Masefield, 1965, p.47)) – so, in order to enhearten his readers, Masefield reminds us that 'There is always pleasure of a sort in doing anything that is not very easy'. This technique of using realism to bolster up romance, and moral precepts to temper realism, is – I shall argue – at the heart of Masefield's intentions in this novel.
Another fertile source of romance – and confusion – in the book, is the heroine, Aurelia. Wilson Knight refers to her as a 'boy-girl', and describes her as the best woman character 'in Masefield's narratives, where his feminine characterizations are slight' (1971, p.264). Certainly her sexual status seems a trifle ambiguous, when one considers the ease with which she passes herself off as a boy – but Masefield also seems rather reluctant to commit himself about her age. On the one hand she is 'the handsome woman with the gray, fierce eyes' who was 'quite young, not more than twenty, if her looks did not belie her' (Masefield, 1965, p.81). On the other she is presented as an incongruously childish Tomboy type:
May I make a compact with you? Please do not shoot me with that pistol of yours when I bring you some supper tonight. That is one part of it. The other is this. Let us be friends. We know all about you ... So let us make it up. We have been two little spitfires. At any rate you have. Let us be friends. What sorts of books do you like to read? I shall bring you some story-books about ghosts, or about red Indians. Which do you like best? I like red Indians myself. I suppose you, being a man, like ghosts best. Your sincere friend Aurelia Carew. (Masefield, 1930, p.255)
To this letter Martin replies in a similar "prattling" vein:
'I've promised I won't shoot. You might believe a fellow. But I mean to get away, remember. Just to show you.' (Masefield, 1965, p.160)
She reminds one rather of the young gondolier in Baron Corvo's Desire and Pursuit of the Whole, who serves the hero faithfully throughout the book, and only reveals herself as a girl in time to fall into his arms at the end. That, of course, is a fairly straightforward piece of pederastic subterfuge – what Masefield is doing with Aurelia is something very much more subtle. Aurelia is a 'boy-girl' but only in the sense that she is young enough and boyish enough to be a "chum": 'I felt that she would be such a brave, witty person to have for a friend' (Masefield, 1965, p.81); but also feminine enough to be attractive and mysterious. Martin feels protective towards her when he overhears her being browbeaten by her father, 'A big, burly, hulking, handsome person, of the swaggering sort' (p.90); and also when he rescues her from the accident on board ship: 'There was a good deal of blood about. Aurelia was lying in all the debris half covered with salted fish from one of the capsized casks. They looked like huge leaves. She seemed to have been buried under them, like a babe in the wood. She grew calm when she saw me' (p.112). She is, in fact, everything that an adolescent boy could desire in a woman brave, boyish, and yet also alluring – and, since Masefield's view of women (for a variety of reasons, some of which I have outlined in Chapter Three) has a lot in common with an adolescent boy's, he made a triumphant success of portraying her.
One of the apparent discrepancies of detail in the novel is the fact that Martin at one point refers to Aurelia as though she were just a memory: 'I have it [Aurelia's knife] in my hand as I write. I value it more than anything in my possession. It serves to remind me of a very remarkable woman' (Masefield, 1965, p.65); and at another as if he had subsequently married her:
You will want to know whether I ever saw Aurelia again. Not for some years, not very often for nine years; but since then our lives have been so mingled that when we die it will be hard to say, which soul is which, so much our spirits are each other's. (Masefield, 1965, p.187)
This is presumably the result of insufficient revision (though the two statements could, if strictly necessary, be reconciled) – but the fact that Masefield could be uncertain on such a point shows the unimportance it held in his eyes. The great advantage of a hero Martin's age (not more than 13) is that he does not have to marry his heroine at the end of the novel, always a notable anticlimax in Masefield's books – especially Sard Harker. Instead, the event can be put off, and Aurelia remain an elusive, sylphlike figure, around whom the fantasies of youth can twine at will.
Masefield's clear attempt to justify the romantic implausibility of his hero's adventures with slices of more-or-less unvarnished realism: 'You don't know what an adventurous life is. I will tell you. It is a life of sordid unquiet, pursued without plan, like the life of an animal' (Masefield, 1930, p.165), tends, unfortunately, merely to confuse our perception of the narrator's viewpoint. One must admit that Martin lacks a very pronounced character in any case and these contradictory impulses of romance and verisimilitude serve merely to muddle our view of him even further, instead of combining to form a more emotionally consistent attitude towards a series of events. One applauds the effort – and approves of the theory – but, in practice, this attempt to transform the traditional boys' book into something more psychologically plausible could not be said to have been successful. Masefield had ended up simply writing another boys' book on the old model combining historical instruction with a vivid narrative.
Martin Hyde still remains unusually rich for a novel in that tradition, however. As a whole, it is undoubtedly more successful than either of his earlier novels – and the bizarre suggestiveness of some of Masefield's detail and conversation is in itself almost a justification for the book. The term 'Mogador Jack', referring to a strap to beat boys with, recurs throughout the book – in the mouths of various speakers – almost like a Wagnerian leitmotif: "'Mogador Jack," he said, "'e don't like people follerin' 'im'" (Masefield, 1965, p.155). There is also an extensive episode where Martin, out scouting for the army, is caught by an almost sub-human ruffian, who imprisons him in a rabbit-hole under the ground. There the two of them have a most instructive and profitable conversation:
'I am a servant of the Duke riding out to look for the militia.'
'Ah,' he said. ' Are yer, cocky? 'Ow'm I to know that?'
'Well,' I said, 'look at my hands. Are they the hands of a farmer?'
'No,' he said. 'No, Mister stuck-up flunkey, they ain't. I s'pose yer proud of yer 'ands. I'll 'ave yer wait at table on me.' He seemed to like the notion: for he repeated it many times, while he dug out hunks of cold ham with his file, from the meat which I had felt as I crawled in.
''Ow proud I dig
A 'unk a cold pig'
he sang, as he gulped the pieces down. It was partly a nightmare, partly very funny. (Masefield, 1965, p.153)
The only word for the imagination that created this sort of thing is "zany".
In his next novel, A Book of Discoveries, Masefield abandoned the somewhat restrictive format of the traditional boys' adventure story for a narrative set in the present day – in the heart of England – and without the traditional appurtenances of romance (pirates, smugglers, or international spies). There is not even a heroine – or even a prominent female character. Indeed, one could perhaps best describe the book as a fictionalized series of lectures – on history, the wonders of nature, archaeology, ship-building, and all the other 'discoveries' that surround us:
'They may say what they like about discovery,' he added, 'but the wonderful discoveries lie under our noses all the time, if we only had the sense to make them.' (Masefield, 1910a, p.354)
It is a little difficult to give a plot-summary, since there is, in fact, little plot to summarize; so little that most of Masefield's bibliographers have failed to notice that it is a novel, and have classified it instead under 'Miscellaneous Prose'. However, the story tells of two young boys, Mac and Robin Shenstone, who go exploring one day onto the nearby estate of Mr. Hampden – an almost mythically wild piece of "unspoiled England". Hampden finds them there, but instead of scolding them for trespassing invites them to tea and shows them his collection of model boats; all the while talking to them in a manner half ferocious, half jocular:
'You' – here he turned to Robin – 'what's your name? Robin? – Robbin' Hen-roosts, or Robbin' Birds'-nests, or Robbin' Mail-bags? What! None of them? Plain Robin Red-breast? Well! Be off with you, and get some dry sticks.' (Masefield, 1910a, p.58)
They come back next day, at his invitation, and he shows them a coracle and a dugout, and teaches them how to use them. Mr. Hampden keeps up a constant flood of information about aborigines, evolution, flint axes, and ancient Britons – and concludes with a potted history of trade in the Mediterranean (from Jonah to the Phoenicians to 'Pharaoh Neco').
The next major section of the book deals with a camping trip to 'Brown Willy' ('ancient British', we are informed, 'for "Highest Hill'" (p.3)), a Maiden Castle-like earthwork within a few miles of where they live. Mr. Hampden arrives there first, and there is a spirited account of a turf-fight between him and the two boys, but they soon get down to more serious speculations about archaeology, woad, Romans etc. After a good deal of this, we suddenly switch forward four weeks to the village bazaar – where a model of 'Brown Willy' made by the boys and a case full of excavated artefacts are exhibited, and prove a great success (though a set of 'woad'-stained handkerchiefs is rather less of a draw!).
A few weeks after their return from camp, Mr. Hampden proposes that the boys learn map-making, beginning with a chart of a small section of the river which flows past their house into his estate. This activity (described by Masefield in loving detail) inspires Hampden to tell them the long story of how he was shipwrecked as a young man, and finally rescued by the efforts of 'an elderly lady – a very good, energetic soul – a great friend of mine' (Masefield, 1910a, p.321). While charting the river, Mac and Robin have noticed a small hole in a nearby cliff. This interests their mentor greatly, and, after dredging up some debris from the water underneath the hole, he decides they should investigate further. An entrance to the cave is finally found from the bluff above the river, and inside they uncover a number of interesting flints and inscriptions, and also the remains of a Roman pay-chest, surrounded by small heaps of money. The book ends with Mr. Hampden's comment: 'I think this is the most wonderful of our discoveries' (p.354) (though I doubt that a professional archaeologist would approve of his proposal that they 'Keep it very secret for the present We'll all three set to work at once on the contents of this cave, and write a book about what we find' (p.354)).
This book seems to me to have been prompted by at least two identifiable stimuli. The basic structure – that of two children being instructed by a single omniscient teacher recalls not so much Plato's Dialogues as Rudyard Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill, published a few years before in October 1906. Kipling's book, like Masefield's, is written in the third person, and consists of a series of tales told by historical figures summoned up by Shakespeare's 'Puck' (or 'Robin Goodfellow' – 'the oldest Old Thing in England' (Kipling, 1957, p.8)) to educate the two children, Dan and Una, in the "spirit" of the land. Kipling writes of the genesis of the book:
You see how patiently the cards were stacked and dealt into my hands? The Old Things of our Valley glided into every aspect of our outdoor works. Earth, Air, Water and People had been – I saw it at last – in full conspiracy to give me ten times as much as I could compass, even if I wrote a complete history of England, as that might have touched or reached our Valley. (Kipling, 1937, pp.186-87)
One suspects (though I have no direct proof) that Masefield must have read Puck of Pook's Hill. Although he disapproved of Kipling's poetry, he also credited him with 'some of the best short stories ever written'. In any case, whether he did or not, Masefield's book, like Kipling's, is unmistakably designed to give a sense of the history and continuity of England, from the Romans – and before them – to the present day:
'There's Wyse House. It was besieged in the Civil Wars. You can sometimes find cannon-balls in the moat, all smashed in with hitting the stones.' (Masefield, 1910a, p.29)
Masefield shares his interest in Phoenicians and tin-mining not only with Kipling, but with E. Nesbit, whose Story of the Amulet (1906) attempted to awaken children to the wonders of the great civilizations of Babylon, Egypt and 'Atlantis'. C. S. Lewis wrote of it: 'It first opened my eyes to antiquity, the "dark backward and abysm of time". I can still re-read it with delight' (1955, p.21). Masefield, then, can be seen to be in a firm Edwardian tradition of educating children in the spirit as well as the letter of history.
A Book of Discoveries was illustrated by Gordon Browne (the son of Hablot K. Browne, Dickens's 'Phiz'), a prominent children's artist of the time; and his pictures, which show the two boys, Robin and Mac, dressed in something very like Boy Scout uniforms, provide the other clue to the book's genesis. Baden-Powell's first, experimental camp for boys was held on 'Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour in July and August 1907' (Quayle, 1973, p.124), and was followed by the publication of Scouting for Boys in 1908. Boys' writers were quick to exploit the new trend; and one of the first to do so, John Finnemore, explained the appeal offered by the new organization in the preface to his The Wolf Patrol (1908):
In its dress, its drill, its games, its objects, it jumps perfectly with the feelings of the boy who adores Robinson Crusoe, Chingachcook the Last of the Mohicans, Jim Hawkins, who sailed to Treasure Island, buccaneers, trappers of the backwoods, and all who sit about camp fires in lonely places of the earth ... it is a foe to none save the snob, the sneak, and the toady ... The movement is a peace movement pure and simple, and its only object is to make a boy hardy and strong, honest and brave, a better man, and a better citizen of a great Empire. (Quayle, 1973, p.124)
Masefield was never a jingo, and he might not have agreed with all of the above; but it seems likely that the possibilities of an organization devoted to "healthy" outdoor pursuits stimulated his imagination – and helped to inspire the 'brigade of news-boys' in The Street of To-Day (as discussed in Chapter Four), as well as the activities of Mac and Robin. However, the fact remains that the two boys are not officially Boy Scouts, despite the illustrations – and one wonders if Masefield did not feel a trifle uneasy with the unabashed imperialism and militarism of the new organization; despite Finnemore's claims that: 'the Boy-Scout movement is no friend to militarism in any shape or form, and the murmur is only heard on the lips of people who have never looked into the matter, and never read the Scout Law' (Quayle, 1973, p.124). In any case, its alleged affinity with 'Robinson Crusoe, Chingachcook the Last of the Mohicans, Jim Hawkins' and so on, would certainly have appealed to him.
A Book of Discoveries has been praised highly by Professor G. Wilson Knight, but this appears to be mainly because Masefield has (apparently), in one passage (pp.155-6) accurately described the feelings of someone undergoing 'astral projection': 'A remarkable passage on crashing death followed by release and thoughts of ascending flight' (1971, p.278):
With the picture of the falling came the delight of being aloft. They felt that they had only to leap into the air, spreading their arms, to find themselves flying. Surely flight is a matter of faith. If one leapt into the air, head back, arms out, straining to the blue, upward, upward, the air would sustain. (Masefield, 1910a, pp.155-56)
Not being qualified to comment on such matters, I shall be forced to confine myself to the more mundane assessment by Margery Fisher; who, in her Bodley Head Monograph on Masefield, says of the book:
It has been out of print for many years and I am afraid it will be tantalising when I suggest that it is as basic for children as Bevis or Two Little Savages. It is an energetic, joyous book, written out at memories of childhood ... The delights of exploring and making things, in a boys world, have seldom been better described.
(Fisher, 1963, pp.9-10)
Margery Fisher first read the book in childhood: 'In the year of my ninth birthday we went to live in the South Island of New Zealand, and in an environment of city streets or yellow tussock plains, the steady pictorial Englishness of this book came to mean a great deal to me' (p.9); and, in my opinion, this has a lot to do with her positive assessment of it. Faults of overall structure are the least likely to be noticed by children, who tend to become totally gripped by the incidents and atmosphere of a book, without noticing whether it is shapeless or elegantly planned. Of course, it is no great dispraise of a children's story to say that it appeals most of all to children; but the fact remains that, while one reads A Book of Discoveries with enjoyment, there is always also a sense of frustration at its lack of apparent purpose.
The book seems, indeed, like a vehicle for as many as possible of Masefield's idées fixes. The magnificent wooded estate and rich possessions of Mr. Hampden are obviously the sort of thing that Masefield himself would have liked to own. Hampden, like Masefield, was once a sailor before the mast; but has since travelled all over the world, and is now "rediscovering" England. Masefield attempts to disguise the idyllic nature of this day-dream with the "hardness" of the information Hampden hands out. Nevertheless, his speculations on evolution, for example, are unlikely to be of permanent educational value:
we know, from some skulls which have been found, that man was once a great deal more like a great ape than he is at present. And many things tend to show that all existing forms of life are adapted and generally improved from earlier, less complex forms. Man certainly sprang from some type more brutish than any now existing. And that's as far as I can go (Masefield, 1910a, pp.71-72).
However, even allowing for this "built-in obsolescence" in a novel of instruction, Mr. Hampden's style of lecturing seems often to defeat the basic purposes of the fictional form:
Xenophon, in his 'OEconomicus,' praises the beautiful order of a big Phoenician ship which he saw at Athens. He makes it clear that even then ships were fitted 'with many machines to oppose hostile vessels, many weapons for the men, all the utensils for each company that take their meals together,' besides the freight of merchandise, and the men themselves. Yet all these things, he says, 'were stowed in a space not much larger than is contained in a room that holds half a score dinner-couches.' How big do you suppose that would be, eh? (Masefield, 1910a, p.89)
There is something a little poignant about the personalizing touch at the end – as if the whole mass, quotations and all, would turn into conversation magically at the touch of an 'eh'! It does, I am afraid, rather recall Kingsley Amis's argument for the necessity of institutions of formal learning:
The swapping of arguments over a glass of beer can be, I have suggested, a most valuable supplement to formal teaching, but it is no substitute for it. And to reach for the text during a chat among friends ('it just so happens that I have my Paradise Lost with me. Now if you'll glance at the passages I've marked near the beginning of the Sixth Book ... ') is something we are right not to do or to tolerate in others (Amis, 1972, p.201).
What Masefield is trying to do is clear enough, however - he is using the boys as representatives of the romantic, credulous side of his own nature; and Mr. Hampden as the inhibiting censor. Thus, in a passage like the following, the image-making fantasy about the information is the boys' – while Mr. Hampden remains the dispassionate purveyor of material:
'Are Britons any good to you?'
'Yes,' the boys exclaimed. 'Are there Britons still?' They had a moment's wild hope that, by staying up late, they might conceivably, somewhere, see a few woaded creatures, slinking from dens on the hills to rob a hen-roost, and slinking back, silent as the grave, furtive, going in Indian file, dodging from tree to tree out of the moonlight, leaving no footmarks, stealthier than animals, dreading the sun. Surely there might be some still.
'No,' said Mr. Hampden; 'but we'll have a look at one of their old towns, if you like.' (Masefield, 1910a, pp.104-5)
One cannot but feel impressed at the ingenuity of this attempt by Masefield to reconcile the romantic and realistic aspects of his character, and achieve artistic synthesis by pitting them against each other. The basic idea of the book – awakening children to the potential wonders of the world about them – is also a good one, but the actual discoveries which these children make are absurdly unrealistic; a prehistoric cave full of Roman coins, for example. Similarly, one feels that Mr. Hampden is perhaps in too ideal a situation (the owner of a slice of wilderness in the heart of the English countryside) to serve as a representative "Socrates".
Nevertheless, whatever criticisms of it one feels compelled to make, the book remains a charming, if slightly formless, idyll of the "outdoor" life. One feels that Masefield is right to leave girls entirely out of the picture (as Margery Fisher puts it, it is set entirely 'in a boys' world'), since they could only serve to distract him from his objectives – he was never very good at portraying them in any case. Some of the slang in the book is interesting ('Look out, you donk!' (Masefield, 1910a, p.67), for example). It sounds a little unlikely – but Masefield (like Bernard Shaw's Shakespeare in The Dark Lady of the Sonnets) was just the sort of person to note down such unusual turns of phrase in a little book for future use.
I love stories. I prefer them to be touched with beauty and strangeness. I like them to go on for a long time, in a river of narrative; and I like tributaries to come in upon the main stream, and exquisite bays and backwaters to open out, into all of which the mind can go exploring after one has learned the main stream. (Masefield, 1944, p.13)
One could hardly ask for a more exact prescription for Lost Endeavour – Masefield's third book for boys, and the one which I propose to treat at greatest length – than this comment in a late essay. Masefield can never have been more conscious of the dangers of making his book 'a mere precept in narrative – a fatal defect, to my thinking, in tales for the young, or for the old' (as Thomas Hardy put it), than after just completing the somewhat overdidactic A Book of Discoveries. It was richness of detail, above all, that Nasefie1d was now aiming for – that, and another attempt at combining those two disparate urges of his nature: romanticism and realism (or, if you prefer, credulity and scepticism).
Lost Endeavour begins as the first-person narrative of a boy, Charles Harding, who is a pupil at 'an academy for the Sons of Gentlemen' (Masefield, 1910b, p.9), in the year 1690. One day he is sent on an errand by the headmaster, Dr. Carter, and is given a 'Protection' to show if he is stopped by the press-gang. On his way back he meets one of the masters from the school, Teodoro Mora, or 'Little Theo' (as he is nicknamed): 'Spanish by birth, French by education, and English by choice – a mixture of three good things' (p.13). Returning together, they are inveigled into an inn by an old woman, and are there knocked down and overpowered by her accomplices. Charles' 'Protection' turns out to be a banker's draft (Dr. Carter had made a mistake); and the gang determines to sell the two of them into slavery in Virginia to prevent word of this windfall getting out.
Charles's pleas for mercy to the slaver Captain are in vain, and he is shipped overseas with Little Theo, who has not yet fully recovered from his blow on the head. As a consequence of Theo's indisposition, Charles is sold first, to a settler in Virginia, and Theo is taken off to Jamaica.
For two years Charles works for his new master, 'a rough-looking customer named Carteret' (p.46), and becomes an accomplished woodsman. One day he is sent on an errand by Carteret, but is waylaid en route by a group of smugglers, who prove (rather improbably) to be led by none other than his old friend Little Theo. Charles is forced to join them, against his will: 'I had been a slave for two years, and something of the slave soul was in me ' (p.65); and helps them to defend their camp against a band of marauding Indians throughout a long night of terror and darkness. On reaching their ship the next day they discover that the Captain and the rest of the crew have gone off with all the supplies, leaving them only the ship itself. They set sail just in time to escape from the Sheriff, who is coming to arrest them for smuggling. 'Part First' of the book: 'Charles Harding's Story', ends with Charles being sent up the mast to keep a look-out for submerged rocks.
Part Second: 'Little Theo's Story', 'is the story of Theo's doings from the time ne was trepanned until he met Charles Harding in Virginia. It is told as he told it to Dick [one of the smugglers] and Charles Harding' (p.115). Theo talks in a strange, poetic vein – half native mysticism, half "foreignness" – '"Buenos dias," I said to him. "Come and be killed, O bull. I have here a beautiful bullet for you'" (p.133), but the gist of what he has to say is as follows:
He too was sold into slavery but was left free to go after his master, a doctor and healer, died. He set out for the sea, where he saved a group of men from shipwreck by his quick thinking (supernaturally-aided, according to him). He then formed the men into a band, and after they had found a deserted ship they all became traders together.
On board the ship, Theo discovered the personal effects of a certain 'Lorenzo O'Neill', who appears to have made a detailed study of the Indians and their traditions. Theo attempted to puzzle out the meanings of the signs which O'Neill recorded (perhaps he was a distant ancestor of the mysterious 'John O'Neill', in Multitude and Solitude).
One day, when hunting alone in the woods, Theo stumbled on a village of strange, unhispanicized Indians. His knowledge of O'Neill's signs made them decide not to kill him – and their high priest, Nicolai (with vaguely-sketched ulterior motives) greeted him as the "white god" come to be King over them. Theo spent months studying magic and Indian lore, and was then taken for his final initiation to their sacred island of priests.
On landing on the island, Theo first waited a little (his rowers had departed at once and left him there), and then, finding no welcoming committee, started to search for the temple. He made a massive search – through jungle, swamp, and sheer rock-face – until he finally discovered the path that O'Neill had described. The temple, however, was empty – and the priests were all dead.
Half-mad from hunger and disappointment, Theo climbed down again to the shore, and was there picked up by some pirates. The temple was full of gold, but Theo did not want it desecrated, so he refused to confide in the pirate Captain. This brings us up to date, for this is the very Captain who has just sailed off to ransack the island, leaving Theo and the others to the tender mercies of the Sheriff.
Part Third is, again, 'Charles Harding's Story'. A frigate pursues the pirates and nearly catches up with them; but they manage to evade her when darkness falls. The respite is only temporary, however – the pirate ship is leaking badly, and they only escaped before because the frigate was half-rigged when it received the summons to pursue them. Dick, Theo's deputy, resolves on a bold stroke. They sail the ship's boat into the harbour where the frigate's supplies are kept, and, after stealing enough for themselves, leave the whole garrison in confusion.
This saves them for the moment, but they are now forced to endure a long voyage almost without food and water. After capturing a ship which has strayed across their path, the crew want to go to Tortuga to get drunk. Theo refuses, as they are now very close to his island, and the crew mutinies. Theo, Charles, and Dick are all marooned on the far end of Tortuga, and the rest of the men sail off.
The three of them walk to 'Port-of-peace', and upon their arrival promptly steal a ship. When they reach Theo's island, however, the place is in ruins – the pirates have been and gone – all is 'lost endeavour'. Dick finally suggests that they attempt to mine the iron which is undoubtedly present on the island, and they sail off to file a claim on it.
Once again Masefield has split his nature in two for the purposes of this narrative. On the one hand he is the cautious, unbelieving boy, Charles, who is afraid of the possible consequences of his actions and is by no means enamoured of "adventures". On the other, he is the mystical, overblown Theo: a poet with words, whose sanity and veracity – are deliberately called into question every time he appears.
Let us begin, then, by examining the segment of the novel which deals with Charles Harding (and which is, indeed, almost a novel in its own right). Charles is a far more sensitive and vulnerable hero than, say, Martin Hyde; and Masefield relies on the exotic romance of his surroundings – jungles, ruins, virgin forest, and pirate ships – to supply a feeling of excitement and adventure which Charles is unwilling to acknowledge. He is, in fact, extremely fond of making comments like:
In those days one shunned a sailor, as a sort of rough bear without a soul, who had somehow escaped hanging. Afterwards, when I came to mix with sailors, I found that people were right about them. (Masefield, 1910b, p.12)
One suspects that it is Masefield, more than his character, who rejoices at these rough reversals of our natural expectations – Charles means his words to be taken literally. Speaking of life in the woods, he says:
that was a wild, exciting, Red Indian kind of a life; but in doing it for a living one sees only the labour and the dirty, wet discomfort. I did not like it. For you may say what you like about the open air. I say that man was made for something nobler than the gutting of fish, and the hanging them up to dry when gutted. (Masefield, 1910b, p.48)
It is not so much that Charles is a "wet blanket", as that he is responding naturally and believably to an intolerable situation: 'I was continually homesick ... whenever I was by myself. I was worrying about my father, and longing for the talk of an English lady. Recollect that we were far away in the wilds, twenty-five miles from another settler' (p.48). Charles, unlike Martin Hyde, is not responsible for his own predicament; and – also unlike Martin – his reactions to it are consistent. He hates his new life, but is determined to make the best of it:
My task now, I saw, was to make what I could of myself under the new conditions, at present so strange and hateful to me. I remembered some advice given to me by my father upon my first going to school. He had told me to make very sure that I impressed folk favourably at a first meeting by answering smartly and clearly, acting willingly, and taking care of my appearance. (Masefield, 1910b, p.40)
This seems, for once, a fully imagined situation. No longer is Masefield merely giving his readers precepts for behaviour through the medium of his characters; now he is using his own experience of hardship and suffering as a young man at sea to illustrate, not generalized human nature, but the reactions of one particular character. If, however, his juvenile readers choose to overhear, then they are welcome to do so.
Still more poignant and believable, perhaps, are Charles's fears that 'In a little while I should be too old for any profession. I should be a wasted life, untaught and boorish. I should be but a daily labourer, while boys below me at Dr. Carter's would be filling honoured posts, advancing the world's thought and their country's dignity' (p.238). Not one of his companions – not even Theo – can sympathize with him in these feelings, or even understand his plight; but it is, nevertheless, the truth underlying all Jim Hawkins-style day-dreams about the "Spanish Main".
Lost Endeavour is, in fact, almost a Treasure Island as Masefield felt it ought to be. The parallels are very close – even down to the actual treasure on an island – but Masefield is concerned to show what such a life might actually have been like to experience. None of his villains are likeable – unlike 'Long John Silver' – and his pirates in particular are brutal ruffians and animals. Nor is the inn where the story starts at all like the 'Admiral Benbow'; but is, instead:
one of those squalid dens 'where sot meets sot in beery beastliness.' A drunkard inside somewhere was talking to the pot-boy about a main of cocks, in which one called Jouncer had killed the other. (Masefield, 1910b, p.20)
It is characteristic of Masefield that this overheard snatch of conversation should not be about a treasure-map, or some other matter which will prove to be of vital concern a little later in the story; but instead a drunken, half-incomprehensible monologue about something of little interest to the speaker and even less to his hearers. Atmosphere is everything in Masefield's novel – and he had an unrivalled talent for conveying a feeling of futile, mindless nastiness in squalid surroundings. A thousand touches go to make it up – small, exactly-observed details: 'that smell of candle-grease and hot metal which a lantern gives out when it has burnt for a long time' (p.30); or scraps of speech, reported with imaginative precision:
'Guzzling 'og,' said the old crone. 'Nor I won't wait.' (p.37)
'You drink like Sunday Jack, who broke the brewer,' he said (p.38).
There is, of course, such a thing as being too harrowing - especially for a boys' book; but Masefield allowed for that, too. Masefield's revision of Treasure Island is operating on two levels: one in the direction of greater realism and verisimilitude – Charles Harding's story; and the other attempting to provide a model for greater vividness and corporality in children's fantasy – Little Theo's story. Masefield's jungle is not simply cribbed from a boys' encyclopedia and dressed up with alligators and parrots; instead it is:
All a wilderness of green things, a chaos of vegetables. No, it is not a chaos, it is a world of the most exquisite order. Every leaf is turned so as to catch life from its surroundings; the greatest and sweetest and fittest kind of life, either of sun or air or water. Not a blossom, not a twig, not a fruit there but has striven, I will not say with its whole intellect, but with its whole nature, to make of itself the utmost possible, and to give to itself in its brief life a deeper crimson, a more tense, elastic toughness, a finer sweetness and odour. Ah! the life that goes on there, the abundant torrent of life, the struggle for beauty and delicacy. Tell me of your cities. I tell you of the garden and the orchard, where life is not a struggle for wealth, but for nobleness of form and colour. Ah! that forest. It was cool within there, out of the sun, so cool that it was like walking in a well; a dim, cool, beautiful well, full of pale green water from the sea. The flowers called to me: 'I am crimson,' 'I am like a pearl,' 'I am like sapphires.' The fruits called to me that they tasted like great magical moons. (Masefield, 1910b, pp.122-23)
There is a certain numinous rapture in this which is new not only in boys' literature, but in Masefield's own work. Never before had he come so close to embodying his notion that everything in the physical universe is a mere figure or "type" of greater, unimaginable realities elsewhere. And to confine this revelation to the middle section narrated by the mystic Theo (the Greek roots of whose name are not very far to seek) – who sees everything in its eternal relationship as a matter of course – was a stroke of pure genius:
When I say that I dreamed I express myself badly. I should say that I woke up into a new and vivid life, more splendid than this, a life of in tenser colour and finer ecstasy, in a world conducted by another intelligence and governed by other laws. It was, as I suppose, the real world, of which this world is nothing but the passing shadow. (Masefield, 1910b, pp.202-3)
It was a stroke of genius because it allowed Masefield to go all out for the utmost reaches of surrealistic intensity without forcing him to claim belief in what his character says. Theo is, of course, his spokesman; but then so is Charles:
The sight of him set me wondering again whether that story of his could be true, in any part of it. It was a wild, improbable story, the story of a madman; and yet I heard the sailors talking of very strange secrets possessed by the Indians, and of the magic practised by them, so that at last I think that something of the man's enthusiasm took hold of me ... And though this belief wavered in me, like the sea at slack water, it kept cropping up. Perhaps he was mad, perhaps he was wise ... Could it all be an invention, or the result of sunstroke, or something hideously remembered from one of the dreams that come in fever? (Masefield, 1910b, pp.292-93)
Charles is not wilfully sceptical – but he cannot accept such things on trust, unquestioningly. Masefield, too, would like to believe that dreams give us the entry into a world of Platonic archetypes, and that there is 'some secret, long-forgotten by the white races, but still potent to bring the human soul into easier communion with the powers, whatever they might be' (p.293) – but he cannot be sure. And therefore Masefield supplies comments like the following, to be uttered with as much conviction as their direct opposites:
Enough wickedness and violence had gone on in that ship for it to be haunted by evil things, such as they say walk in old castles at night. It is all nonsense, of course; no one ever sees such things; one fears darkness because one cannot see what is in it. (Masefield, 1910b, p.242)
Masefield also knows, however, that there must be an element of threat, of danger, to give Theo's mystical raptures their full effect. It is not enough for the jungle to be a living, breathing entity; it must also be forbidding to men – threatening all who dare enter it with spiritual, as well as physical peril:
I thought that the trees were spirits laughing at me, amused by my puniness even as I sliced them aside. Another thing which I felt was this: that I was in the midst of an abominable spawn of life; that vegetable life was all round me in horrible pulpy wealth; and that it was a question which should win – I with my wits and machete, or it with its juice and rottenness ... Behind me was laughing forest, before me was crouched, attentive, watching forest. I believe that the forest was watching me, to see how I should cross that road ... What the world needs is a roaring bonfire to destroy those things; a forest-fire fanned by a trade-wind. (Masefield, 1910b, pp.184-85)
We have been told by no less an authority than Kingsley Amis of the necessity for detail in boys' literature:
A gunboat in a well-written boys' book can't be just a gunboat, it must be (say) of the Zulu class with five 4.7s arranged in two pairs-for'ard and aft and a single one amidships, not, again, just to be believable or because we like guns, but also so that the gunboat shall be fully there. (Amis, 1966, p.112)
It might be claimed that Masefield has somewhat violated this rule in certain passages where he resolutely refuses to be specific:
'Please,' you say, interrupting. 'Is there really any truth in magic?
'Magic?' I answer. 'Truth? A measure of it – yes. It is as true as pagan religion, and no truer. I sometimes think that it is a trick of the imagination; and at other times that it is more than that, but not much more. It is mostly a matter of secret rites and incantations, demanding, like other religious practice, a sincere faith ... Some of the results are – you would not believe. You could not without knowing. But I tell you that if I had here certain precious colours, and some rare gums, and a sacred metal, I would bring before you visibly in this ship's cabin – There – I cannot tell you what, but something wonderful in mystical shape and beauty. (Masefield, 1910b, p.174)
An even more striking example of the same thing is the long build-up, through temples, priests, jungles, dreams and intuitions to Theo's discovery of – nothing; an empty temple and a few dead priests.
This is, of course, an anticlimax with a purpose. Masefield intends to imply that no discovery, however striking, could fulfil those rapturous expectations he has built up – that, in effect, a devastation full of bones can be a more echoing imaginative entity than any number of Rider Haggard-like lost cities of 'Kôr'. One may, of course, feel that Masefield has gone too far in this direction – that, disguise it as he might, the reason why he did not fulfil our expectations was because he could not. I think that Theo has an answer even to this objection, however:
There came to me something like a word spoken inside my brain, something which you, perhaps, would call an intuition or some other absurd name, such as the English delight to make for things which they do not understand. (Masefield, 1910b, p.165)
Masefield is attempting to convey something beyond the ordinary bounds of fiction – a certain intense impression which he cannot explain, but can only reconstruct, painstakingly, through the speeches of Theo. If we, like 'the English', demand a 'word' or a 'name' for it, it will disappear in front of our eyes. If, however, we are content to sit back and listen, we may gain some sense of what William Blake meant when he said:
If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. (Keynes, 1948, p.187)
Whether we accept this or not depends on how large a scope we are prepared to allow to a boys' adventure story. If, like Kingsley Amis, we look upon it merely as a vehicle for entertainment – in as effective a form as possible, of course, (as Chesterton put it: 'Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity' (Chesterton, 1922, p.21)); then we will be inclined to feel that Charles Harding's narrative goes as far in the direction of "adventure" as is allowable; and, what is more, is bolstered up with effective detail. Little Theo's story will then appear a long aberration – virtually extraneous to the book in which it is contained, and unable to be reconciled to traditional standards of structure. If, however, we allow it a larger scope, then this metaphysically-enlarged boys' story may come to seem Masefield's ideal medium – combining the clear structure of his models, Treasure Island and King Solomon's Mines, with the superior power of evocation of a proficient poet.
After the supernaturally-charged heightening of Part Second, the third part – again Charles's narrative – must seem a little disappointing. As in the other two parts, Masefield gives us a long "set-piece" description (undoubtedly one of the things he did best) – this time of the raid on the frigate's storage depot. One feels, however, that a little of the original impetus is gone. It is some measure of the care with which the book is constructed that Masefield places these little "show-cases" of his talent for portraying action so strategically. In part one it is the night-long struggle against the Indians – during which Charles has to creep out of the encampment and down to a creek to get some water, and then return through the midst of his nearly invisible opponents:
I raised myself upon my knees, to rest my cracking muscles before starting on this last lap. If you wonder at my doing so, you should try for yourself to crawl on hands and knees through a field of tussock grass, with forty pounds of water on your back. (Masefield, 1910b, p.87) (!)
In part two it is Theo's struggle to plait a rope out of creepers, get it to some men who are about to be shipwrecked, and use it to pull them to safety – all in about ten minutes of intense activity:
I say most solemnly that at times man's body is seized by spiritual powers stronger than himself; and then he laughs at dangers, flings them aside, tramples on them, stamps them under, destroys them. (Masefield, 1910b, p.126)
The ending of the book approaches inexorably, however, through the midst of a succession of sea-battles, chases, mutinies, and betrayals. When Theo finally reaches his island, the temple and its riches are gone – wantonly destroyed by the pirates. Masefield achieves a masterstroke with the letter which they have left behind them for their former Captain:
'Captain Theo,' it ran, 'your joss-house is smash-oh. We done it good with kegs of powder. You was a roten Cap. Smash-oh. We are havin good times.Sam, mr mr. Prins of Wals.
Bill. Govenor of Jamaica.
So long, you dago swot.' (Masefield, 1910b, pp.315-16)
It is all the malignity and stupidity of the world rolled into one comprehensive statement.
Lost Endeavour remains, finally, a rather difficult novel to assess. One could easily rebuke Masefield for breaking his story so neatly in two halves; and for lavishing so much of his attention and imaginative energy on certain seemingly unprofitable byways of the book (the 'tributaries' of the quotation at the beginning of this section). But then one might oneself incur the criticism of failing to examine an author's work in the light of his intentions for it.
This is almost the only one of Masefield's early novels which could be said to live up to these intentions; and, largely for that reason, I believe it to be the best of them. The division of Masefield's "practical" and "credulous" natures into Charles and Theo may be a little crude, but it is also functional – and I suspect it to be the only way of resolving such a dichotomy in a first-person narrative. In later novels, such as Sard Harker and Odtaa, dealing with much the same concerns, Masefield was helped by his choice of the third-person – which, of course, guarantees the presence of an authorial voice.
In George Orwell's famous essay on 'Boys' Weeklies', he defines their 'basic political assumptions' as 'two: nothing ever changes, and foreigners are funny' (Orwell, 1970, 1:516). As an illustration of this latter point, he appends the following list:
FRENCHMAN: Excitable. Wears beard, gesticulates wildly.
SPANIARD, MEXICAN etc.: Sinister, treacherous.
ARAB, AFGHAN etc.: Sinister, treacherous.
CHINESE: Sinister, treacherous. Wears pigtail.
ITALIAN: Excitable. Grinds barrel-organ or carries stiletto.
SWEDE, DANE etc.: Kind-hearted, stupid.
NEGRO: Comic, very faithful. (Orwell, 1970, 1:517)
If one were, however, to include the boys' books of John Masefield – written before 1914, and therefore, according to Orwell, 'sodden in the worst illusions of 1910' (p.531) one would have to alter the paradigm somewhat.
Assumptions: one, the world is dangerous, and adventures cost more in sorrow than they give back in excitement; two, foreigners – especially natives – are strange and hardly to be fathomed by mortal man. The single comment about Little Theo that he was 'Spanish by birth, French by education, and English by choice – a mixture of three good things' (Masefield, 1910b, p.13), disposes of any imputations of national prejudice almost at a stroke; and the endless speculation about Indians (especially) in Lost Endeavour shows Masefield rather despairing of learning their secrets, than considering himself in a position to judge them:
the Indians are a strange people. We do many things with many sides of our nature. They do a few things with their whole strength. Perhaps that is why they can do things we can never do. (p.166)
I will never again despise a savage. His way of life is not the way which I should choose for mine, but it at least gives him virtues and qualities which my way does not give to me. I am a better man than the savage among my own people; but away from my own people, among his surroundings, he is better than myself. I escaped that night, I suppose, because the Indian disdained to kill a boy who had shown a certain amount of nerve, and the want of it. (p.101)
Masefield does not patronize "natives"; he fears and respects them:
At last one of them ... began to play knucklebones by himself with great skill. It seemed a mad sort of a thing to do, and I did not like it, because I knew enough of the Indians to know that when they begin to do something which we think mad, they do something peculiarly Indian; and what is peculiarly Indian is often very horrible to us whites. (Masefield, 1910b, pp.164-65)
It is not so much that Orwell is wrong – he is, 1n any case, speaking of a much lower stratum of boys' literature, which undoubtedly includes the features he so succinctly anatomizes – but he is also using the term "Edwardian" more to represent a particular state of mind, than to refer to an actual era. It is true that writers like John Buchan and Rudyard Kipling were writing Conservative, "Empire-building" boys' books (although it would be difficult to characterize Kim in those terms) in the first decade of this century; but the period was also notable for a number of disturbed, introspective "adventure yarns", which often seemed to be questioning the basic postulates of the genre. I am thinking principally of the 'quap'-mining sections of H. G. Well's Tono-Bungay; or, more particularly, of his The First Men in the Moon, which shows the attitudes of colonialism being transported (fortunately unsuccessfully) to another planet by the narrator's xenophobia. Some of Joseph Conrad's early novels might also be classified in this light. Jim Davis is, however, perhaps Masefield's most markedly "anti-heroic" adventure story.
Jim Davis, John Masefield's fourth book for boys, was published in October 1911, a little apart from the rest of the group. It was the last of his pre-war novels, and the fact that it actually appeared after The Everlasting Mercy – Masefield's phenomenally successful long narrative poem, which first showed him 'what I could do' (Masefield, 1967, p.viii) – suggests a reason why he might have lost interest in it half-way through. This would explain a certain perfunctoriness about the ending (everyone's destiny is polished off in a paragraph); and the fact that it is only two-thirds the length of the other boys' books.
Once again, it is a traditional boys' book in form – told in the first person by the eponymous hero – and the action unfolds in an early nineteenth century Devonshire village. Predictably enough, given this setting, it is a story about smugglers. On the death of his parents, young Jim Davis (a little younger even than his predecessor Martin Hyde) goes to live with his aunt and uncle. On the journey to their house he stays for a night with 'a kind woman' (Masefield, 1956, p.11); who later, when he is twelve years old, comes to live with them. Her name is Mrs. Cottier, and she becomes almost a second mother to him.
One day Mrs. Cottier is late coming home because of a snow–storm, and Jim goes to look for her. On the way he is stopped by some riders, who threaten him with horrible reprisals if he tells anyone he has seen them. When he finds Mrs. Cottier they discuss the incident, and agree to keep quiet about it.
The next day Jim and Hugh (Mrs. Cottier's son) are waylaid by one of the smugglers, Marah Gorsuch, who hides them in a hut in the forest to prevent them from talking to the excise-men, who have come to visit their house. This is the prelude to a long series of meetings between the two boys and Marah.
It is therefore natural, when Jim sees two customs-men lying on the cliffs above the smugglers' cave, that ne should run and tell Marah. Jim develops pangs of conscience on hearing of the men's disappearance, however, and attempts to rescue them. He is, of course, caught – and is given the choice of joining them or dying. He never really agrees, but Marah signs his name on the smugglers' 'articles' for him.
Jim must now go on a 'trip' with them to make him as guilty as the others. There is a brief fight with some frigates on the way over to Brittany, but on the way back they are surprised by some customs men, and Jim and Marah only narrowly escape with their lives. Everyone agrees that there must be a traitor in their midst – and they soon settle on Mr. Cottier, the school-master, Mrs. Cottier's "unworthy" husband. They forbear to kill him, though (for Jim's sake), and merely sell him into slavery in the Spanish Navy for three years. Jim reflects:
I had never liked Mr. Cottier, but I felt a sort of pity for him. Then I felt that perhaps the discipline would be the making of him, and that, if he kept steady, he might even rise in the Spanish Navy, since he was a man of education. (Masefield, 1956, p.135)
Pious hopes, perhaps – but a trifle disconcerting to the reader.
On their next trip they are again surp~ised while landing contraband, and, although Jim and Marah get away in the boat, Marah is badly wounded. He eventually falls unconscious and the boat drifts on shore (since Jim cannot sail it). Having left Marah alone in the boat, Jim decides to set off for London to find the Lord Mayor, who he has heard is always good to people in distress. Before getting there, he stops briefly at an inn which is run by a smuggler's wife, who agrees to hide him, as the soldiers are on Jim's trail. The soldiers come and arrest her, however, and Jim is forced to set off again.
Finally he meets some gypsies, who – recognizing a certain sign which Marah (who seems to be some sort of gypsy himself) has traced on his forehead – take him in and keep him as much 'a prisoner as a pet' (Masefield, 1956, p.186). From this captivity he is rescued by Marah, who restores him to the bosom of his worrying family.
Jim Davis was by far the most successful commercially of Masefield's early boys' books – which is perhaps understandable because it is also the most conventional. Martin Hyde has been reprinted – but only in abridged form, with the excision of many of Masefield's little details and eccentricities (and the consequent complete distortion of his narrative flow). A Book of Discoveries was, I suspect, at once too "experimental" and too bound up with its own era to be resuscitated; and Lost Endeavour has to a large extent shared this neglect, even though it had the largest first edition of any of Masefield's pre-war novels. The original publishers, Nelson, have reprinted it on a number of occasions (unfortunately without dates or publication details), but it is now perhaps only distinguished by the ease with which copies can be found in second-hand shops. Jim Davis is the only one of them to be reprinted by Penguin books (as a 'Puffin'), and that only after a long career in the Longmans 'Heritage of Literature' series.
Jim Davis is really, in a sense, too exclusively a "boys book" to be of much interest in itself – and it may therefore be more profitable to consider it almost as an anthology of various of the themes isolated in our discussion of Masefield's novels until now.
First there is the theme of "realism" – which I have referred to above as "anti-heroism" – first adumbrated (in a confused form) in Martin Hyde; and then triumphantly transformed in Lost Endeavour. Jim, too, like Charles Harding, has little or no desire for "adventures", and is forced into them against his will:
I thought of Mims [Mrs. Cottier] waiting at home for me; and of the jolly tea-table, with Hoolie begging for toast and Hugh's face bent over his plate. The thought that I should never see them again set me ccying passionately – I cried as if my heart would break. (Masefield, 1956, p.89)
Jim may seem a bit of a cry-babY, but he is not a coward:
We ran on, terrified; and then Hugh's foot caught in a briar, so that he fell headlong with a little cry.
I turned at once to help him up, feeling like the doe rabbit, which turns (they say) against a weasel, to defend its young ones. It sounds brave of me, but it was not: I was scared almost out of my wits. (Masefield, 1956, p.35)
In fact, so accurately are Jim's reactions to his sufferings depicted, that at times the book becomes a little too poignant to bear. Jim's solitary march to London, to 'see the Lord Mayor' (p.158) is a case in point and I suspect that both Masefield and his readers rejoiced when he decided to bring the book to a swift conclusion (the structure of the narrative up to that point makes it seem likely that a great many more tribulations had been planned for poor Jim). There is no real leavening of 'romance' in the book. Even Marah, though an attractive figure, is hardly a trustworthy one:
I had never really liked the man – I had feared him too much to like him – but he had looked after me for so long, and had been, in his rough way, so kind to me, that I cried for him as though he were my only friend. (Masefield, 1956, p.151)
Jim Davis, in effect, reads almost like a tract against adventures.
The most successful element in the book, to my mind, is the clear strain of autobiography. Masefield, like Jim, was an orphan, and went to live with an aunt and uncle 'who were unresponsive to his needs. He never met anyone quite so ideal as Mrs. Cottier, of course – but the terms in which he describes her make it clear how much he would like to have done so:
It was pleasant to be travelling like that so late at night with Mrs. Cottier; I felt like a knight who had just rescued a princess from a dragon (Masefield, 1956, p.25).
'St. George', perhaps – Masefield's model for England.
'Jim,' she said, drawing me to her, 'I shall never forget to-night, nor the little friend who rode out to help me; I want you, after this, always to look on me as your mother – I knew your mother a little, years ago. Well, dear, try to think of me as you would of her, and be a brother to my Hugh, Jim: let us all three be one family.' She stooped down and kissed my cheek and lips. (Masefield, 1956, p.25)
I think, under the circumstances, we can forgive Masefield for selling Mrs. Cottier's wicked husband – who 'used to drink very hard' (p.14), and made her cry – into slavery in the Spanish Navy. We can also understand his identifying so closely with his hero's sufferings that he was unable (for once) to resist the lure of a happy ending.
In my discussion of this novel – and, indeed, of all of the novels which preceded it – I have been forced to dwell on what may seem both the best and the worst of Masefield. On the one hand, one must admit, Masefield is in no sense an "objective" novelist - the fortunes of his characters are always closely bound up with his own feelings. Indeed, one feels almost protective of Masefield – reluctant to disturb
his long-dead passions – when one observes the close link between some harrowing episode in a novel and an incident in his own life.
It would be wrong to take this as a final summation of Masefield the novelist, however. The man is dead but his novels live on, and it would be best to see Masefield's close personal involvement with his heroes (and heroines) in strictly functional terms, as sometimes a help and sometimes a hindrance to him. Nor is Masefield, essentially, a "confessional" novelist. The truly enduring quality of his fiction is its close attention to detail, imaginative as well as physical, in both the 'main stream' and the 'tributaries' (the 'exquisite bays and backwaters') of his stories; though this trait may be clearer in the later books (from 1923 on).
The episode of the 'night-riders' in Jim Davis is as good an example as any of what I mean. Their Captain 'wore a woman's skirt over his trousers; and his face was covered by one of those great straw bee-skeps, pierced with holes for his eyes and mouth. He was one of the most terrible things I have ever seen' (p.18). This is his speech to Jim:
'If you breathe so much as one word of what you've seen to-night – well – I shall know. D'ye hear? I shall know. And when I know – well your little neck'll go. There's poetry. That will help you remember –
'When I know,
Your neck'll go
He gave a sharp little twist of his hand upon my Adam's apple. (Masefield, 1956, p.19)
The little verse is worth quoting for its own sake – but note that Masefield did not leave it at that. When Jim arrived home:
I waited at the window for a few moments, wondering if the men would pass the house; I felt a horrible longing to see those huge and ghastly things in skirts and bee-skeps striding across the snow, going home from their night's prowl like skulking foxes (Masefield, 1956, p.27).
The simultaneous horror and attraction of adventure could hardly be better put.
1. The quotation is from Frank Richards' Autobiography.
2. Martin Hyde exists in a complete version and an abridged version. In order to give some idea of the material which was regarded as superfluous by the editor of the 'concise' edition - S. H. Burton, M.A. - in 1953, I have quoted all passages retained by him from the 'Longmans Heritage of Literature' text (Masefield, 1965). Only those which he has cut out, or altered in some way, are quoted from the complete Wells, Gardner, Darton & Co. version (Masefield, 1930) – which I have used as a final textual authority.
3. Fraser Drew classifies it as 'miscellaneous prose' (1973, p.237) – as does Babington Smith (1978, p.228). Charles H. Simmons calls it 'A book of stories for boys' (1930, p.28) – as does Geoffrey Handley-Taylor (1960, p.2). Margery Fisher calls it a 'story-book for children' (1963, p.65). It is, nevertheless, a novel – a loose one, perhaps, but emphatically not a 'book of stories', which would imply something quite different.
4. Quoted on the blurb of Kipling's Ten Stories (1947).
5. The quotation is (of course) from Shakespeare's Tempest I, ii, 50.
6. There is an interesting passage where Mr. Hampden asks the boys what they call their boat:
'We generally call her the Little Revenge. But sometimes we call her the –' He stopped, a little ashamed.
'The what?' said Mr. Hampden.
'The Pirate's Bride, sir,' said Robin.
Mac kicked him under the table for being an ass. (Masefield, 1910a, p.59)
Apparently it is the mere mention of a woman which embarrasses and upsets the boys.
7. From Thomas Hardy's remarks about his only boys' story, Our Exploits at West Poley, quoted in Purdy (1979, p.302).
[Frank R. Stockton: Buccaneers & Pirates of Our Coast]
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