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|Frederick Marryat (1792-1848)|
English naval officer, traveller, hero of the Napoleonic wars, whose novels became very popular in the first half of the 19th century and are still read. Marryat developed further the great tradition of adventure stories, established by Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and continued in the historical novels of Walter Scott, the Leatherstocking tales of James Fenimore Cooper, and later in the novels of C. S. Forester, Nicholas Monsarrat, and Patrick O'Brian. Also Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf and Herman Melville were fans of Frederick Marryat. Most of Marryat's tales of battles, storms, and shipwrecks drew on his own experiences at sea.
"We are all of us variously gifted from Above, and he who is content to walk, instead of to run, on his alloted path through life, although he may not so rapidly attain the goal, has the advantage of not being out of breath upon his arrival." (from Peter Simple, 1834)
Frederick Marryat was born in London into a large middle-class family. His father, Joseph Marryat, was a member of the Parliament. He also served as a colonial agent for the island of Grenada. The father of Charlotte von Geyer, Frederick's mother, was of German descent. Marryat was educated privately. A natural rebel, he disliked his tutors and school-masters and ran away from home several times. At Holmwood School at Ponder's End, near Enfield, his classmate was Charles Babbage, the future mathematician.
At the age of 14, in 1806, Marryat entered the Royal Navy. He first sailed as a midshipman on H.M.S. Impérieuse under Captain Lord Cochrane (1806-09) – to these experiences he also returned in his writings. "The Impérieuse sailed; the Admiral of the port was one who would be obeyed, but would not listen always to reason or common sense. The signal for sailing was enforced by gun after gun; the anchor was hove up, and, with all her stores on deck, her guns not even mounted, in a state of confusion unparalleled from her being obliged to hoist faster than it was possible she could stow away, she was driven out of harbour to encounter a heavy gale." Under Cochrane, whose character left marks on Marryat's heroes, he cruised along the coast of France, and saw some active service in the Mediterranean. Lord Cochrane was also the model for C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower.
During his career at sea, Marryat participated in many campaigns throughout the world. He served on the flagship Centaur in the Mediterranean in 1810, on the Aeolus and Spartan in the West Indies and off the coast of North America in 1811-12. Marryat served in the West Indies on the Espiègle. While serving as a lieutenant on the Newcastle, Marryat sailed off the coast of North America. In 1815 he was appointed Commander. To guard against any Bonapartist adventurer who might try to rescue Napoleon, he cruised on the sloop Beaver off St. Helena.
In 1819 Marryat married Catherine Shairp; they had four sons and seven daughters. Catherine's father was the British consul Sir Stephen Shairp, who has spent several years in Russia. According to some sources, Marryat was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society due to his skill in drawing caricatures. After the death of Napoleon in 1821, he took a sketch of him in full profile, which was engraved in England and France. Apparently suffering from dysentry, he was unable to continue sailing and he returned to England for a period.
Married life did not motivate Marryat to stray on land. Between 1820 and 1822 he was involved in suppression of Channel smuggling. Later as a writer he displayed some sympathy for smugglers who ran cargoes of brandy from Cherbourgh, the centre of the trade, to the coast of Hampshire and Dorsetshire. He then served in the First Burmese War and was in 1824 a Senior Naval Officer at Rangoon, and commanded an expedition up the Bassein River. In 1825 Marryat was appointed Captain of the Tees. He commanded Ariadne in the Atlantic service and retired in 1830 with a Captain's rank.
From 1832 to 1835 Marryat edited the Metropolitan Magazine, in which several of his novels came out. In 1836 he lived in Brussels. After two years in Canada and the United States (1837-39), he recorded his impressions in A Diary in America (1839). Having an accurate eye for small details, Marryat noted in a travel diary that the dental hygiene of the ordinary Americans was still very poor. He also complained that a gentleman could not rent a carriage on Sundays in Lexinton, Kentucky, because slaves rented them all for their own pleasure.
From 1839 to 1843 Marryat lived in London in the circle of such writers as Clarkson Stanfield, Samuel Rogers, and Charles Dickens. After a life at sea and publishing books, Marryat settled finally in Langham, Norfolk, where he spent his days farming and writing. His handwriting was so small that his copyreaders had to leave pins in his manuscripts when they stopped reading in order to find their place later.
During his last years Marryat had health problems and the news of his son's death destroyed his own chances of recovery. He died in Langham, Norfolk, on August 9, 1848. His daughter Florence Marryat (1838-1899) became a popular writer. She also worked as a lecturer, operatic singer, and comedienne. In 1872 she published the Life and Letters of her father. "Although not handsome," Florence Marryat wrore, "Captain Marryat's personal appearance was very prepossessing. In figure he was upright and broad-shouldered for his height, which measured 5ft. 10in... The character of his mind was borne out by his features, the most salient expression of which was the frankness of an open heart."
Marryat's first novel, The Naval Officer (1829), was narrated by Frank Mildmay, whose rapid rise in the ranks of the Royal Navy followed the author's own career. "I was frank, generous, quick, and mischievous, and I must admit that a large portion of what sailors call "devil" was openly displayed," the hero confesses. In the following works Marryat's protagonist's often were troubled young rascals, who mature during their adventures. "I would rather write for the instruction, or even the amusement of the poor than for the amusement of the rich," Marryat once said, "and I would sooner raise a smile or create an interest in the honest mechanic or agricultural labourer who requires relaxation, than I would contribute to dispel the ennui of those who loll on their couches and wonder in their idleness what they shall do next."
Among Marryat's best-known works for adults are Mr. Midshipman Easy (1836), The Kings Own (1830), Newton Forster (1832), Peter Simple TER (1834), and Jacob Faithful (1834). The Phamtom Ship (1839) was based on the famous legend of the Flying Dutchman. A number of authors have retold it from different ponts of view and Richard Wagner used in his opera Der Fliegende Hollander. One of the most ambitious but unfinished adaptation's was Nicholas Monsarrat's (1910-1979) the Master Mariner sequence Running Proud (1978) and Darken Ship (1980). In Marryat's melodramatic work the protagonist is the Dutchman's son, who tries to save his father with the fragment of the True Cross.
In the 1840s Marryat turned to write children's books, mainly because they usually sold well. Masterman Ready (1841), inspired by Johann Wyss' The Swiss Family Robinson (1812-13), it depicted realistically the family Seagrave's life on a deserted island after a shipwreck. Other children's books included Settlers in Canada (1844), owing much to Cooper's stories of North American Indians, The Mission (1845), and The Children of the New Forest (1847), a historical novel set in the times of Cromwell and Civil War. The central characters are Royalists, but the Parliamentary superintendent and his daughter are portrayed with equal sympathy. His last novel, The Little Savages (1848-49), a Robinsonnade about a young boy and a sailor, was completed by Frank S. Marryat. Mr Midshipman Easy, a sea adventure set in the time of the Napoleonic Wars, was filmed in 1935 by Carol Reed. Although Marryat has been criticized for writing too much and too rapidly, his style has been praised for its lucidity and effectiveness. In Newton Forster, or the Merchant Service, Marryat wrote ironically, that there are three portions of a novel which are difficult to arrange to the satisfaction of his critics: "The first is the beginning, the second the middle, and the third is the end."
For further reading: The Life and Letters of Captain Marryat by Florence Marryat (1872); Life of Frederick Marryat by D. Hannay (1889); Excursions in Victorian bibliography by Michael Sadleir (1922); Captain Marryat: a rediscovery by Oliver Warner (1953); Captain Frederick Marryat, l'homme et l'oeuvre, etc. by Maurice Paul Gautier (1973); Captain Marryat by Alan Buster (1980); 'Puzzled Which to Choose': Conflicting Socio-Political Views in the Works of Captain Frederick Marryat by Louis J. Parascandola (1997); Captain Marryat: Seaman, Writer and Adventurer by Tom Pocock (2001) - See also classic Western writers: Louis L´Amour, Zane Grey, Owen Wister and classic sea adventures: Herman Melville, C.S. Forester