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EDGAR ALLEN PoE, no friendly critic, said that Poor Jack was, in his opinion, “ perhaps the best specimen of its author's cast of thought, and national manner, although inferior in interest to Peter Simple."
It undoubtedly has not, though Jack's short cruises are sufficiently eventful, the matchless life and vigour of Marryat's best sea-novels; but the genial picture of Greenwich Hospital, with its boatswain, boatswain's mates, and fiddlers, is an historic document, and gives the book a value of its own. The charming but somewhat imbecile father of “ Newton Forster," it will be remembered, mended “ blinkers” for the old pensioners, who proved themselves his very good friends, and “Poor Jack” owes most of his advances in life to the godly Peter Anderson and Ben the Whaler.
In its general scheme and character the plot of Poor Jack recalls another story of the river, Jacob Faithful. Jack, or rather Tom, though not an orphan, owes little or nothing to either of his parents, and rises from the very gutter to a position of respectable affluence. He is lucky, of course, and acquires an unusual number of influential friends ; but he also evinces great bravery and a most excellent heart, full of sympathy and good nature. Like Jacob, he turns his back-metaphorically speaking-on his master's daughter and woos à maiden of (comparatively) high degree. She accepts him, but proves faithless, and he ultimately stoops to pick the fair flower by his side.
Bessy Bramble, indeed, betrays some tact and moral daring which were scarcely to have been expected from the adopted daughter of an able, but rough and ready,
channel pilot. In Chapter xxxvii. she conquers a really embarrassing situation with weapons of the truest refinement. And with all her sympathetic and affectionate womanliness, she is no slave to the arrogant male :
“Now, I'll go out, and see where Tom may be,” says Bramble. “I suppose he's looking at the wind, and thinking how it changes like a woman.
But I'll light my “Do, father," was her apt reply, “and while Tom looks at the wind, and thinks of women, do you just watch the smoke out of your pipe, and think of men, and their constancy."
In actual construction Poor Jack may claim to take up a good position among Marryat's novels. The stories of the pretty Irish widow tobacconist, the retired pirate, and the old curiosity shop-woman are linked with considerable ingenuity; and the unravelling thereof, though aided by some slightly strained coincidences, lends an appearance of unity and sequence to the adventures of Tom Saunders. His own more personal career is worked out by the class of agencies usually at hand for worthy and penniless heroes.
Here, as elsewhere, Marryat enlivens his narrative by a number of amusing or thrilling yarns, among which may be mentioned the Black Tom Cat, Three are doomed, the immortal Midshipman's Apology, and the Strange Fate of Archibald and Andrew. The Loss of the Royal George is also effectively told, as by an eye-witness. Oddities are not so prominent as usual, though Sir Hercules, and Mrs Maddox, Harness and Opposition Bill may serve to raise a laugh.
The landsman, perhaps, will scarcely credit the childlike and impulsive spirit in which Bramble, just for the fun of it, determines to frighten a coward without counting the
But Marryat always maintained that sailors are children to the end, and he drew them on this hypothesis. What we find it more difficult to forgive is the practice of eavesdropping common to Tom and Jacob Faithful.
It arises, of course, from the mechanical difficulties of telling a story in the first person ; but gentlemen do not do these things.
The original illustrations to Poor Jack, by Clarkson Stanfield, which hung in “ the long narrow dining-room at Langham, were engraved by a Mr Vizetelly, who “ received two applications from gentlemen in Paris for leave to purchase sets of casts for translations of the book about to be brought out in their own country.”
The novel is here reprinted, with a few corrections, from the first edition, Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1840.
R. B. J.