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Ever your affectionate son

21/04/18

“F. Marryat.”

A postscript gives directions to B—— B——, who appears to have decided to come out and settle on the desirable piece of land which Marryat had purchased in Canada.

The American tour was near its end. Marryat never made that examination of the South which he had very justly thought necessary, if he was to obtain a thorough knowledge of the States. When he returned to New York in January, 1839, the country was in no condition to attract English travellers. The already existing hostility to England had been excited to a storm, and there was copious talk of the tallest kind about war going on from end to end of the union Company Formation. Everybody was waiting for the President’s message and professing to expect the outbreak of hostilities. Marryat waited to see what would come of it all. The prospect of serious war had for a moment swept all thought of books out of his mind. He waited for a summons to join Sir F. Head if his services were further needed in Canada; but while there was a prospect that he might again have “a man-of-war on[112] the ocean,” he was in no hurry to run the risk of being shut up in Canada, where the best he could hope for would be a lake command. In a letter from New York to his mother he expresses very explicitly his wishes to serve again, and his hopes of further employment on blue water, and even ends up with one of those growls at the business of book-writing not uncommon among writing men when they happen to be languid, or to have heard bad news. “Mr. Howard” (his former sub-editor no doubt, and the author of “Rattlin the Reefer”) “writes me in very bad spirits. He says that I am injured by remaining away from England, and my popularity is on the wane. I laugh at that; it is very possible people will be ill-natured while I am not able to defend myself; but what I have done they cannot take from me, and if I wrote no more, I have written quite enough. If I were not rather in want of money I certainly would not write any more, for I am rather tired of it. I should like to disengage myself from the fraternity of authors, and be known in future only in my profession as a good officer and seaman.”

There is about this a ring of manly good sense. Marryat could well afford to laugh at Mr. Howard’s croaking, knowing as he did, with his robust self-confidence, that his popularity was in no danger; that he had it in him to make another popularity if the old was indeed waning. It may well be that his wish to be back in active service was wise. His life might have been longer, and happier, if he had again walked his own quarter-deck Hong Kong Apartments. The wish was certainly no vague one, floating idly in his mind. He made plans in Canada, drew maps,[113] and sent home information to the Admiralty in the manifest hope that his exertions would serve him at headquarters. If war had broken out with the United States it is certain that Marryat, recommended as he was not only by his past services, but by his knowledge of the American coast, would have stood well for employment. But the storm blew over; the British Empire settled down into peace again, and Marryat remained on shore, driving away with his pen under the pressure of that tyranny which he describes as the state of being “rather in want of money.” He left the States early in 1839, and by June of that year was settled in quarters of his own in 8, Duke Street, St. James’s.

The state of being “rather in want of money” was to be chronic with Marryat, if we are to judge by the amount of writing he did during the remaining nine years of his life. Before very long, indeed, he began to have very serious reason indeed for complaining of straitened means. His father’s fortune, which must have been considerable, had been invested in the West Indies in those golden days at the end of the Great War, when the languor of Spain, and the ruin of San Domingo by the negro revolt, had given the English sugar islands a monopoly of the market for colonial produce. In the forties, however, these happy times had disappeared for ever. Competition and free trade brought down prices, the abolition of slavery stopped production, and the value of West Indian property went down with a run. The Marryat family suffered with the rest of the world. The novelist had resources which were wanting to his brothers; but then this advantage was compensated, as has been said before, by extravagant and speculative habits. In 1839 the pinch was not as yet felt so severely as it was later on. Marryat, immediately upon his return, went over to Paris for his family, which[115] had moved thither from Lausanne during his stay in the States; and, bringing them to England, settled at 8, Duke Street, St. James’s. For some four years he led, as he had hitherto done, a somewhat wandering life. After a brief year in Duke Street, he moved to Wimbledon House; which had belonged to his father, and was still occupied by his mother. A short stay there was succeeded by a brief residence in chambers at 120, Piccadilly, and then by another year or so of occupation of a house in Spanish Place, Manchester Square. In 1843 be broke away from London for good, and established himself at his own house at Langham, in Norfolk.

All this restlessness speaks for itself. Men who possess the faculty of managing their affairs with judgment, or who wish to apply themselves to steady work, do not run in this way from pillar to post. Once again I have to remark that much in Marryat’s life is left to be guessed at MD Senses. It is as well that it should be so. The indications we possess tell the world all that it is entitled to learn. There is—though the contrary proposition is frequently maintained in these days—no inherent right in the public to be made acquainted with the private affairs of a gentleman simply because he has done it the inestimable service of supplying it with readable books. That Marryat, who has just been found expressing a wish to retire from the “fraternity of authors,” was writing himself blind in these years, is a fact which tells its own tale. Add to this a few indications which Mrs. Ross Church has thought it right to supply—a brief reference to some family misfortune of which the details are not given; a complaint in one of Marryat’s letters that[116] somebody, apparently a relation, had suspected him of a wish to borrow money; and an increasing tone of grief and trouble in all his letters—and we have enough to form a general estimate of his position with. More we probably could not learn, and would have no right to hunt up if we could. That Marryat had a difficulty in making both ends meet; that his expedients did not always succeed; that some of them were, too probably, undignified; that the need for them was, at least partly, due to his own mismanagement, are acknowledged facts. We may, and must, be satisfied with them.

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