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HARVARD COLLEGE LIBRARY
Copyright, 1921, by
All rights reserved
MS. NOTE BY
HE theme of the sea is heroic-epic. Since the first stirrings of the imagination of man the sea has en thralled him; and since the dawn of literature he has chronicled his wanderings upon its vast bosom.
It is one of the curiosities of literature, a fact that old Isaac Disraeli might have delighted to linger over, that there have been no collectors of sea-tales; that no man has ever, as in the present instance, dwelt upon the topic with the purpose of gathering some of the best work into a single volume. And yet men have written of the sea since 2500 B.C. when an unknown author set down on papyrus his account of a struggle with a sea-serpent. This account, now in the British Museum, is the first sea-story on record. Our modern sea-stories begin properly with the chronicles of the early navigators-in many of which there is an unconscious art that none of our modern masters of fiction has greatly surpassed. For delightful reading the lover of sea stories is referred to Best's account of Frobisher's second voyage-to Richard Chancellor's chronicle of the same period to Hakluyt, an immortal classic and to Purchas' "Pilgrimage."
But from the earliest growth of the art of fiction the sea was frankly accepted as a stirring theme, comparatively rarely handled because voyages were fewer then, and the subject still largely unknown. To the general reader it may seem a rather astounding fact that in "Robinson Crusoe" we have the first classic of this period and in "Colonel Jack" another classic of much the same type. These two stories by the immortal Defoe may be accepted as the foundation of the sea-tale in literary art.
A century, however, was to elapse before the sea-tale came into its own. It was not until a generation after Defoe that Smollett, in "Roderick Random," again stirred the theme into life. Fielding in his "Voyage to Lisbon" had given some account of a personal experience, but in the general category it must be set down as simply episodal. Foster's "Voyages," a translation from the German published in England at the beginning of the third quarter of the eighteenth century, a compendium of monumental importance, continued the tradition of Hakluyt and Purchas. By this time the sea-power of England had become supreme,-Britannia ruled the waves, and a native sea-literature was the result. The sea-songs of Thomas Dibdin and other writers were the first fruits of this newly created literary nationalism.
Shortly after the beginning of the nineteenth century the sea-writer established himself with Michael Scott in "Tom Cringle's Log," a forgotten, but ever-fresh classic. Then came Captain Marryat, who was to the sea what Dickens and Thackeray were to land folk. America, too, contributed to this literary movement. Even before Marryat, our own Cooper had essayed the sea with a masterly hand, while in "Moby Dick," as in his other stories, Herman Melville glorified the theme. Continental writers like Victor Hugo and the Hungarian, Maurus Jokai, who had little personal knowledge of the subject, also set their hands to tales of marine adventure.
Such work as this has established a succession which has been continuous and progressive ever since. The literature of the sea of the past half-century is voluminous, varied and universally known, and whether in the form of personal adventure, or in purely fictional shape, it has grown to be an art cultivated with great care by the best contemporary writers.
The noble band of singers of the sea, from the days of