1st July 2020

E. Dixon -, Public Domain,

In his essay ‘Some Notes on Marryat’,[1]Olaf Hartelie accused Frederick Marryat of anachronism in writing Snarleyyow.[2] He started reasoning by saying,

'Snarleyyow is full of anachronisms. The date is fixed by Marryat himself as 1699, yet he puts Lieutenant Vanslyperken into uniform, and calls the vessel he commanded a "cutter," claps pigtails on his sailors, introduces one character with an umbrella, and in the best of his songs makes the captain stand on a carronade. The atmosphere is indeed of his own period and the story founded more or less on his own experiences or gunroom yams of the time. It was not until 1748 that uniform for officers was established. The first "cutters" added to the Royal Navy were acquired in 1761. Pigtails were only worn from about 1785 to 1823. Umbrellas did not come into use until the middle of the eighteenth century, and the Carron Iron Works were first established in 1760. These are among the more striking of the inaccuracies in Snarleyyow.' (138)

Afterwards he concludes that Marryat certainly ‘lacked the essential antiquarian knowledge of the Navy as it was in 1699’ (138).

In referring to the details of the novel, it appears that Hartelie is absolutely right. The first uniforms were first made in 1748, the cutter was introduced in 1761, pigtails came in vogue from 1785 to 1823, umbrellas were used not until the middle of the eighteenth century and the Carron iron works were first established in 1760 (138). To say, however, that Marryat lacked the antiquarian knowledge of 1699 is certainly implausible and to prove that there are several reasons. Hartelie appeared to miss the fact that Marryat was an author who paid a great amount of attention to details. In his essay ‘Why Captain Marryat would have disapproved of Treasure Island’,[3]Peter Hunt explains why Captain Marryat disapproved of John Wyss’s The Swiss Family Robinson.[4]Marryat, says Hunt, started to write Masterman Ready[5]because he believed Wyss’s work had not written about the flora and fauna of the Caribbean Island correctly. As a result, he decided to write his own version of a novel with the Caribbean theme to show that details were important to him. Therefore Hunt proves conclusively that for the same reason Marryat would certainly have disapproved of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island[6]just for the same reason as he had disapproved of Wyss’s work.

The events of the war between James II and William of Orange, which is the setting in Snarleyyow, were certainly more important to Marryat than the less important details of the Caribbean Islands because he was himself a politician and as David Hannay said, he stood as a Conservative candidate for the Borough of Tower Hamlets despite the fact that he failed to enter Parliament (68).[7] Altogether, it seems strange that Marryat referred to matters from different times and brought them back to the seventeenth century. The reason is, however, not what Hartelie referred to. The fact is that unlike Hartelie’s thoughts, Marryat used the historical context to refer to his own time. The main theme of the novel is a criticism against smuggling and the lack of strong control in the Channel. Marryat in Snarleyyow, criticises King William IV’s government for being corrupted which leads to not being firm in stopping the smuggling scenes in the Channel. In Snarleyyow, there is a character who is called Vanslyperken. Vanslyperken is a spy both for King William IV’s and James II’s side. Marryat shows Vanslyperken in such a way to scrutinise the lack of vigour in the officers of the channel of his own time. The fact is that the introduction of Vanslyperken, and the introduction of the cutters and other novelties that were taken to the world after James II’s period shows clearly well that the intransigent Captain was criticising the actions related to his time, his world and the government that was ruling at his time. He did not even allow his port admirals to be cast loose. When Jemmy Ducks turns into a mutineer and utters words that seem not favourable to Vanslyperken, the captain says, ‘Damned the Admiral, did he!--which one was it--Portsmouth or Plymouth?’ (117). Or before that when Marryat describes the Laust House, which is an equivalent of Lust House but with a Dutch taste, he says, ‘Be it further known, that there is a great deal of decorum in a Lust Haus, particularly among the latter sex; and although it is infinitely more rational and less debasing, than the low pot-houses of Portsmouth or Plymouth’ (Marryat 69). David Hannay in his Life of Frederick Marryat refers to Marryat’s harshness in lecturing the admiralty when he confirmed that the novel was a criticism against the port admiral of Plymouth (24).

The main theme of the novel, however, was something of more importance than criticising the port admiral of Plymouth or the pothouses of Portsmouth or Plymouth. Marryat wrote the novel to criticise the lack of proper actions against the smugglers. For many a time, he warned the officials against the misconduct of the Channel service on stopping the smuggling and the contrabands there. When he was still very young he wrote schemes for stopping the smuggling just at the same time that he was writing his pamphlet to suggest how the recruitment methods should proceed (Hannay 46). Later when he was on board the Rosario, he saw clearly how clever the smugglers were and wrote despatches to inform the admiralty that the action against the smugglers were not proper enough and that more should have been done (Hannay 48). The smuggling according to Hannay, was spreading from Portsmouth to the Start (49). Thus, it is in Snarleyyow that Marryat criticises the Channel Service and its incompetency in stopping the smugglers by saying, ‘…and this traffic had been carried on for many years, without the government or excise having the slightest suspicion by what means the smuggling was accomplished’ (153). Although he introduced his scheme for stopping the smuggling, it was never accepted and for that lack of competency, he blamed the government. He criticises the court and the King for allowing the smugglers to do whatever they desire and accuses the King of allowing the smugglers to have contact in his court when Alice who is in the smuggling group says, ‘for that, the time is hardly come. She is better here, as you see her, father, than in the chambers of a court’ (159) and a bit later in Chapter XVII, he mocks the history that he make by saying, ‘The whole of which has been fudged out of the History of England, and will therefore be quite new to the majority of our readers’ (179-180). Most importantly he mocks the king by saying, ‘History does not record, as it sometimes does in works of this description, by what viands his Majesty's appetite was stimulated’ (602). Marryat showed his anger at the King by displaying him in a world of comfort and luxury while the nation was in great distress. He put the blame on the King and the government for not stopping the corruption; for not stopping the smuggling and capturing the goods that were thrown into the sea by showing the traitorous Vanslyperken who works for both James II and William III. Vanslyperken is the captain of the ship but the captain of the ship and his corporal are both on board and the Laust House and yet for once more Marryat uses historical figures disguisingly to refer to the present as Olaf Hartelie notes ‘He dressed his puppets accurately’ to portray what he desired to(48).

As a whole, what Marryat showed in the novel was a set of criticisms against the King by showing his anger towards the monarch. He sometimes made the case personal when Mynheer Kraus whose daughter was a beloved of Ramsay, advises Ramsay to never put his trust in princes (545). That could be a reference to Florence Marryat’s Life and Letters of Captain Marryat which related Captain Marryat’s experience with the Duke of Sussex and concluded that ‘The smile of a prince is evanescent’ (96).[8] It refers to the time when Marryat served the King and his brother the Duke of Sussex, but was later dismissed because of writing pamphlets which called on the government to stop the impressment in the Royal Navy. His anger at the King was followed by criticism repeatedly. But what he proposed to replace the current system with, is of telling importance. Marryat was against stopping the smugglers because he believed it would lead to corruption. That is the reason he concludes that the officers capture their goods in lieu of capturing and stopping their cutters. Çelikkol believes instead of stopping the smugglers, he believed a free trade in the British Isles would lead to a better productivity and comfort (1).[9] Çelikkol believes Marryat’s notion of free trade resonates itself in The King’s Own and Snarleyyow. Marryat was not for a trade that had restrictions but a trade without limits.

Consequently, Marryat’s anachronism was not because of as Hartelie says, lacking the antiquarian knowledge of the Naval Service. He used his anachronistic scenes to signal to his readers to pay attention to the matters of the present rather than the past as many instances prove it well in the novel.

[1] Olaf Hartelie, ‘Some Notes on Marryat’, The Mariner’s Mirror, 1(2013), 138-143.

[2] Frederick Marryat, Snarleyyow (London 2008).

[3] Peter Hunt, ‘Why Captain Marryat would have disapproved of Treasure Island’, OUPblog, 3 August 2011.

[4] Johan David Wyss, The Swiss Family Robinson (London, 1948).

[5] Frederick Marryat, Masterman Ready (London, 1903).

[6] Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island (London, 2012).

[7] David Hannay, Life of Frederick Marryat (London, 1973).

[8] Florence Marryat, The Life and Letters of Captain Marryat (London, 1872).

[9] Ayse Çelikkol, ‘Romances of Free Trade: British Literature, Laissez-Faire, and the Global Nineteenth Century’, Oxford University Press, pp. 1-3, 2011.

Seyyed Ali Khani Hoolari is a lecturer at Farhangian University in Iran. Author of the book Pride and Prejudice The Secrets of Jane Austen and a researcher on Marryat. He is also an expert on Marryat, Austen and Lewis Carroll. He acknowledges the assistance of Shamsoddin Royanian (Semnan University) in the writing of this article.

Online Magazine of Ideas | British Intelligence | The Life of the Mind | Politics and Arts

©2019 by British Intelligence. Proudly created with