Right now, I’m listening to another audiobook narrated by the inestimable Adrian Praetzellis: Mr. Midshipman Easy by Frederick Marryat. I had never heard of this old author until under one year ago. I confess that it was Ulysses S. Grant’s mention of reading this author that made me pick him up, and one can see how Marryat’s frequent use of proverbs and quotations must have been an influence on Grant’s style. Marryat’s feels very similar to Robert Louis Stevenson, except that his prose is more fast paced and a little less archaic. He was originally a Navy captain, which gives his works about the Navy a great touch of realism.
Marryat also has a wonderful understanding of human nature. I do not remember the last time I read about such diverse character types. In particular, I would have to declare Mesty, who is the midshipmen’s cook, former African prince, and former slave, to be the greatest African character in all literature. Though, all his characters are great and highly unique. He has a remarkable sense of humor, which in itself induces the reader to keep reading.
The plot of this work concerns the history of a young man, John Easy, who is raised by an eccentric philosopher, Nicodemus Easy. Nicodemus created a philosophy taking liberty, the rights of man, and equality to mad extremes. It leads to him rather spoiling John, who must be taken to a boarding school where caning is the method of punishment. After certain mishaps involving Easy’s application of his father’s philosophy, i.e. the results of stealing fish and then stealing apples, Easy decided to go to sea at the age of 15 to test his philosophy in His Majesty’s Navy. The captain is quite sure that he can disabuse Easy of this foolish philosophy and bring him down to reality.
After I complete this work, I want to get my hands on further volumes of Marryat. If they’re all as good as this one, he’ll easily be placed on my top ten list–at least below G. K. Chesterton if not higher!