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Captain Marryat

By Tom Pocock

Frederick Marryat was England’s most famous author in the years between Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. Perhaps more importantly, he was a naval hero of the Napoleonic Wars, and it was his exploits in the Royal Navy during those years that formed the core of his writing.

Marryat’s life was as fantastic as anything in his books. As a boy he went to sea, fought the Americans in the War of 1812, and was then lionised as a celebrated author — only to be reviled for helping to suppress a French-Canadian rebellion.

After leaving the sea he settled into life as a man about town and became a central figure in Charles Dickens’ celebrated literary circle. Marryat was a journalist, a duellist, a courtier, and, like Dickens, an acutely observant traveller before finally settling down as a farmer deep in the English countryside.

His novels, for both adults and children, became worldwide bestsellers, and Children of the New Forestcontinues in popularity today. With his famous stories of the sea, Marryat invented a fictional genre of which C. S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian are the modern descendants.

A man of charm and wit, Marryat also showed a hot, violent temper — he was once fined for brawling in the streets of London — and was impetuous and extravagant. He spent his way through two inherited fortunes and made and wasted huge sums of money from his writing. Finally, he gambled away his London house and retired to rural Norfolk to farm. 

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