Stories of the Ship OR, THE BRITISH SEAMEN’S PLEASING COMPANION: ILLUSTRATED IN A Series of Curious and Singular ADVENTURES
Publisher: W. Harris
Publication Year: 1807
Book Dimensions: 10.5cm x 18cm
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2 .S736 1807
A collection of stories related to the sea and sailors, this 1807 chapbook includes humorous anecdotes as well as adventurous tales of heroic resilience.
Stories of the Ship is a short chapbook of thirty-six pages, written in English. The book’s dimensions are 10.5cm in width and 18cm in length.
Upon first glance, Stories of the Ship lacks a cover. The first page, before the book is opened, is completely devoid of any printed marking and allows for easy observation of the remnants of paper binding at the spine. This is typical of chapbooks in that due to their small size they were often rebound into one’s personal collection after being bought; it is probable that when sold, the book possessed a paper cover.
On the interior of the first page, the first of two illustrations within the pages of this text is found. Depicted in the foreground is a black dog and a Caucasian man gazing at one another. The man is taking refuge from the sea on the floating remnants of a wooden ship, which is exploding in the background. No other living beings, aside from the man and dog, exist in the picture. Notably, there is a slight brown discoloration in the paper under the man’s leftmost leg (from the reader’s point of view). Exactly beneath the image, very small italicized text reads: “Rarlow sculp”. Below this, in larger cursive text, the picture is captioned: “Explosion of a Dutch Ship.” Even further below, in the same small italicized text as right under the image, is a reference to the publisher that says “London. Published by W. Harris August 22nd 1807.”
To the right is the second illustration, centered amongst various fonts and formats that fill the length of the second page. From top to bottom, the second page begins with the title, completely capitalized: “STORIES OF THE SHIP.” Succeeding the title is a semicolon that transitions the reader into the subtitle, which spans the next few lines, reading: “OR, THE BRITISH SEAMEN’S PLEASING COMPANION: ILLUSTRATED IN A Series of Curious and Singular ADVENTURES.” It should be noted that the font size of “OR, THE” is significantly smaller than that of the title, and occupies its own line. “IN A” shares these same characteristics. Both “BRITISH SEAMAN’S” and “Series of Curious and Singular” are italicized and fill their own respective lines. “PLEASING COMPANION:” and “ADVENTURES.” share the same physical characteristics as the title, but are respectively in a slightly smaller font size. Similarly, they also occupy their own lines. Following this are two sets of horizontal double lines that serve as dividers, within which is a four-line rhyme. Beneath the second divider is the aforementioned illustration, depicting in black ink what appears to be a wooden ship (in the foreground) in contact with an iceberg (in the background). Also in the foreground, to the right of the ship, are three polar bears. Even further beneath the illustration, which bears no caption, is a reference to the place of publication and sale (“London”), the publisher (“Printed for W. HARRIS, 96, High-Street, Shadwell :”), the merchants (“And sold by T. Hughes, Ludgate-Street ; Champante and Whitrow, Aldgate ; A. Cleugh, and T. Soutter, Ratcliff-Highway ; S. Elliott, High-Street, Shadwell ; Wilmot and Hill, and A. Kemmish, Borough; and J. Mackenzie, Old Bailey.”), the price (“PRICE SIX-PENCE.”), and lastly, beneath a long and flat diamond divider, the printer (T. PLUMMER, PRINTER, SEETHING-LANE. 1807.”). There is no explicit reference anywhere in these first few pages, nor anywhere else in the text, to the author.
On the next page (behind that which first mentions the title), there is a page that is blank save for “Entered at the Stamp-Office.” between a singular line right above and below. Beneath is a square outline, slightly discolored, that might have at some point been a stamp. However, there is nothing distinguishable to indicate anything more than that. As for the rest of the book, the size of the font remains constant, as do the margins, which are generally a 1.5cm indent from the outside of the page, although it is important to note that songs and poetry are more indented than the rest of the text. Page numbers appear on the top of the pages, in the outermost corners. The title of the chapbook, Stories of the Ship., is also centered, in all capital letters, at the top of every page. Pages 17 through 20 are approximately 0.75cm shorter than the rest at the bottom. There are some brown stains throughout the pages of the book, but they are very small and irregular. The book ends with “FINIS.”, and the last page of the story is also the last page of the book. At the very bottom of the page, there is another reference to the printer, T. Plummer.
There is not substantial information on the history of Stories of the Ship. The author remains unknown; however, the publisher, printer, and booksellers are divulged on the title page. The chapbook was published on August 22nd, 1807 for William Harris and printed by Thomas Plummer, both who practiced in London. This book is likely the original and only publication and edition. There are only three copies worldwide, located at the University of Virginia, The Mariners’ Museum Library, and within the New York Public Library System. Stories of the Ship has not been digitized or reprinted since 1807; neither has it appeared in any scholarly works, which is likely due to its apparent inconsequentiality in the literature and society of its time.
The publisher, William Harris, at 96, High-Street, Shadwell, also worked as a bookbinder and was active from 1802 until 1822 (Cowie 118). Stories of the Ship seems to be the only work for which he served as publisher. The printer, Thomas Plummer, was active from 1798 until 1836 and printed many chapbooks and a couple of works related to sea fiction. The booksellers include Thomas Hughes (a. 1807–1833), Champante and Whitrow (wholesale stationers, fl. 1784–1801), Alexander Cleugh (a. 1785–1811), Thomas Soutter, S. Elliott, Wilmot and Hill, Ann Kemmish (fl. 1800), and Joseph Mackenzie (a. 1806–1807). All are located in London, and S. Elliott and Thomas Hughes are named to be some of the most frequent sellers of well-known author Anne Ker’s bluebooks. However, there is no information on the popularity or public opinion on Stories of the Ship.
There are two illustrations within the first couple pages of the book. The first, a frontispiece, is captioned by a reference to the British printmaker and engraver Inigo Barlow, reading “Rarlow sculp,” as in Barlow sculpture. Notably, the name is misspelled; however, the font and phrase match the captions of many of his other illustrations. He was active most prominently around 1790. The frontispiece image depicts a scene from the first story within the book, “Affecting Narrative of a Dutch Sailor,” in which a Dutch ship explodes. It is likely that the author derived inspiration from an actual event that occurred earlier in the year 1807. The disaster took place in Leiden, Holland, in which a wooden ship, carrying hundreds of barrels of gunpowder, exploded, resulting in fatalities, injuries, and destruction (Reitsma 1). The incident was eventually attributed to the neglect of the crew. This scenario is very similar to the plot of “Affecting Narrative of a Dutch Sailor,” in which not the ship but instead the protagonist is Dutch, and this ship is not in town, but rather out at sea. Another potential source of inspiration for the author is the municipality and castle of Ortenberg, which shares a name with the aforementioned Dutch sailor protagonist. Ortenberg (the town) is located not far from the Black Forest, and the castle, built in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, is located just above the town. Again, however, these connections are not certain.
There is an entry for a book entitled Songs of the Ship (for 1807), or, the British Seamen’s Cheerful Songster in John Stainer’s book cataloguing his collection of English song books. The details under this entry match the publisher, publication year, and page length of Stories of the Ship; however, the description, which reads “containing a valuable collection of the newest and most celebrated Sea-Songs, sung at all Places of public amusement, To which are added, a Collection of Toasts and Sentiments” is uncharacteristic of Stories of the Ship, which implies likelihood of an accompanying songbook by the same author (Stainer 79).
Narrative Point of View
The first (and longest) story of the chapbook Stories of the Ship has the most complex narrative point of view within the book, but is predominantly told in first person by a Dutch sailor. Despite its narrative complexity, the story is told in a concise and objective manner, as it recounts a past adventure. Though not necessarily of the same form, all other stories in this book maintain a similar condensed style. However, the stories within the book vary in narrative point of view. Sometimes identified, sometimes anonymous, the narrators speak either in first or third person as well as in either present or past tense. The third-person narrators within this book tend to be objective and omniscient, acting as observers to their narratives, while the first-person narrators are necessarily more limited in their narration even as they function as characters within the story themselves.
Sample of First-Person Narrator from “The Dolphin, a droll Story”:
The dame now grinned with passion, but Joe perceiving she quickened her pace, snatched up the rod and net, and made the best of his way, still pointing to the sign as he passed under it, with his mother at his heels. She’ll not look up for a guinea, thought I. No more she did, and hobbling on at a pretty quick pace, was soon out of sight. (16)
Sample of Third-Person Narrator from “An Irish Sailor’s Opinion of Matrimony, a laughable Tale”:
The steward (for he was captain’s steward) was of a disposition that required but little invitation, particularly from a friend. He ate heartily, drank free, and cracked his joke. (25)
Overall, the narrative style is plot- and action-based. It is also non-personal, and in this lack of emphasis on emotion, it becomes easy to focus on and follow the swift narrative style of so many of the sections. Notably, the lack of emotional emphasis exists even when the form is more personal, as occurs in the last story of the book, written in the form of a letter. Additionally, despite the disparity of content and narrative style, there is a surprising lack of confusion derived from these constant switches. This is likely because of the storytelling style and introduction of many of the narrators, as can be seen in the aforementioned excerpts. In “Affecting Narrative of a Dutch Sailor,” the dominant narrator is introduced by another, as if the story is being passed along repeatedly, and has eventually made its way into this book. This embedded narrative style is seen in the opening of “Affecting Narrative of a Dutch Sailor,” which reads as follows:
You know, said Ortenberg, (for that was his name), that I left Holland clandestinely. The ship in which I went, was destined to sail for Batavia; the captain was an honest fellow, and had promised to procure me a place in the counting-house of one of his friends at Java. (3)
The story begins with an implied third-person narrator; however, beyond this first sentence there is no narrative point of view other than that of the first-person narration by Ortenberg, the main character.
In other instances, there is an objective narrator that infrequently uses first person, as their role within the story is limited. Such is the case in “The Dolphin, a droll Story,” excerpted above. This casual approach to the narratives encourages an element of humor as well as insinuates that the book is perhaps meant to be read aloud.
Stories of the Ship is a collection of short stories and anecdotes; the length of each section ranges from a few lines to multiple pages. The following summaries, listed in the order they appear within the chapbook, will reflect these inconsistencies in length. Additionally, the capitalization and punctuation within titles reflect their printing in the book.
Affecting Narrative of a Dutch Sailor
This story is told by a sailor named Ortenberg, who recalls “the Explosion of the Ship in which he was, and his miraculous preservation” (3). This ship experiences smooth sailing until an alarm is raised regarding a fire in the hold; a huge endeavor is made to extinguish the fire, but the efforts prove fruitless. There is no land or ship in sight, and general panic aboard the ship heightens. Most everyone steals away on boats, and the captain and Ortenberg attempt to chase them down in the ship, but success is again just out of reach. Shortly thereafter, the oil-casks catch fire, and it is not long before the entire ship explodes.
Upon returning to his senses, Ortenberg discovers himself to be the only survivor and laments his circumstances. He and his dog are reunited. Ortenberg then catches sight of the longboat, which had once accompanied the ship, a great distance away. As dawn rises the following day, the boat is near, and he is able to join those aboard who had escaped the ship before its calamity. Ortenberg is appointed captain of the longboat. They journey on, eventually run out of food, and are forced to resort to eating Ortenberg’s dog. Meanwhile, the people grow doubtful that land is near, and Ortenberg is given three days to discover land, or a plan of cannibalism will unfold. As a storm clears from the sky, land and a Dutch fleet are revealed. The story ends with the weary survivors being rescued and fed.
A British Seaman’s Humanity
Narrated in first-person by “a Gentleman,” this story recounts the gentleman opening a subscription at a library for a crazy old cottager who had lost her sailor lover (13). An English sailor, upon hearing her story, laments her tale in a series of metaphors comparing the woman to a ship. As the sailor departs the library, a Bond-street lounger insults him behind his back. The sailor overhears this comment and defends himself as a sailor under a commendable and honorable king, simultaneously attacking the honor of the lounger and leaving him looking like a fool.
The Dolphin, a droll Story
Told by an anonymous first-person narrator, begins with a mother chastising her son, Joe, for not catching enough fish. She proudly declares that she will do much better than he has, and will even catch a dolphin. The woman casts her line into deep and muddy water, and somehow her rod snaps. She then pulls the line in only to find that she had pulled in a stone. Having made a fool of herself (broken rod, muddy dress, and all), Joe pokes fun at her predicament.
Remarkable Instance of the Affection of a Bear for her Cubs, extracted from Commodore Phipps’ Voyage
Narrated in third-person, this tale begins with three bears, a mother and two cubs, making their way over ice towards ships nearby where a sea-horse had been killed. Feasting on the sea-horse, the bears are shot by the sailors, killing the cubs, and wounding the mother. Though in pain, the mother bear presents more meat to her cubs, hoping in vain that they are alive. They remain unmoving and she “endeavor[s] to raise them up” with no success (17). Moaning all the while, she walks away but returns repeatedly, and when she realizes they are dead, growls towards the ship, to which they respond by shooting her dead.
Adventures of Arthur Douglas, the little Scotsman, and Tom Reefem, an English Tar, an affecting Story
This story unfolds with Tom, an experienced sailor, offering aid to a despairing Arthur, who has run away from home to travel the world. Tom, taking pity on Arthur, feeds him, but not before Arthur has mistaken the returning Tom for a ghost. After eating, Arthur’s suspicions of Tom wane in favor of gratitude. Tom introduces Arthur to the captain, whose approval is contrasted by that of a London trader, who sentences Arthur to return to his parents. Arthur, despairing, is given an opportunity by the captain to work aboard his ship. He works under Tom, who he grows to love as a father, and after a few years, returns to England having become well-learned. However, just before docking, war has been declared against France, and Tom and Arthur are wounded in a fight against the French. Arthur, however, proves valiant in further engagements and is appointed midshipman by an admiral. Tom continues to accompany Arthur in his new role, and their friendship is well known.
An Irish Sailor’s Opinion of Matrimony, a laughable Tale
Narrated in third-person, this is a conversation between shipmates Patrick and Thomas. Thomas wants their captain to be married, but Patrick wholeheartedly disagrees with the notion, indicating that marriage is too confining. Thomas responds by advocating the absence of danger in marriage; Patrick refutes that indeed there is danger, most prominently in the form of jealousy, but also in marriage’s other passions and complexities.
Also told by a third-person narrator, this anecdote describes a “finical lieutenant” asking for a light, which he calls a “nocturnal illumination” to be put out, and when he is misunderstood, he complains of the sailor’s stupidity (28). The boatswain, to whom the lieutenant speaks, translates the command into the words of a sailor, and the job is completed.
Anecdote of Admiral Haddock
In which a dying admiral leaves his son a small fortune devoid of dirty money.
Anecdote of a Sailor and Quaker
In which an English sailor attempts to instigate a Quaker to violence, to which the Quaker squeezes and shakes but does not strike the sailor into submission.
In which a gang accosts a gentleman, claiming they need him to teach their guards manners.
Extraordinary Instance of Bravery
This is a story of a hero who first sneaks aboard an enemy French ship and attempts to pull down their colors, while holding off, successfully, several attackers. He then saves a fellow countryman’s life, and shortly thereafter narrowly escapes death with a fractured leg, but continues to fight on his knees. After, he is doing well in the hospital.
The Admiral’s Escutcheon
In which an admiral’s home is mistaken for an alehouse by a sailor, who asks for a cup of ale. The admiral then orders his servant to bring one to the sailor, and tells him that he might pay the next time he comes by.
King Charles II and the Sailor
This is a correspondence between Jack, “the best seamen in [the] navy,” headed for the gallows as a result of stealing, and King Charles Rex, who saves him from the gallows (32).
A Sailor’s Frolic
This anecdote tells of a sailor endeavoring for “every tub [to] stand upon its own bottom” (32).
An anecdote about colliers at a ball who aim to level themselves with well-clothed sailors.
Account of the Battle of Trafalgar
A letter from a sailor by the name of Jack Handspike to his landlord regarding his experience in the Battle of Trafalgar. He begins by commending Lord Nelson but quickly transitions to the onset of the battle, during which Jack injures two of his fingers and ends up cutting them off and wrapping them so that he is able to captain a gun on the main-deck until the British victory. He then asks for several items to be bought for his wife, Sall, and reassures that although he is injured, and that he will be well recompensed for his service to the country. The letter ends with a song celebrating the death of Lord Nelson.
“Ann Kemmish” The British Museum, The Trustees of the British Museum, www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/BIOG235671.
“Champante and Whitrow.” The British Museum, The Trustees of the British Museum, www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/BIOG155232.
“Cleugh, Alexander” [WorldCat Identities], www.worldcat.org/wcidentities/lccn-no2017003446.
Cowie, George. The Bookbinder’s Manual: Containing a Full Description of Leather And Vellum Binding : Also, Directions for Gilding of Paper & Book-edges, And Numerous Valuable Recipes for Sprinkling, Colouring, & Marbling : Together With a Scale of Bookbinders’ Charges : a List of All the Book And Vellum Binders In London, &c., &c. 5th ed. London: William Strange, 18501859.
“Harris, William” [WorldCat Identities], www.worldcat.org/identities/lccn-no2016030213/.
“Inigo Barlow.” The British Museum, The Trustees of the British Museum, www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/BIOG198601.
“Hughes, Thomas” [WorldCat Identities], www.worldcat.org/wcidentities/lccn-no2015023168/.
“Mackenzie, Joseph” [WorldCat Identities], www.worldcat.org/wcidentities/lccn-no2019147675/.
“Plummer, Thomas” [WorldCat Identities], www.worldcat.org/wcidentities/lccn-nr93018798/.
Reitsma, H.J., and A. Ponsen. “THE LEIDEN DISASTER OF 1807.” Icon, vol. 13, 2007, pp. 1–18.
“Soutter, Thomas” [WorldCat Identities], www.worldcat.org/wcidentities/lccn-no2019147374/.
Stainer, John. Catalogue of English Song Books Forming a Portion of the Library of Sir John Stainer: With Appendices of Foreign Song Books, Collections of Carols, Books On Bells, &c. London: Printed for private circulation by Novello, Ewer, 1891.
Steele, John Gladstone. “Anne and John Ker.” Cardiff Corvey: Reading the Romantic Text, no. 12, 2204.
Stories of the Ship OR, THE BRITISH SEAMEN’S PLEASING COMPANION: ILLUSTRATED IN A Series of Curious and Singular ADVENTURES. William Harris, 1807.
Researcher: Lauren Smits