The Adventures of Capt. Duncan, A Journey From Europe, Over The Arabian Deserts, To the British Settlements in India; Containing, Among Other Particulars, An Account Of The Perils he experienced in those terrific Regions, The Eccentric Humours of His Tartarian Guide, His Shipwreck, and Distresses In The War With Hyder Ally, &c.
Author: Mary Anne Radcliffe
Publisher: Thomas Hurst
Publication Year: 1802
Book Dimensions: 11.5cm x 19cm
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2.R345 1802
Dubiously attributed to Mary Anne Radcliffe when published in 1802, this chapbook tracks a captain’s journey across what’s east of England
The Sadleir-Black Collection edition of The Adventures of Capt. Duncan wears its history well. Despite its age, the book has maintained its blue cover, bound by a thick string. Frayed and whittled down on the sides, the cover sheets are thinner and frailer than the sheets containing the book’s text, perhaps indicating that the covers have borne the brunt of the wear and tear. The exterior cover notes an extravagant number of salesmen across England responsible for the publishing of the book. The interior cover recognizes this edition as the premium printing copy of the story, costing an additional three pence, up to a total of nine. That distinction, as a premium publication, likely enabled the cover’s survival, as this edition supplied a superior set of craftsmanship and materials.
With regards to the pages, The Adventures of Capt. Duncan is relatively short. Even amongst these few pages, they are uneven, jetting outward or inward, indicating some combination of both uneven page-cutting and the wear of centuries. The pages themselves are brittle, dry, and yellowed, yet firmer than the cover. When turning the pages, they tend to crunch a bit and move with rigidity.
Following the initial pages that note the book’s publication information, there is an illustration of Captain Duncan in his armor. This serves as a frontispiece, with the inelaborate title The Adventures of Capt. Duncan. On the very next page, the expansive title takes up a full page, declaring The Adventures of Capt. Duncan, A Journey From Europe, Over The Arabian Deserts, To the British Settlements in India; Containing, Among Other Particulars, An Account Of The Perils he experienced in those terrific Regions, The Eccentric Humours of His Tartarian Guide, His Shipwreck, and Distresses In The War With Hyder Ally, &c. This title uses an array of fonts, spacings, and capitalizations on the page, ranging from robotic, direct fonts, to floral and italicized fonts. On the cover, there is a similar mixing of fonts. There are variations even among the spaces between the letters within words, as well as the spacing between lines.
The rest of the book is not nearly as unique. The text itself is fairly plain. There is little spacing between lines and a 1.5 to 2 centimeter margin on the pages. The book is brief, at only thirty-six pages, in the style of gothic chapbooks. The back cover of the book shares the same physical qualities as the blue front cover: it is thin, fragile, and is more sparsely populated with printed text.
The Adventures of Captain Duncan was one of two installations in Radclife’s New Novelist’s Pocket Magazine (Brown et al). The magazine’s publishers hoped the magazine would “contain an elegant & chaste collection of Original Novels, Tales, Romances, Lives, Memoirs, Voyages, Travels, &c. together with a judicious Selection from the Writings of those Authors, whose works have in any degree excited public notoriety” but after those first two issues, the project was abandoned (quoted in Potter 64).
As a chapbook, The Adventures of Captain Duncan holds a small place in the larger chapbook publishing landscape. From roughly the late 1790s to the early 1800s, Thomas Hurst published gothic chapbooks from his office at 32 Paternoster Row. He was integral in many of the gothic chapbooks published between 1798 and 1803, including The Adventures of Captain Duncan. Hurst spearheaded the serial Radclife’s New Novelist’s Pocket Magazine, and was also the exclusive seller in England, while the rest of the magazines were sold in Scotland (Potter 64). Another gentleman, Thomas Brown, joined Hurst in publishing Radcliffe’s New Novelist’s Pocket Magazine, as well as The Marvelous Magazine (Potter 64–5).
As the eighteenth century turned to the nineteenth, chapbooks were sold with practices that echo modern multi-level marketing schemes. The primary distributor (Thomas Hurst, for example) would collect a group of subordinates to sell the chapbooks, with the option to sell the books individually or further distribute them to other sellers (Potter 67). Booksellers’ advertisements in newspapers and such reveal an extensive network of this wholesale distribution (Potter 67–8).
Mary Anne Radcliffe was billed as the writer, compiler, and editor of Radclife’s New Novelist’s Pocket Magazine. Her name immediately begets ambiguity with its similarities to the well-known Gothic novelist Ann Radcliffe, but that is not where the issues end. Mary Anne Radcliffe was certainly a real person. She was born Mary Clayton of Nottingham. She was well educated, considering her status and gender (Brown et al). At the mere age of fourteen, she married Joseph Radcliffe, giving her the fateful Radcliffe name. Following her marriage, she dotted across England between Edinburgh, London, and Nottingham (Brown et al). Mary Anne Radcliffe certainly wrote as well. The works most clearly attributable to her are The Female Advocate; or An Attempt to Recover the Rights of Women from Male Usurpation and Memoirs … in Familiar Letters to Her Female Friend. Scholars have doubted her other attributed works, however, which include an array of gothic novels as well as translations of foreign novels (Brown et al).
Most modern scholarship focuses on Mary Anne Radcliffe’s larger Gothic novels rather than her chapbooks, but they reveal a larger practice of misattribution, where certain publishers attached Mary Anne Radcliffe’s name to books in an attempt to sell more—relying on her proximity to Ann Radcliffe’s name (Garside et al). Some of Mary Anne Radcliffe’s attributions are more suspect than others. One such novel, Radzivil, was attributed to her several years after publication. The Fate of Velina de Guidova, which is a translation from Russian that is set in France, was attributed after an even greater wait (Brown et al). Both novels focus on material entirely distinct from The Female Advocate and point to a different author entirely (Brown et al).
Radclife’s New Novelist’s Pocket Magazine has fewer suspect circumstances but still exists within the context of those other misattributions. The magazine correctly identifies Mary Anne Radcliffe’s address and she was attributed at the time of publishing (Brown et al). Some modern scholars are skeptical of Mary Anne Radcliffe being the true author or editor of the pocket magazine, but it nevertheless holds a sharper connection than her other attributions (Garside et al). Whether Mary Anne Radcliffe truly wrote and edited for the magazine or someone else did, The Adventures of Captain Duncan remains a valuable part of the history of chapbooks in England.
Narrative Point of View
The Adventures of Captain Duncan switches between an unidentified third-person narrator and the first-person narration of Captain Duncan, through what appears to be a set of direct statements from Duncan. The third-person narrator functions as an interpreter of those notes. Both styles delve into the captain’s emotions, but his first-person interjections serve as sharper confirmations of the preceding paraphrases of the narrator.
As the Captain became familiarised to his Tartar guide, he found him a fellow of infinite humour and much humanity, well acquainted with the world, and endeavoring all he could to alleviate the gloom that frequently clouded his countenance. One principal object with him seemed to be to impress the Captain with an idea of his high importance as a messenger belonging to the Sultan, and that his authority wherever he came was not to be disputed. “ Thus,” says Capt. Duncan, “ whenever we stopped at a Caravansera, he immediately called about him, in the name of the Sultan, for fresh horses, victuals, &c. And though the utmost submission was shown to his will, he nevertheless frequently exhibited his muscular powers by unmercifully belaboring all indiscriminately with his whip, and I was afraid to interfere, fearful that he might think it necessary to give me a flogging to avoid suspicion.” (15)
These two modes of narration function within the larger historical implications of The Adventures of Captain Duncan, an international story that has the power to shape English understandings of lands and cultures beyond England. The reports of Captain Duncan thus operate as a historical primary source within this fictional text. This adds a sense of realism, because it seems as though these could be the words of a real man, who had a real story, who is being studied by a real person. Additionally, several times throughout the book, there are extended passages explaining local customs, none more prominently than when the text explains that during Hajj, in Mecca, the worshippers “enter the former [Masjid al-Haram], and, walking seven times round the little building contained within it, say, ‘This is the house of God and of his servant Abraham’” (10–11). These insights into other cultures gain veracity the same way Captain Duncan’s own story does: through the book’s presentation of his journals as a primary source within the narration.
Captain Duncan’s journey begins as any journey does: with a departure. In May 1781, he receives word that he must go to India to help sort out his father’s affairs. Duncan leaves his spouse and two daughters in England. Rather than directly sail around the Cape of Good Hope, he travels over land, across Europe and the Middle East en route to India. He dots between European cities like Brussels, Venice, and Augsburg. In Augsburg, Duncan finds himself in a church when a friar indulges him in drink, issuing vague religious proclamations about his journey. The friar is welcoming, joyful, and telling stories that keep Duncan enthralled before continuing his journey.
He reaches a fork in the road at Venice, deciding whether to travel directly through Syria or through Egypt. After opting for a boat ride to Egypt, he meets a young English woman he hopes to bring with him to India, but her guardian stops his pursuits. When he lands in Alexandria, he still heads through Syria, taking his longest stop at Aleppo. His journey is largely defined by the different British people he meets along his travels, and Aleppo is no different. Those expatriates offer comfort, refuge, and rescue to Duncan throughout his trek. He connects with a large, traveling caravan going towards Mecca; one large enough to withstand bands of robbers along their path. It eventually links up with a few more caravans, each boasting legions of soldiers and beasts to fortify their trip.
Once he reaches Mecca, he meets yet another woman who wants to run away, this one suffering in the clutches of an older husband. With their plan hatched, Captain Duncan is quite prepared to sneak away, but the British Consul hears of this scheme and shuts it down. Duncan even faces local legal trouble resultant from his infringement upon a legal marriage, but the Consul smuggles him out of town with a Turkish guide.
The captain quickly irritates the overbearing guide with his mocking of the guide’s sense of seriousness and superiority, leading to some scuffles over horses and such. He specifically objects further when the guide traffics several women via their traveling party, but to no avail. They eventually reach Mosul, where their partnership ends and the captain links up with an Armenian merchant to assist him in his travels. The merchant brings him to the last leg of his journey, where he boards a ship to take him to India.
However, calamity strikes and they misjudge the monsoon patterns of the waterway and condemn their ship to ruin. Despite battling the waters and waves, the ship collapses when a hurricane forms and the crewmates subsequently drift across the sea. They wash ashore at Hydernagur, where Indian locals, who do not take kindly to British colonizers, capture them.
When leader Hyder Ally finds out that Captain Duncan is the son of the renowned Colonel Duncan, he wishes to turn Captain Duncan to his side in the war. At first, it comes in bribes, where Hyder offers men and money, but it later comes in threats, where Hyder’s men temporarily hang and torture Captain Duncan, before eventually conceding.
Duncan has a British companion in these troubles, one Mr. Wall. Mr. Wall came on this journey out of financial necessity; he was in love with a woman, and his previously wealthy father had wasted his riches on some poor investments, leaving him destitute and unable to wed. He came to India to try to recoup some wealth, enough to get married. But Mr. Wall never returns to England and dies in Hydernagur, shackled at the feet to the still-living Captain Duncan.
There is still another English expatriate, however, for General Matthews marched into town to save Captain Duncan from his captors. After gaining freedom, Duncan enlists as a negotiator between British and Jemadar forces, who are an independent sect of forces who revolted from Hyder Ally’s son, Tippoo Sahib. The British military wants Jemadar’s support to help gain a valuable garrison to fight back against Sahib. Successful in these negotiations, Captain Duncan continues on his journey, moving farther across India before even venturing out to China. He finally returns to England some three and a half years later.
Brown, Susan, Patricia Clements, and Isobel Grundy, eds. “Mary Ann Radcliffe: Writing.” Orlando: Women’s Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Online, 2006. http://orlando.cambridge.org 3 November 2021.
P. D. Garside, with J. E. Belanger, A. A. Mandal, and S. A. Ragaz. “The English Novel, 1800–1829: Update 4 (June 2003–August 2003).” Cardiff Corvey: Reading the Romantic Text 12 (Summer 2004). http://www.romtext.org.uk/reports/engnov4/ 3 November 2021.
Potter, Franz J. Gothic Chapbooks, Bluebooks and Shilling Shockers, 1797–1830, University of Wales Press, 2021.
Radcliffe, Mary Anne. The Adventures of Captain Duncan. London, Hurst, 1802.
Researcher: Yusuf Ragab Hacking