Member Blogs > ten pound island book companyThis Week's Guest Blog

  • Sun, 26 May 2013 02:54:55    Permalink
    Last week I wrote about naval hero James Lawrence, Washington Irving's biography of him, and friend Tom Halsted's article in the Boston Sunday Globe about his famous naval battle. A few days later Tom forwarded a link to another article he'd written, this one on his blog "Beam Reach." Well, it was right in Ten Pound's wheelhouse (I am mentioned in the article, but actually it was colleague Garrett Scott who solved the mystery therein) and I asked Tom if I could reprint it. He graciously assented so, without further ado, here is this week's guest blog...

    The Sailor King and I
    My grandfather, the painter Charles Hopkinson (1869-1962), was a contemporary and friend of the English essayist, novelist, and Poet Laureate John Masefield (1878-1967). The two shared a love of the sea (as every schoolboy knows, Masefield wrote Sea-Fever, which begins I must down to the sea again, though almost everyone who quotes it thinks he meant to write I must go down to the sea again... Wrong).

    Hopkinson proposed a fourth verse for Masefields poem Cargoes, which contrasted the glamour and beauty of an ancient Phoenician galley and a Spanish galleon, with the grime and grit of a dirty British coaster. Hopkinsons addition celebrated the Saucy Yankee schooner with her high-peaked mainsail, thrashing down to Gloucester in a Northeast gale. Masefield loved it.
    In August 1919 Masefield gave Hopkinson a handsome house present, a leather-bound copy of the 1784 edition of William Falconers An Universal Dictionary of the Marine. I acquired the book, which I had long admired, from Hopkinsons estate some 30 years after his death.

    The dictionary, commonly just called Falconer, was first published in 1769, the year of Falconers death in a shipwreck. It went through four major revisions, the last greatly expanded in 1815. Facsimile copies of the book have been made, and there are now several digitized versions.

    The book was immensely popular among sailors, shipwrights and naval architects, and routinely carried aboard British naval vessels throughout the age of sail. It not only provided thousands of definitions of nautical terms and tactical maneuvers; it contained many fold-out plates, illustrating marine equipment and armament, diagrams of naval maneuvers, navigation methods, and construction details. My edition has a dozen such plates, filled with exquisite drawings, charts and diagrams. Those plates have been cut out of many of the other existing copies, perhaps by shipwrights needing them as guides for construction details, but, happily, mine is intact.

    The book also contains a glossary of French nautical terms, and scattered throughout, amplifying various definitions, are comments reflecting the prevalent attitude of Britons toward their neighbors across the Channel, with whom they had been almost continually at war since 1756. Heres an example:
    RETREAT, the order or disposition in which a fleet of French men of war decline engagement, or fly from a pursuing enemy.
    A footnote helpfully adds: As it is not properly a term of the British marine, a more circumstantial account of it might be foreign to our plan.
    I have spent many pleasant hours flipping through the pages of my copy, admiring the feel of the paper, enjoying the definitions, and fascinated by all the detailed drawings.
    But the most interesting distinguishing feature of the book, besides Masefields gracious inscription to my grandfather, is the old bookplate glued to the flyleaf. I had admired it at once; it depicts the seal of the Order of the Garter, a belt inscribed Honi Soit Qui Mal y Pense; (Evil to Him who Evil Thinks). Within the garter are the initials, W. H. and above it is a royal crown.

    This whetted my interest, of course. I knew of the Order of the Garter, established in 1348 by King Edward III and still one of the worlds most exclusive clubs today. Its members are the King or Queen of England, the Prince of Wales, no more than 24 Knights or Ladies Companion of the Garter, Royal Knights and Ladies (members of the immediate Royal Family), and Stranger Knights and Ladies (Kings or Queens of other countries). There are currently 39 in all categories. But I didnt think the insignia of the Garter included a crown, unless its holder was a member of the British Royal Family.

    Presumably all of the members of the British Royal Family have been and are members of the Order, but how many would own or want a copy of Falconers Dictionary of the Marine?

    Careful students of the swashbuckling sea-stories by Patrick OBrian will at this point raise their hands and cry I know! I know! because in many of the series 21 volumes appears the figure of Prince William Henry, Duke of Clarence, fourth son of George III. In fiction and in life he was somewhat of a rake and an Admiral. Prince Billy actually served at sea, commanded Naval vessels, and would certainly have wanted a Falconers in his cabin and on his nautical bookshelf ashore. When he was crowned King William IV in 1830 (he was succeeded by his niece Victoria upon his death in 1837), he became known as The Sailor King.
    George IV, The "Sailor King." Note the Order of the Garter on his left armFor years I sent fruitless inquiries to various experts in heraldry and English royalty: is this The Sailor Kings bookplate? Nobody seemed to know.
    Then I did the smart thing and asked Greg Gibson, an antiquarian bookseller, purveyor of all sorts of maritime arcana, and one of the smartest people I know, if he had any idea how to find the answer to this question. Of course he did. While we were chatting in his cozy, cluttered office, he swung around in his chair, typed out a query to a group of his colleagues on his computer, and five minutes later handed me this:

    Thanks, Billy. I'll take good care of it.

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