Some pirate novels

Rereading Marcel Schwob’s La Cité Dormante the other day put in mind a host of pirate stories and novels I’d loved as a kid, many of which my parents or grandparents read to me.  Here’s what I can recall:

Treasure Island (Stevenson)

The Master of Ballantrae (Stevenson)

The Life, Adventures, and Piracies of the Famous Captain Singleton (Defoe)

A General History of the Pyrates (Defoe)

The Pirate (Walter Scott) – My grandfather read me this one when we visited most weekends but it was so long and I’d often fall asleep so soon into it that I have only the wispiest sense of the plot.

The Red Rover (Fennimore Cooper)

The Coral Island (Ballantyne)

Swallows and Amazons (Ransome)

The Book of Pirates (Howard Pyle)

The Ghost Pirates (William Hope Hodgson)

Tales of Pirates and Blue Waters (Conan Doyle)

The Sea Hawk (Sabatini)

Captain Blood (Sabatini)

The Black Swan (Sabatini)

(And for all the Sabatini books the movies are even more recommended)

A High Wind in Jamaica (Richard Hughes)

And the final entries, by Pierre Mac Orlan, are confusing.  Of the three I remember (which his wiki page tells me must have been À bord de L’Étoile Matutine, Les Clients du Bon Chien jaune, and L’Ancre de miséricorde) only the first has been translated (as On Board the Morning Star) so someone had to have read the other two to me.  I’ve bought a copy of Les Clients du Bon Chien jaune because I remember the terrifying at the time image of pirates dressed as skeletons and hunched in the rigging as they approach their prey with an eerie flute playing in accompaniment.

The more it looks like Queer Street, the less I ask

From Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde:

“And you never asked about the—place with the door?” said Mr.

“No, sir: I had a delicacy,” was the reply. “I feel very strongly about putting questions; it partakes too much of the style of the day of judgment. You start a question, and it’s like starting a stone. You sit quietly on the top of a hill; and away the stone goes, starting others; and presently some bland old bird (the last you would have thought of) is knocked on the head in his own back-garden and the family have to change their name. No, sir, I make it a rule of mine: the more it looks like Queer Street, the less I ask.”

“A very good rule, too,” said the lawyer.

Natives, buccaneers, or the odious French

From Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, from Squire Trelawney’s description of readying the expedition’s ship:

So far there was not a hitch. The workpeople, to be sure—riggers and what not—were most annoyingly slow; but time cured that. It was the crew that troubled me.

I wished a round score of men—in case of natives, buccaneers, or the odious French—and I had the worry of the deuce itself to find so much as half a dozen, till the most remarkable stroke of fortune brought me the very man that I required.


I incline to Cain’s heresy

From Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde:

“I incline to Cain’s heresy,” he used to say quaintly: “I let my brother go to the devil in his own way.”

The reference is to Cain’s reply to God when asked about his brother Abel – “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9).

I’ve used this line at work when people ask about the progression of someone else’s project or their absence in a meeting.  Like most of my answers it kills further questioning.

The receipt of letters is the death of all holiday feeling

From Robert Louis Stevenson’s An Inland Voyage:

No one should have any correspondence on a journey; it is bad enough to have to write; but the receipt of letters is the death of all holiday feeling.

‘Out of my country and myself I go.’  I wish to take a dive among new conditions for a while, as into another element.  I have nothing to do with my friends or my affections for the time; when I came away, I left my heart at home in a desk, or sent it forward with my portmanteau to await me at my destination.  After my journey is over, I shall not fail to read your admirable letters with the attention they deserve.  But I have paid all this money, look you, and paddled all these strokes, for no other purpose than to be abroad; and yet you keep me at home with your perpetual communications.  You tug the string, and I feel that I am a tethered bird.  You pursue me all over Europe with the little vexations that I came away to avoid.  There is no discharge in the war of life, I am well aware; but shall there not be so much as a week’s furlough?

Just so much gained upon the wholesale filcher

From Robert Louis Stevenson’s An Inland Voyage:

For I think we may look upon our little private war with death somewhat in this light.  If a man knows he will sooner or later be robbed upon a journey, he will have a bottle of the best in every inn, and look upon all his extravagances as so much gained upon the thieves.  And above all, where instead of simply spending, he makes a profitable investment for some of his money, when it will be out of risk of loss.  So every bit of brisk living, and above all when it is healthful, is just so much gained upon the wholesale filcher, death.  We shall have the less in our pockets, the more in our stomach, when he cries stand and deliver.  A swift stream is a favourite artifice of his, and one that brings him in a comfortable thing per annum; but when he and I come to settle our accounts, I shall whistle in his face for these hours upon the upper Oise.