- Created on Friday, 12 February 2010
- By Alaric Bond
This is the diary of a British seaman, and as such probably has little place in a fiction forum. However the editor, C.S. Forester, makes it plain in his introduction that parts of the original three volume manuscript are not to be relied upon; apparently it contained a good deal of fiction, as well as later embroidery and occasional borrowings from contemporary newspaper reports. Wetherell was shipwrecked, and his current draft lost, many times, leaving him to rely on memory and a rather too vivid imagination when rewriting. For roughly ten years he was relatively safe, however, and his work survived in the original draft with few corrections. Consequently Forester chose this section, which covers Wetherell's service in HMS Hussar, her loss, and his capture and imprisonment by the French, for reprinting when the book first appeared in the 'fifties.
The period (roughly from 1803 to the end of the wars) might lack the historical significance of, say, The Battle of the Nile (at which Wetherell was present), but is fascinating, nevertheless. The knowledge that you are reading the words of a man speaking about his times with a casual, often dismissive, ease: the slang, the major and sometimes petty annoyances, and occasional matters of great interest, such as his meeting with Napoleon, makes absorbing reading.
And there were surprises, for me at least, along the way. During his time in France he and his fellow prisoners were generally welcomed and well cared for by the local population. Close friendships formed, and even marriages were not uncommon, Wetherell himself finding a sweetheart. Musical instruments were acquired and mastered, and outside work undertaken that supplemented the small amount of regular pay they were allowed.
Forester has been quite lenient in his editing, only correcting punctuation and place names, and adding explanatory notes when they are essential. However the original diary was apparently interspersed with Wetherell's own poetry; only one example of this has been included, and that to show just how bad it was. There is no doubt that the standard is poor, but then very few seamen were accomplished painters, and yet their art still tells of their lives, and even though it may be doggerel I would have liked to have read more, or at least have been given the choice. It is also a shame that more actual shipboard life is not included, but still it is a book I would recommend. The last edition seems to have come out about 1994; secondhand copies are freely available.
Description of: The Adventures of John Wetherell
Author: John Porrit Wetherell - C. S. Forester (Editor)