The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

XI. Lesser Novelists

§ 9. Marryat

The coming of Scott did not suffice to divert certain older channels of fiction that were still, if feebly, flowing. And, in the work of Frederick Marryat, a stream that had sprung from Smollett received a sudden access of volume and power. At one time, it was customary to regard captain Marryat as a genial amateur, a sea-captain who wrote sea-stories for boys. The fact that, from 1806 to 1830, Marryat served actively and ably in the navy did not prevent him from being a novelist of very near the first rank. He had little mastery over the construction of plot; his satire (as exhibited, for instance, in Mr. Easy’s expositions of the doctrines of liberty) is very thin and shallow. But, in the deft delineation of oddity of character he is worthy of mention with Sterne or with Dickens; and, in the narration of stirring incident, he was unrivalled in his day. Indeed, excepting Walter Scott, Marryat was the only novelist of his period who might lay claim to eminence. To read the novels of his prime: Peter Simple (1834), Mr. Midshipman Easy (1836), Japhet in search of a Father (1836) or Jacob Faithful (1834), is to find a rich humour, a wide knowledge of men and things, intense and telling narrative, an artistic restraint which forbids extravagance or exaggeration and an all but Tolstoy-like power over detail. Within his narrower limits, captain Marryat, at his best, is a choicer artist than Defoe, whom, in many points, he resembles—among others, in having had his finest work regarded, for a time, as merely reading “for boys.” From that implied reproach, Marryat’s best novels, like Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, have, ultimately, escaped. Indeed, the stories that Marryat himself intended for boys—Masterman Ready (1841), The Settlers in Canada (1844) and others—are found to have qualities that make them welcome to grown men. In Marryat, there are touches here and there of the lower humour of Smollett, but these occur almost entirely in his early work, written before he had learned his business as novelist. His mind, moreover, was finer in quality than that of another writer, to whom, doubtless, he owed something, Theodore Hook.