The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.
§ 9. Westward Ho!
The winter of the Crimean campaign (1854–5) and the following spring were spent by Kingsley, who was profoundly moved by the events of the war, in Devonshire; and the twofold influences of time and place, as well as the leisure imposed upon him by his wife’s illness, account for the main result of his literary activity. In 1855 was published the most successful of all his novels, Westward Ho! or the Voyages and Adventures of Sir Amyas Leigh, Knight of Burrough, in the County of Devon, in the reign of Her Most Glorious Majesty Queen Elizabeth, with a characteristic double dedication to rajah Brooke and the bishop of New Zealand (George Augustus Selwyn). The book breathes the spirit of martial heroism and naval enterprise typified by the Elizabethan age and the county of Devon; but it is also animated by a, more or less, aggressive patriotism, of which Kingsley found no difficulty in “rendering” the supposed autobiographical expression “into modern English.” The novelist had a special gift of opening his stories in a vivid and stimulating way; but, in the present instance, there follows a second opening, where Amyas, whom, in the first pages, we met, as a boy, vainly intent upon sailing with the luckless John Oxenham, reappears on his return from a voyage round the world with Drake. And so we are launched into the story, which is carried through with inexhaustible verve, but, also, with something beyond mere vigour and high spirits. The book is written by an Englishman for Englishmen—and by a protestant for protestants. Such Elizabethan stumbling-blocks as the penal laws are got out of the way without much trouble, and we are not allowed time to criticise the antithesis between the man who does right according to prescript and the man who does right by the spirit of God that is in him. Amyas, whose heart never quailed, whether before armada or before inquisition, deemed Parsons and Campion fair game, and the massacre of Limerick a painful necessity; and, if his editor is almost visited by a feeling of compunction as to the whole quarrel with Ireland, he is able to suppress this qualm by means of an honourable mention (in a note) of the gallant conduct of Irish officers and soldiers in the Crimean war. The whole story, however, is too good, and the end, when Amyas, after throwing his sword, whose the vengeance was not to be, into the waters, returns home blind, is too tragic, to invite criticism of details. If not as notable a literary performance as Hypatia, Westward Ho!, too, is a masterpiece afterits kind, and will live as such in the literature of English fiction.