Home  »  Volume IV: English PROSE AND POETRY SIR THOMAS NORTH TO MICHAEL DRAYTON  »  § 10. Books for the use of Seamen; Smith’s Accidence

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

V. Seafaring and Travel

§ 10. Books for the use of Seamen; Smith’s Accidence

Books had begun to issue from the press in Elizabeth’s reign which showed the larger place that science was taking in the work of the seaman. In the seventeenth century, the volume of this literature grew larger, and several writers followed in the footsteps of Eden, who translated the Compendium of Cortes in 1561, of Bourne, who published the Regiment of the Sea in 1573, and of Davys, whose Seaman’s Secrets appeared in 1594. One of the earliest of these was captain John Smith, the first governor of Virginia, who wrote a sea manual which passed through several editions. This was his Accidence, or the Path-way to Experience, necessary for all young Sea-men, or those that are desirous to goe to Sea, 1626. The volume differed in some respects from its predecessors, and the author says it is upon a subject he “never see writ before.” It is dedicated to the reader, and to “all generous and noble adventurers by sea, and well-wishers to navigation, especially to the Masters, Wardens, and Assistance of the Trinity House.” Smith declared that he had never kept anything to himself, and that he knew he had been blamed for so doing. He describes the duties of all the officers of the ship, as well as her timbers and sails, and adds many quaint illustrations of the use of sea terms, and the manner of working the ship and giving battle.

  • Right your helme a loufe, keepe your loufe, come no neere, keepe full, stidy, so you goe well, port, warre, no more; beare up the helme, goe roumy, beyare at the helme, a fresh man at the helme.… Boy fetch my celler of bottles, a health to you all fore and afte, courage my hearts for a fresh charge; Maister lay him a bord loufe for loufe; Midships men see the tops and yeards well maned with stones and brasse bals, to enter them in the shrouds, and every squadron else at the best advantage; sound Drums and Trumpets, and St. George for England.
  • Smith goes on to describe the ordnance of the ship, with reference to gunnery treatises, saying, “any of these will give you the Theorike; but to be a good Gunner, you must learne it by practise.” The excellence of his maxims caused a demand for his book: enlarged editions of the Accidence appeared under the title The Sea-Man’s Grammar; containing most plain and easie directions how to Build, Riggie, Yard and Mast any Ship whatever, and it was still being republished in 1691.

    Smith represented both the scientific and practical sides of his profession; but a conflict was growing up between theory and practice which was not without influence on the literature of the sea at this time. The new-born science of the sea was inclined to despise the rough methods and, perhaps, the rude manners, of the men who had attained their objects and had fought tempests and the dangers of rocks and lee shores in gales, with only the knowledge born of hard experience; while those of the older school regarded with contempt the new-fangled theories and scientific appliances of the modern seaman, which they did not understand, and his love for comforts which some of them scorned.