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

§ 12. Theory and Practice

The controversy of those times has had its echoes in later days. Fox was a representative seaman of an old school, but he and those who thought with him could not stay the advance of science into the seaman’s domain. A truer understanding of the relative positions of theory and practice presently arose, and a considerable literature indicated the advances that were being made in the seaman’s art. Sir Henry Manwayring, who was captain of the Unicorn in the Ship Money fleet of 1636, was an officer who helped to spread a knowledge of the practical things that concerned the sea profession, and he did so for the assistance of the gentlemen captains of the time, which was one of naval decay—the fleet of Charles I being greatly disorganised, ineptly commanded and much demoralised and mutinous. Manwayring’s The Sea-Man’s Dictionary, or an Exposition and Demonstration of all the parts and things belonging to a ship, was first published in 1644, a second edition appearing after the Restoration, in 1670. The author’s object was to instruct those gentlemen who, “though they be called seamen,” did not “fully understand what belongs to their profession,” and to give them some knowledge of the names of parts of ships and the manner of doing things at sea. The information was intended to instruct those “whose quality, attendance, indisposition of body, or the like” prevented them from gaining a proper knowledge of these things. The significance, therefore, of Manwayring’s book is that it throws a side-light upon the well-known short-comings of some of the cavalier officers. The form of the book is alphabetical, in the manner of a glossary or dictionary.

The last writer we need mention in illustrating this aspect of the literature of the sea is captain Nathaniel Boteler, an officer of whom very little is known, but who was evidently an experienced student of his profession, and who had considerable knowledge of the internal economy of ships of war. His work, Six Dialogues about Sea Services between an High Admiral and a Captain at Sea, was published in 1685, but had evidently been written some years earlier. It deals with the commander-in-chief, officers and men, victualling, the names of the several parts of a ship, the choice of the best ships and the signals, sailing, chasing and fighting of ships of war. The admiral and the captain discourse on these and many related questions, such as punishments, sometimes by way of catechism, but, generally, by instructive comment and criticism. Boteler was a writer with a sense of humour, and some of his remarks are very incisive and instructive. He had a very exalted idea of the position and duties of a captain, and says that his charge was as high as that of any colonel on land, “and for the point of honour, what greater honour hath our nation in martial matters than in his Majesty’s Navy?” He would have the lieutenant admonished “that he be not too fierce in his way at first (which is an humour whereto young men are much addicted), but to carry himself with moderation.” So does Boteler discourse upon the character and duties of the purser, the boatswain and the other “standing officers,” as also upon the men, for whom he had a good deal of sympathy, while never overlooking the necessities of discipline. Taken as a whole, Boteler’s Dialogues is one of the most interesting volumes dealing with the sea service that appeared within the century.

If the subject treated in these chapters be pursued in regard to later times, it will be found to embrace many new features and, in some respects, to have a less specialised character. Records of travel begin to take the place of narratives of discovery, and the literature of the sea and of land journeys widens into channels of many varied interests. The literature of piracy occupies a position of its own, to which reference will be made later when the writings of Defoe are under consideration. The growing volume of the literature of the sea has many ramifications, and it includes purely technical treatises, historical narratives, controversial pamphlets, theatrical productions, broadsheets of song and many other things indicative of the channels through which the national interest in the sea and national love for the sea service manifest themselves.