Seyyed Ali: What Britons Can Learn from the Victorian Marryat on Deciding upon Brexit

Captain Marryat has always been considered as the most prominent writer of naval fiction. His works not only represent his experience on HMS Imprieuse, HMS Victorious, and other important ships and frigates but also reveals his passion for the Conservative party. The Children of the New Forest clearly reveals his lifelong Tory tendency. In that work, he indirectly demands his readers that they should not repeat the same old mistakes of the past. Captain Marryat was a Conservative, but was not afraid of candidly criticising any side, including his own.


By joining the Navy, Marryat not only gained an independent life, but also could show his courage and be respected for his fortitude. Marryat met great men in the navy, such as Mapleton, Houston, and Napier whom he liked very much and knew as a hero. Marryat clearly enjoyed his nautical life more than his domestic obligations.

One of the things which made Marryat angry on sea was the difference between what he could see as the reality of war and what people could infer and interpret. War was very violent to a young man like him, but when he returned home and read the newspapers and magazines, he could not see the same agony in the minds of the British public. He criticised the people’s enjoyment of war, and tried to show them that war was vastly different from what they imagined.

A good example of his stance on this case is his renowned novel, Snarleyyow or the Dog Fiend. In that novel, which is set in the time of James II, there is an evil Dutch character who is called Vanslysperken. He is a character who is a traitor to both James II’s and William III’s side. He gives information of one side to the other side and vice versa. When it comes to the end of the novel, Vanslysperken is hanged and the common reader of the novel is made happy. But what Marryat tries to challenge is the happiness that one gets by bloodshed and violence. Why should somebody become happy when blood is spilt and mankind is slaughtered?

While in the Royal Navy, Marryat criticised the decision of the British government to search the American ships. This anger was shared by the Whig government of the time. Soon after, the King decided to knight those who had done great efforts for the Crown and country. Marryat was amongst his list. But when the King recalled that Marryat was the one who criticised the government, he rejected the nautical writer and removed him from the knighthood list, and Marryat was thereby rebuked for his rebelliousness.

Marryat was usually in opposition to the Whig parties and their Prime Ministers. When Sir Robert Peel, the Tory Prime Minister came to power, Marryat would have been happy with the new government. But even then he criticised the Prime Minister for his tough actions against the farmers. He sent him a number of letters in a personal capacity, as well as on behalf of other farmers, giving him harsh criticism. David Hannay is right when he says Marryat 'never tempered the truth'.

All of those characteristics that are related to the personality of Captain Marryat, are representatives of a true person with a true heart. He supported his party when he was needed, however, he was never elected as a Member of Parliament. He dared to criticise both the opposition and his own party because he always prioritised national interests. This made him an honest and candid man.

What Britain and Britons can learn todays from the Captain of the Victorian age is very clear. Britain is now divided in the various parties for how to decide over the matter of Brexit. Some Conservatives are doubtful on how to vote. Even when I speak to some people who favour the Opposition, they also say they are undecided. And so it should be, it is the most important decision that the British have had to make since the General Election in 2010.

We have heard what David Cameron, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and George Osborne think about staying in or out. The best advice that can be given to Britons is to act like Captain Marryat. He was a Tory man, but when it came to the national interest, he prioritised his country and did what was right for Great Britain. So, think wisely about the advantages and disadvantages of a possible Brexit and then cast your votes. This is the advice Captain Marryat would give if he were alive now.

Seyyed Ali Khani Hoolari has a master's degree in English Literature, and is the head of the English Department at Farhangian University in Sari, Iran.