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The Robinson Tradition
by [?]

Masterman Ready seems to me, then, to be the work of a father, not of an understanding writer for boys. Marryat wrote it for his own children, towards whom he had responsibilities; not for other people’s children, for whom he would only be concerned to provide entertainment. But even if the book was meant for no wider circle than the home, one would still feel that the moral teaching was overdone. It should be possible to be edifying without losing one’s sense of humour. When Juno, the black servant, was struck by lightning and not quite killed, she “appeared to be very sensible of the wonderful preservation which she had had. She had always been attentive whenever the Bible was read, but now she did not appear to think that the morning and evening services were sufficient to express her gratitude.” Even a child would feel that Juno really need not have been struck by lightning at all; even a child might wonder how many services, on this scale of gratitude, were adequate for the rest of the party whom the lightning had completely missed. And it was perhaps a little self-centred of Ready to thank God for her recovery on the grounds that she could “ill be spared” by a family rather short-handed in the rainy season.

However, the story is the thing. As long as a desert-island book contains certain ingredients, I do not mind if other superfluous matter creeps in. Our demands–we of the elect who adore desert-islands–are simple. The castaways must build themselves a hut with the aid of a bag of nails saved from the wreck; they must catch turtles by turning them over on their backs; they must find the bread-fruit tree and have adventures with sharks. Twice they must be visited by savages. On the first occasion they are taken by surprise, but–the savages being equally surprised–no great harm is done. Then the Hero says, “They will return when the wind is favourable,” and he arranges his defences, not forgetting to lay in a large stock of water. The savages return in force, and then–this is most important–at the most thirsty moment of the siege it is discovered that the water is all gone! Generally a stray arrow has pierced the water-butt, but in Masterman Ready the insufferable Tommy has played the fool with it. (He would.) This is the Hero’s great opportunity. He ventures to the spring to get more water, and returns with it–wounded. Barely have the castaways wetted their lips with the precious fluid when the attack breaks out with redoubled fury. It seems now that all is lost… when, lo! a shell bursts into the middle of the attacking hordes. (Never into the middle of the defenders. That would be silly.) “Look,” the Hero cries, “a vessel off-shore with its main braces set and a jib-sail flying”–or whatever it may be. And they return to London.

This is the story which we want, and we cannot have too many of them. Should you ever see any of us with our noses over the shilling box and an eager light in our eyes, you may be sure that we are on the track of another one.