Sail Away: Boats of the World Depicted and Described (1883)

With fall coming in, this Victorian picture book of boats from around the world keeps alive  memories of  the hot sunshine, a brisk breeze, and the sparkling blue water of a perfect summer day by the sea. Sampson, Marston, Low, Searle and Rivington, the publisher  of Boats  of the World Depicted and Described, engaged Emrik & Binger to print this new children’s books for 1883 holiday gift-giving, doubtless on the strength of the medals the firm had won for “artistic and commercial” color illustrations  toy books, newspapers, and periodicals, and art books reproduced by its state-of-the-art equipment for steam chromolithography since 1851.

With its ”colored pictures of eighty different kinds of vessels, with interesting and instructive letterpress descriptions of them all,”  the book was perfect for boys confined to quarters denied “the prime condition of happiness for most boys, water and something to sail, said the reviewer in  Dial 3 (May 1882-April 1883) issued in Chicago by McClurg. “He must be a queerly-constructed boy who is not curious as to the different varieties of boats, their peculiar construction, rigging, sails, names. &c.,” concurred the British reviewer in The Dial 4 (1884), “ In this little volume his curiosity may be fully satisfied.”  The sulky reviewer in Spectator 56 (1883) snapped, “the sailing are better represented than the rowing-boats.  Where is the “consummate flower” of rowing-boats, the  University eight-oar?”

The yet-to-be-identified author of Boats of the World Depicted described himself only as “one of the craft,” which probably indicates that he had been involved in some capacity in boat building.  He expressed his opinions about the seaworthy design forcefully and unapologetically.   Being British, of course he believed the craft of his native land to be superior to all others.Some vessels of other European nations were worthy of note, like this Venetian fishing boat or the remarkable flying proa from the Ladrone Islands in the north-western Pacific (now the Mariana Islands).The distinctive sail boats of foreign pirates had to be included, given their adventurous literary associations.  Here are the boats used by the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean and the Sooloos in the Indian Ocean.But the Chinese were condemned for their historic lack of interest in marine architecture, which he seems to imply is a sign of a civilization inferior to that of Europe.  His harshest words were reserved for the Maori war canoe, bedizened with outlandish carved decorations, which no  British tar would countenance.The author’s “interesting descriptive letterpress” accompanying the illustrations of the boats, contrary to what the reviews said, was not especially heavy on facts, but surprisingly jingoistic when a boat failed to come up to his standards of clean, masculine design!

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