Ancient Mariner: The Arctic Adventures of Samuel Hearne, the Sailor Who Inspired Coleridge's Masterpiece

Overview

Though immortalized by Samuel Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," few people know that eighteenth-century British adventurer Samuel Hearne became the first European to see the Arctic Ocean while standing on America's northernmost shore. In Ancient Mariner, McGoogan demonstrates that Hearne was far more complex, accomplished, and influential than history has shown. A Royal Navy midshipman during the Seven Years' War, Hearne moved to London, and in 1766, just twenty-one, joined the Hudson's Bay Company. ...

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Overview

Though immortalized by Samuel Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," few people know that eighteenth-century British adventurer Samuel Hearne became the first European to see the Arctic Ocean while standing on America's northernmost shore. In Ancient Mariner, McGoogan demonstrates that Hearne was far more complex, accomplished, and influential than history has shown. A Royal Navy midshipman during the Seven Years' War, Hearne moved to London, and in 1766, just twenty-one, joined the Hudson's Bay Company. He embarked on an overland quest for rich veins of copper supposedly located "far to the northward where the sun don't set"—and also to discover the Northwest Passage. Hearne's posthumously published journal, the first book by a European explorer on the Arctic, describes a journey of 3,500 miles marked by hardship, and mitigated only by his friendship with the legendary Dene leader Matonabbee. His epic adventure culminated in the infamous and still-controversial massacre at "Bloody Falls"—a murderous battle between two native tribes that changed him forever. In a fascinating example of literary detective work, McGoogan determines that, having returned to London to live out his final days, Hearne met Samuel Taylor Coleridge, inspiring the poet to write "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."

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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
Although he began his career as a sailor, Samuel Hearne is better known as the first European to make an overland excursion across northern Canada to the Arctic Ocean, an exploit that he chronicled in a posthumously published journal. McGoogan’s account of Hearne’s service in the Royal Navy and of his years working for the Hudson’s Bay Company sets out to burnish the explorer’s reputation as a humanist, anthropologist, and literary pioneer. The detailed narrative of Hearne’s trek north with a band of Dene Indians is absorbing, despite the insertion of some clumsily dramatized scenes. But McGoogan fails to make the case for his most arresting claim: that Hearne’s compulsive recounting of a massacre he once witnessed inspired the figure of the haunted sailor in Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
Publishers Weekly
Although more concerned with the harsh realities of 18th-century exploration than the vagaries of rhyme and syntax, McGoogan's study does relate an often brutal tale with a surprising amount of grace and poetry. The book's hero, Samuel Hearne, first went to sea at age 12, as a British navy junior officer, and later became one of the most storied North American adventurers of his day, inspiring Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." Hearne (1745-1792) is a compelling subject: a learned man with a passion for Voltaire, and a sailor of some repute in the Seven Years' War, he went on to work for the Hudson Bay Company at its northernmost base, from where he set off on a three-year exploration of northern Canada, a journey he recorded in meticulous detail. The first European to stand on North America's northernmost shore, Hearne had, for a European of his time, an unusual amount of empathy for Native Americans (and a surprising facility with several of their languages). Thus it was especially difficult for him to understand the events that occurred at "Bloody Falls," in which the band Hearne was traveling with massacred a camp of Inuits for no apparent reason. The event haunted Hearne for the rest of his life and played a role in Coleridge's epic poem. Moving from England's bustling ports to the frozen tundra, from disease-wracked trading posts to London's coffeehouses, this work is a swift epic in its own right, providing a snapshot of a delicate world on the cusp of irrevocable change. B&w illus., maps. Agent, Beverley Slopen. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A straightforward biography of the first Englishman to explore northern Canada. Toronto-based McGoogan (Fatal Passage, 2002, etc.) presents his hero as a determined adventurer. Samuel Hearne (1745-92) became a midshipman in the Royal Navy at age 12, receiving his naval training under Captain Samuel Hood, who also served as mentor to Horatio Nelson. A disciple of Voltaire, Hearne found his suspicion of authority strengthened as he witnessed naval floggings and executions. After seeing action against France in the Seven Years War, he returned to London. In 1766, he joined the Hudson's Bay Company and was assigned to Prince of Wales Fort, the company's northernmost outpost. From this base he was sent to search the far west for rich veins of copper ore reported by natives who traded at the fort. He also aspired to settle the question of the long-hoped-for Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific. Accompanying Matonabee, a leader of the Dene, Hearne traveled about 3,500 miles across some of the most difficult terrain in the world. McGoogan credits him with being perhaps the first Arctic explorer to adopt the natives' methods, almost a necessity for Europeans attempting to live off the land in the frozen north. Neither the copper nor the Northwest Passage panned out; worse, Matonabee's warriors massacred a group of Inuit near what is now known as Bloody Fall. McGoogan attempts to provide a cultural context for this and other shocking acts by the tribespeople, but the overall effect is to emphasize even more the rigors of Hearne's journey. He later became governor of Prince of Wales Fort and was captured by French warships supporting the American Revolution. In failing health, hereturned for his final years to London, where he published his journals and met the young Coleridge. A gripping tale of genuine adventures, very well told. Agent: Beverley Slopen
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786713042
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 2/15/2003
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.18 (w) x 9.14 (h) x 1.23 (d)

Table of Contents

Author's Note
Prologue: Coleridge at Work 1
Pt. 1 Mr. Midshipman Hearne
1 The Boy from Beaminster 7
2 The Young Gentleman 26
3 Blood, Smoke, and Fire 42
4 Candide in London 60
Pt. 2 Maker of History
5 Prince of Wales Fort 75
6 The Far-Off Metal River 98
7 Massacre at Bloody Falls 128
8 Return from the Arctic Coast 159
9 Cumberland House 183
10 The Governor's Magic 203
Pt. 3 Ancient Mariner
11 Voyaging with Nobility 233
12 A London Farewell 257
13 Life After Death 279
Epilogue: Tracking the Mariner 297
Illustration Credits 311
Bibliography 313
Acknowledgements 321
Index 323
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