Great Pirate Storiesby Joseph Lewis French
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Piracy embodies the romance of the sea at its highest expression. It is a sad but inevitable commentary on our civilization, that, so far as the sea is concerned, it has developed from its infancy down to a century or so ago, under one phase or another of piracy. If men were savages on land they were doubly so at sea, and all the years of maritime adventure--years that added to the map of the world till there was little left to discover--could not wholly eradicate the piratical germ. It went out gradually with the settlement and ordering of the far-flung British colonies. Great Britain, foremost of sea powers, must be credited with doing more both directly and indirectly for the abolition of crime and disorder on the high seas than any other force. But the conquest was not complete till the advent of steam which chased the sea-rover into the farthest corners of his domain. It is said that he survives even today in certain spots in the Chinese waters,--but he is certainly an innocuous relic. A pirate of any sort would be as great a curiosity today if he could be caught and exhibited as a fabulous monster.
The fact remains and will always persist that in the lore of the sea he is far and away the most picturesque figure,--and the more genuine and gross his career, the higher degree of interest does he inspire.
There may be a certain human perversity in this, for the pirate was unquestionably a bad man--at his best, or worst--considering his surroundings and conditions,--undoubtedly the worst man that ever lived. There is little to soften the dark yet glowing picture of his exploits. But again, it must be remembered, that not only does the note of distance subdue, and even lend a certain enchantment to the scene, but the effect of contrast between our peaceful times and his own contributes much to deepen our interest in him. Perhaps it is this latter, added to that deathless spark in the human breast that glows at the tale of adventure, which makes him the kind of hero of romance that he is today.
He is undeniably a redoubtable historical figure. It is a curious fact that the commerce of the seas was cradled in the lap of buccaneering. The constant danger of the deeps in this form only made hardier mariners out of the merchant-adventurers, actually stimulating and strengthening maritime enterprise.
Buccaneering--which is only a politer term for piracy--thus became the high romance of the seas during the great centuries of maritime adventure. It went hand in hand with discovery,--they were in fact almost inseparable. Most of the mighty mariners from the days of Leif the Discoverer, through those of the redoubtable Sir Francis Drake down to our own Paul Jones, answer to the roll-call.
It was a bold hardy world--this of ours--up to the advent of our giant-servant, Steam,--every foot of which was won by fierce conquest of one sort or another. Out of this past the pirate emerges as a romantic, even at times heroic, figure. This final niche, despite his crimes, cannot altogether be denied him. A hero he is and will remain so long as tales of the sea are told. So, have at him, in these pages!
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- Library of Alexandria
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