The Two Admirals: A Taleby James Fenimore Cooper
Author of the first scholarly history of the United States Navy, James Fenimore Cooper had long hoped to commemorate the American Navy by representing its fleet in action. Since no such fleet existed in 1841, he reverted to the Jacobite War of 1745 when the great British and French fleets contested in the English Channel and the colonial and British fleets were one… See more details below
Author of the first scholarly history of the United States Navy, James Fenimore Cooper had long hoped to commemorate the American Navy by representing its fleet in action. Since no such fleet existed in 1841, he reverted to the Jacobite War of 1745 when the great British and French fleets contested in the English Channel and the colonial and British fleets were one.
Ever the experimenter in fiction, Cooper achieved a metaphysical dimension by assigning personal attributes to the ships in combat, and he also implicitly recalled his long friendship with Commodore William Branford Shubrick (much later, Rear Admiral Shubrick) in the story of the friendship between his two admiralsOates and Bluewaterof the British Navy. The result is an intriguingly realistic romance.
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We first meet dashing young British Naval Lieutenant Wycherly Wychecombe hauling himself up a cliff by a very thin rope. The time was June 1745. The place, the English county of Devon and its southern coast abutting the English Channel. The Lieutenant (let's call him WW for short), a third generation Virginian, has been six weeks recuperating near the ancient village of Wychecombe which lies back a bit from the high cliffs looking down on a small, little used sheltered bay. WW has fallen in love with beautiful young Mildred, reputed daughter of 40-something Frank Dutton. Lieutenant WW scrambles down a steep cliff in a fog to pick flowers for Mildred. A part of his rocky path crumbles and he is stranded. He quickly procures from above a rope that is part of the naval signaling station run by Dutton and, sailorlike, swings himself to safety. ***** Meanwhile, masts of a powerful British fleet of 16 ships are glimpsed rising through the thick fog anchoring in the bay, a sight never seen before. "Twin admirals" and best friends Vice Admiral Sir Gervaise Oakes and Rear Admiral Richard Bluewater, a third generation naval officer, command the fleet. They are greeted by local VIP Baronet Sir Wycherly Wychecombe (same name as our Lieutenant WW, though neither asserts kinship). Word arrives that Bonnie Prince Charlie has landed in Scotland and that the clans are rising to restore the Stuarts and kick out the Hanoverians. Sir Wycherly Wychecombe is up late into the night toasting the ruling German dynasty and suddenly keels over in an apoleptic fit. He will die in not too many hours while begging the two admirals to help him write a new will against his nephew, Tom, acknowledged but illegitimate son of his recently dead brother, a judge. ***** When Admiral Bluewater's eyes first light on the fair Mildred, it is as if he is looking at his long dead, supposedly, unmarried first love, Agnes Hedworth, whom both his brother, an army colonel Gregory Wychecombe, as well as Admiral Oakes had loved. ***** The gothic novel craze has passed its peak by 1842 when James Fenimore Cooper wrote THE TWO ADMIRALS, A SEA TALE. But an element or two of gothic are retained in this sea novel: that of mysterious identities, lost heirs and low-born beauties who turn out to be of noble blood. Politically, several strands are woven into the tale: Virginian WW's resentment of being considered inferior by native Britons and the powerful sudden appeal to Tories made by gallant Prince Charles Edward's appearing without an army to raise his father's standard in faraway Scotland. In particular, Admiral Bluewater is loyal to the Stuarts and increasingly tempted to resign his commission in the Hanoverian navy to go north to fight for the rightful King's son. Only about a quarter of the novel's text goes to a mighty battle in stormy seas between the outgunned British and the hostile French who may be trying to help Prince Charles. This is a fascinating story of strained loyalties, inrigue, heroism and derring-do. Enjoy! -OOO-