Cook the Writer
Cook the Writer
Cook the Writer
One of the penalties of being born a New Zealander is never, as a student, to have sat at the feet of Arnold Wood. There is a certain compensation, I suppose, in having read his books; and I derive pleasure myself from having helped with a new edition, much overdue, of his Discovery of Australia. To help with that was indeed a work of piety, because when I first began to be interested in the history of Pacific exploration, forty years ago, it was to that volume I turned; and I well remember, amidst my excitement, the despairing question I asked myself, Why, when it is all here, write another book, and a worse one, on the same subject? In the end the subject turned out not quite the same; however much I stole from Wood, I persuaded myself I had given it a rather different look; and once or twice I derived an immense, and dreadful, self-satisfaction from catching him out in a slip. Now I think, not exactly of the slips, but of the thundering bloomers, of which I have myself been guilty. And Wood, I think, the writer of history, remains as a standard of absorption in his subject, his own excitement lighting up the excitement in his reader—in its way, to use what has become aesthetic jargon, a life-enhancing thing. The matter I speak of tonight has itself some connection with Wood's excitement; for he loved his sources, the words he read, he quoted from them with a bountiful generosity; quotation was part of the texture of his style. He loved in particular—this is obvious—in words the immediate stamp of mind, though he never seems to have analysed what so carried him away. Nor do I now propose to make a detailed analysis of James Cook's literary style. Enough of his words bear the stamp of mind to make the effort, if there were time for it, interesting; but primarily it is the history of Cook the writer I propose to consider. Some things I must inevitably say that have been said before. The quality of the writing may come in incidentally.
We must first of all remark, however, with Cook himself, that he page 6 was not a natural-born writer. He did not take to words as he took to the sea or to mathematics. Unlike the desert philosopher, he could understand the way of a ship in the sea, but the graceful footsteps or the measured roll of English prose I cannot imagine his scrutinizing; and if he had done so, I cannot imagine much comprehension on his part. I do not suggest that he was impervious to the fact that some writing is better, more vivid, than other writing. There is proof enough to the contrary of that. Writing, however, clearly was not one of his boyhood ambitions. When he departed from the Postgate school at Great Ayton he could form his letters, spell in a rough and ready fashion—perhaps no worse than the majority of his betters at Eton and Harrow—and knew as much about punctuation and grammar, probably, as a twentieth-century undergraduate. This was a slender equipment for a man who was to be faced, before he died, with the chronicling of three great voyages; but one of the remarkable things about Cook was his capacity to learn. He began to learn to write comparatively late in life, as he approached the age of forty, and was faced with the necessity of keeping a journal. But surely, one may say, he had had to keep a journal before! Surely, as the master of line-of-battle ships—the Pembroke, the Northumberland—on the North American station at a time of stirring events—the fall of Louisburg, the fall of Quebec, the recovery of Newfoundland from the French—he had matters enough to record? Surely, on the Newfoundland survey, from 1763 to 1767, most of the time in command of his own vessel, he had things of interest to say? Sure enough, there is for those years a series of folio volumes, headed 'Journal', and with the name 'James Cook, master' attached; and I confess I waited in the Public Record Office for at least the Grenville journals, those covering the great survey, with the liveliest anticipation. What do they tell us? They tell us where he went; they tell us, briefly, about the exploding powder-horn, and that he ran his vessel on a rock; but as a record of impressions, as the reflection of a personality, they really do not count for much. We must read between the lines, we must use our imagination, we must look at the charts; and then we get something. We do not get it explicitly.
Why do we not get it? Simply because Cook is being not a great explorer but—in the middle of bicentennial celebrations it may seem absurd to say this—simply a conventional British naval officer. The naval officer had to keep a log and a journal. Cook's are no worse page 7 and no better than anybody else's. Let me define. A log had a number of separate columns, entered up with details of the winds and the ship's behaviour and management. In a separate, wider column, the log-keeper wrote down what were called 'remarkable occurrences'—not curious occurrences, that is, or psychologically unsettling occurrences, but simply occurrences deemed worthy of remark: as for instance, 'pm took on board the remainder of our bread', or 'sighted three sail in the NW', or 7 am at a signal from the Admiral weighed and came to sail'. So when, the day after the capitulation of Louisburg, the master of the Pembroke met Samuel Holland, the military engineer or surveyor, on shore, and thus was at a turning point in his career and in maritime history, we do not find the occurrence of an afternoon walk remarked on in his log. Nor do we find it in his journal. It was a personal matter, however interesting, not a ship matter. And when the officer came to write up his journal, he merely copied out the remarkable occurrences from his log. He might add something general about the weather. Consider Cook again in the Northumberland, in winter quarters in Halifax harbour. We know from other sources that he worked his way through mathematical textbooks and practised surveying, but does his journal give us any record of intellectual adventure, any word of excitement derived from the Compleat System of Astronomy of the learned Leadbetter? We should have a consuming interest in that. No, it tells us that a ship's party helped to put out a fire in a shed on shore, or that a sailor, poor devil, was flogged for deserting and selling his clothes. And the fleet weighed and came to sail. You have what may seem to you the odd fact, if you know only Cook's journals of his great voyages, that from his Newfoundland logs and journals you get exactly the same information—except that, now and again, the log contains a few more words, or in the journal he tries a different spelling for a place-name. If you want more elaborate statement, you can try one or two of his official letters or memoranda. They are still terse. Or you can read his sailing directions: terse, too, though clear; but a rather specialized form of prose.
We may say that all Cook's earlier life—his open-air boyhood, his service in colliers as well as in the navy (as a surveyor he still belonged to the navy) —was an apprenticeship for discovery. This is true if we stick to our preposition: it was an apprenticeship 'for', and not 'to' or 'in', discovery. A further thing should be remembered: that his earlier life, thus summed up, was four-fifths of his page 8 whole life, reckoned in time. A biographer has to give four-fifths of his space to the last fifth of his subject's career. And—still another thing—if discovery, to be useful, needs to be fully reported, then it is clear from what I have said that Cook had had no apprenticeship at all. Except, of course, that a chart may in itself be a useful, an exceedingly valuable, report; and sailing directions may be of the utmost service to later comers. But the point is not quite here. A chart is graphic, but it gives you no impression of people and their behaviour or the construction of their canoes; it can indicate, but not describe, a reef. So, Cook being in 1768 instructed by the Lords of the Admiralty to send to their Secretary, for their information, accounts of his Proceedings, and the proceedings to which his attention was directed including a vast array of observations of different sorts—observations going far beyond astronomical ones-are we to conclude that he had had a most comprehensive and rigorous training for everything but the one thing necessary? Of course no: there were many necessary things. But his training did have a gap. It seems to me therefore that the Endeavour voyage had a double significance in Cook's life. It was both a Remarkable Occurrence, an astonishing achievement; and it was itself the last part of his apprenticeship. It was apprenticeship in, as well as mastery of, discovery; and it was an apprenticeship in reporting on discovery.
On that voyage Cook learnt how to shape his experience into words. That may sound portentous, and I do not at all mean that we must henceforth see him as a Joseph Conrad or a sort of quarterdeck Henry James, wrestling with subtleties and the last nuances of statement. He never got beyond the plain style. But he had to state a good deal, and the old two- or three-line summary of ship's business would not do. It would not do quite often even for the weather. It certainly would not do for all the remarkable occurrences—some of them highly remarkable—of a three years' voyage. He had some despairs and exultations to record, as well as straightforward observations. He had a certain sense of irony. The plain, the straightforward level seamanlike tone has its variety within its own range, therefore. The Endeavour journal is plain but not dull. Cook has not the easy flow of a Dampier, but the words are firm, they mean something. His pages bear a great many deletions—some of them extremely heavy—interlineations, and additions, as if he could not stop looking for accuracy of statement; and some of these page 9 again were made after his clerk had copied his first statement. This journal also carries its own evidence that Cook could learn, that he was not impervious, as I have already said, to more vivid writing than his own. The man he learnt from on this voyage was that easy, vivid, within limits eloquent writer Banks. Clearly he was much taken with Banks, though now and then, perhaps, a little irritated by him; and clearly Banks was impressed by the seaman, though now and then he thought that Joseph Banks knew better. They read each other's journals, with liberty to copy or adapt. We can trace in the papers of each the use made of the other: even when Cook, in describing their circuit of Tahiti, copies a draft of Banks's that Banks later rejected. We can see Banks's words and phrases in Cook's final account of the crisis outside the Great Barrier Reef on 16 August 1770, when only a breath of air saved the ship and her company from destruction. The development of the text from log to first version of the journal to this final account is highly interesting, and Cook incorporates Banks not in a single slab but with what I am compelled to call considerable literary tact. He does not say, or need to say, with Banks that 'The fear of Death is Bitter' for us to realize the closeness of death; he seems to keep his bitterness for his subsequent meditation on Timorous-ness and Temerity and 'the world', a meditation which was far beyond Banks. Nevertheless, go through Cook and Banks together, and you will have adequate material for the game of 'parallel passages'. I mean passages in words: not those which display a natural coincidence of thought, or witness to discussion in the great cabin—for example, those in which both lay down the outlines of a suggested further voyage, and urge the publication of the results of recent British voyages in the Pacific
Publication could hardly be far from the mind of Government, more especially as the Endeavour's arrival home had just been preceded by the appearance in Paris of the book in which Bougainville recounted his circumnavigation and his discovery of Tahiti. To counterbalance this, the Admiralty had in its hands the journals of four circumnavigations, each marked by Pacific discoveries (including a discovery of Tahiti prior to Bougainville's)—those of Byron, Wallis, Carteret, and Cook—treasure indeed. Would it do to publish each separately? Hardly, ran the thought: for none of the captains was a literary man, all the journals would require editing before they were launched on the polite world; they formed a con-page 10nected story, and could best be linked together by one professional hand. The professional hand should be that of a literary man and not of a seaman. Literary men wrote the prose of the polite world; seamen did not. The possibility that a literary man might convey with great elegance a meaning contrary to that of the seamen concerned could be obviated by having his text read and passed by those seamen. The thought, which became a decision, is intelligible; but something went wrong. The result was the three quarto volumes we know as Hawkesworth's Voyages, of which the second and third were devoted to the voyage of the Endeavour.
The outlines of this piece of literary history are familiar. Some of the details are not altogether clear. Dr John Hawkesworth was well known as a miscellaneous writer. Sandwich, the First Lord, conferred the favour on him at the suggestion of Burney, the musician, supported by Garrick, the actor. Neither of these eminent persons was much acquainted with maritime affairs. Hawkesworth was regarded as fortunate, and made a very handsome bargain with the booksellers. He was given all the captains' journals. He was given also, through the kind offices of Sandwich, the journal of 'Joseph Banks Esquire, a Gentleman possessed of considerable property in Lincolnshire', with a liberal fortune and the education of a scholar, and it was 'indeed fortunate for mankind', thought Hawkesworth, 'when wealth and science, and a strong inclination to exert the powers of both for purposes of public benefit, unite in the same person'; and this was better than the observations of men who were merely excellent officers and skilful navigators. Our literary man was not interested in geography or nautical matters; he was interested in making an impression on a public much wider than geographers and sailors. He thought he would make more, and a more immediate, impression on that public if he wrote always in the first person, as a captain, or at least a participant, not a historian. Nevertheless, being a man with some vague leanings towards philosophy and away from the tenets of the Established Church, and with some smattering of classical scholarship, he thought, and stipulated, that he should be free to insert such moral sentiments and general observations as occurred to him on suitable occasions. He deplored the prospect of 'a naked narrative'. We can now realize that the two requirements were incompatible: having taken Cook straight, we are a little surprised to find him philosophizing on mortality, and even more surprised to find, when he page 11 sighted a party of Maori women collecting shellfish, how instantaneously he was reminded of the chaste Diana and her nymphs. As Cook was the major part of the writer's task, and Cook was expected to leave within a few months on a second expedition, Hawkes-worth tackled him first; and, as Hawkesworth himself pointed out, there is more of this sort of thing in the alleged Cook than in the remaining volume, when he was running out of sentiments. The extent of the Cook account is due not merely to the extent of the voyage, but to the use made of Banks. This is quite easily followed; for Hawkesworth, unlike Cook, relied largely on the 'slab' technique, and you can go through him with a pencil and tick off at once the Cook paragraphs and the Banks paragraphs.
Hawkesworth's Voyages were, with the general public, a success. He knew his general public. He had, however, critics; and sailors were not pleased. Some sailors in particular were astounded at the claim he made that his pages had been studied before they reached print by the captains whose journals they purported to render; and the particular sailors were precisely those captains. Cook could not immediately be one of them, because at the date of publication he was in the Pacific Ocean on a winter passage eastward from New Zealand. But Carteret, to take one of the others, was wildly outraged as well as astounded. Hawkesworth made his claim in good faith; he understood that the agreement had been carried out. It had not, for whatever reason; and that is what had gone wrong. There was no redress for anybody. Hawkesworth, in spite of popular success, and in spite of his spirited dealing with some of the criticism, was deeply wounded by other parts of it; though whether he died of chagrin, as was widely noised about, we have no real means of knowing. As for Cook, we have his opinion in his journal of his second voyage. At St Helena, on the way home, he found himself the object of some satire over what he was alleged to have said about that island and its people—over what, in fact, his editor had blithely copied out from Banks, whose social observation here certainly had been slapdash. 'It is no wonder', Cook ruefully writes, 'that the account which is given of it in the narrative of my former Voyage should have given offence to all the principle Inhabitents. It was not less mortifying to me when I first read it, which was not till I arrived now at the Cape of Good Hope; for I never had the perusal of the Manuscript nor did I ever hear the whole of it read in the mode it was written, notwithstanding what Dr Hawkes-page 12worth worth has said the Contrary in the Interduction … How these things came to be thus missrepresented, I can not say, as they came not from me.' This is criticism founded on matters of fact, not of style—unless the words, 'in the mode it was written', testify to some wonderment on the sailor's part. From what he later told Boswell, it seems clear that he did hear some pages read, raised objections, and the objections were ignored.
When it came to telling the story of the second voyage, the procedure was quite different. A Voyage towards the South Pole, and Round the World is, apart from small things, Cook's own book. Cook, it seems to me, must have been preparing for this all through the voyage. The textual history of the thing almost proves it. We must, however, proceed step by step, and use hypothesis as little as possible. We can be certain that when the decision was taken to publish the previous voyages, he was told frankly enough that his journal, like the others, would have to pass through a literary mind, for the obvious grammatical and syntactical reasons. We cannot fancy him rebelling against either the declaration or the reasons for it: authorship had never entered into his ambitions, and he had plenty of work to do. We may presume, though we don't know, that he met Hawkesworth; if he did, we have no means of knowing how Hawkesworth affected him, whether the man of letters was thoroughly agreeable to the man of the sea, or patronized him; and the presumption and the query may alike be irrelevant. But Cook, though he was neither an instructed nor a self-conscious writer, was intelligent enough to know after his first voyage that he could put two words together. He had a certain stimulus in the books he read. They were mainly professional books, the big folio of Harris's Voyages, the Forster translation of Bougainville, Dalrymple's Historical Collection of 1770-71; and he read Hakluyt for recreation. I imagine that some time or other the thought must have struck him, 'Why should I not write my own voyage myself? I may not be too certain of “was” and “were” and points and dashes, but after all I shall know something about it, and shall be able to say what I think about it'. This was long before he met Diana and the nymphs. Failing this sort of question, how are we to account for the vast amount of drafting and redrafting, expanding, abbreviating and recasting, correction, substitution, interlineation, a million words or so of it, that Cook committed to paper between July 1772 and July 1775? This was a much more thoroughgoing page 13 process than his revisions of the first voyage. It could not have been because he was a writer by instinct. It could hardly have been that he was merely filling in time, though he had plenty of time. He was working for the sake of fullness and accuracy, yes; but there are the bits of considered abbreviation. He wished to give the Lords of the Admiralty all the detail they could want (after all he was reporting to them), to be absolutely honest? There is certainly no attempt to romanticize. I am driven to the conclusion that though Cook may have had no desire to figure as an author, he was determined that any man of letters let loose on his journal would see things, and portray them, as James Cook had seen them. It is just possible that he was helped in this resolve by the conversation of John Reinhold Forster, the official natural historian on board, who had the fixed idea that John Reinhold Forster was to write the history of the voyage.
I had better be more matter-of-fact about the journal of this second voyage, while trying to avoid too much complication. I have examined its textual history in detail elsewhere, and I hope I am never faced again with such a task. Cook of course starts with his log, but we can lay that aside. Whereas we have for the first voyage one holograph manuscript journal, for the second we have two, and I can see no alternative to thinking that at some stage there must have been a third. I mean, literally, that during the course of the voyage Cook wrote out three separate and complete journals. 'Continuous' might be a safer word than 'complete'. We can tell this, because of the third, now vanished, we have a copy that coincides with neither of the two others. They are separate, because although the pattern is the same, there are large variations. They can be called continuous, even though the first version stops in November 1774, as the Resolution departs from Queen Charlotte Sound for the last time—perhaps because Cook ran out of blank sheets of that particular size, perhaps because some parts have been lost; and even though he leaves a few hiatuses, where there was a bit of straight copying to be done, which he thought he would get round to later, and never did. There are four manuscript copies extant: one of these, with corrections by Cook, copies not a single original, but portions of two different holographs. The copies have footnotes by Cook. There are numerous fragments in his hand; some are still turning up in the sale-rooms. Now in establishing a basic text for page 14 publication, I thought it most sensible tp print what seemed to be the earlier of the existing holograph versions, accompanying it with footnote extracts from the other as a sort of commentary; and when it stopped, at 10 November 1774, to complete the text from the other. This works well enough, but there is one difference between the two versions that seems to me significant.
The difference is this, to put it briefly: in Version One, Cook uses ship time; in Version Two, civil time. The difference in time—the difference between what Cook calls in one place the 'Natural' day and the 'Nautical' day—results in a difference in dating. Put more at length: according to marine convention, the day—any specific sequence of twenty-four hours—ran from noon to noon, began at one noon and finished the next, so that on any specific day as the sailor dated it the afternoon preceded the morning. Thus, any entry in Cook's log that summarizes the weather for 'the former part' of the day refers to the afternoon, 'the latter part' refers to the following morning. But in civil time the day, or the date, runs from midnight to midnight, so that— the pedant in me insists on the statement—the morning, the before-noon, precedes the afternoon; and this was equally true in the eighteenth century for Cook's fellow-Britons on shore who read books. So, to take a date at random, while the civilian was still experiencing one afternoon the joys or sorrows of 4 July, that had become for Cook, or any other sailor keeping a log, or transferring the remarkable occurrences noted in his log to his journal, 5 July; but the next morning was, for both the civilian and the sailor, 5 July. In the Endeavour journal Cook had maintained ship time, except when he was at Tahiti: as he himself says, 'The way of reckoning the Day in Sea Journals is from Noon to Noon, but as the Most material transactions at this Island must happen in the Day time this method will be attended with ilconveniences in inserting the transactions of each Day; for this reason I shall during our stay at this Island but no longer reckon the day according to the civil account, that is to begin and end at midnight'. He has begun to think in a different way. This is the difference that I take to be significant between the two versions of the journal of the second voyage. He did not need to change to civil time in Version Two for his own convenience. The change meant a great deal of adjustment in phrasing. He did not need to do so for the convenience of the Admiralty. Then for whose convenience? I am compelled to page 15 think it was for the public convenience, and that Cook, consciously or subconsciously, was writing a book. Whether he should figure as the author was probably a different matter. In July 1775 he arrived home, and no doubt there was some conversation about Hawkesworth—fortunate, unfortunate, dead and gone, but leaving behind him three volumes that continued to have a very lively existence. What was to be done now? No more consultation of Dr Burney. There was certainly no automatic adoption of Cook as historian. His own history for a while is bound up with that of John Reinhold Forster. This odd man had conceived that his reward for being carried in discomfort round the world should be not merely the £4000 he had been granted initially, but the sole right to chronicle the events of the voyage, with the entire profits therefrom, and a pension for life. This was not what Lord Sandwich had intended at all. Again we have a complicated story, which I very much abbreviate and simplify. The possibility of Forster was not ruled out, and he submitted a specimen, in producing which he had had the use of Cook's pages. This specimen did not meet with approval, and the question was where to turn next. The Admiralty had Cook's journals, and there was an obvious answer, if he would work on them still more, and have his text corrected by an expert in grammar and punctuation and the finer points of style. That, to be sure, would not take care of the natural history side of the voyage, and here was still scope for Forster, if he correspondingly would submit to have his English overseen. He sent in another specimen of narrative, which again was rejected, apparently because it went far beyond a strictly scientific dissertation. Cook had no false pride, and buckled down. Forster agreed to limit himself in theme, but in the matter of his prose was uncontrollable: 'I cannot submit to that Indignity to have my performance treated like a theme of a Schoolboy: the Public will not be the better for it'. Lord Sandwich accordingly ceased to treat with him on the subject, to his profound annoyance; and Cook was left the sole official writer.
He had to labour hard to get through; for he had a third voyage in prospect, and there were other demands upon him. He laboured on Version Two, with a merciless and quite professional thoroughness—once again deleting, adding, interlining, rephrasing, incorporating footnotes in the text, transferring paragraphs from one place to another, writing sentences in the margin of his pages, page 16 drafting new sentences or paragraphs on scraps of paper marked A and B; there is fair copy and foul copy; he visualizes his public, and slips in a phrase like 'which I shall endeavour to convey to the reader'; and finally, when interlineations became confusing, or corrections were vital, took to the thing with red ink. An unliterary man he might be, but there was little the literary man could teach him about the conscientious shaping of a text. And just as Hawkesworth had had a second journal, Banks's, to help him, Cook could get help—had already had help—from a second one, that of William Wales the astronomer. Wales, an exceptionally intelligent and agreeable person, with a mind nourished on humane letters as well as on mathematics, would make his own contribution to the scientific records of the voyages in the published volumes of astronomical observations. He was not quite the sole source of supplementary information Cook had, and we can follow what I shall call Cook's constructional method pretty clearly if we consider his account of Easter Island. Here, still weak from recent severe illness, he had had to confine himself to pottering about the beach, while he sent a party led by Lieutenant Pickersgill, and including Wales, to march over the island and observe all they could. Pickersgill wrote a brief report. Cook began with a simple copy of this, inside quotation marks. He copied it into both Version One and an intermediary version I shall call X. But he also had discussion with Pickersgill and Wales and saw the latter's journal. So he wrote an additional account of the island in X, an amalgam of himself, Pickersgill and Wales. Then—I assume when he was doing his final rewriting in London, and had the use of Wales's journal to plunder as he liked—he abandoned the direct Pickersgill altogether, though still using his substance, and provided in Version Two something quite new, much longer, much fuller, with acknowledgements: 'This account of the excursion I had from Mr Pickersgill and Mr Wales, men on whose veracity I could depend'. We can see something, at least, of the same process of reflective assimilation in an earlier part of the journal, in his treatment of the large extract from Furneaux which covers the separation of the two ships and Furneaux's spell on the coast of Tasmania. Would that, for instructed judgement, he had looked also at other records than Furneaux's! I return to Wales. He was one of Cook's educators in literacy. Wales helps him with phrases, with paragraphs, with thoughts. He can build on them. He is generally discriminating. When he adverts to the heroes of Homer, page 17 he does not claim direct acquaintance. Mr Wales had told him. On the other hand, knowing his usual mode of expression, we are a little startled when he brings in the all-devouring jaws of time. See, as one might annotate, Wales. The comparison could be continued for much longer. It would be an error to attribute too much. Cook's thought and style are alike stimulated by Wales: he even learns to balance his sentences, not without skill. But he remains Cook.
Remaining Cook, he remained 'incorrect'. I put the word in quotation marks. That is where Dr John Douglas, Canon of Windsor, came in. 'The journal of his late voyage', wrote the captain to a friend, 'would want those flourishes which Dr Hawkesworth gave the other.' Studying the whole history of Cook publication, we can see that Dr Douglas was capable of flourishes of his own. It is clear, however, that while in matters of 'correctness' Cook, like a sensible man, was glad to bow to the mentor Lord Sandwich had appointed for him, he remained in control; and Douglas, like a sensible man, did not attempt to step beyond his commission. He had an acute mind, wrote well himself, and respected Cook. Cook respected him, and wrote him letters that illustrate a very friendly relationship, no less than the few dozen bottles of Constantia wine and Madeira, late the Resolution, which passed to Windsor. Back passed hints and memoranda, and minor amendments beyond number. Spelling conformed more closely with Johnson, verbs put on more regular tense and number, there was some substitution of words to avoid flat repetition, and a more subtle use of 'which' and 'when' to avoid a chain of 'and's'. There is fairly consistent treatment of one of Cook's seamanlike locutions: to take a specimen, his 'Thursday 24th. Winds from N.W. to N.E.', which is possibly inelegant though brief, becomes, 'On the 24th the wind blew from N.W. to N.E.' None of this is drastic; it is all useful. What does give Cook almost a new look, while leaving him essentially unchanged, is Douglas's skilful punctuation, his slight redeployment of sentence and paragraph. The sequence of thought and words remains, but the step is more regular, the quarter-deck rapidity is slowed down just enough; there is a style not superimposed but, almost, revealed. Admirable editor indeedl And indeed, if one is interested in Cook as a mind one discovers, in the development of his text from log to printed page, something of the same order of fascination that recent students have revealed in the development of thought and page 18 diction in the poems of, say, a Keats. I am not suggesting that Cook's prose is as good as Keats's poetry.
Cook went off on his third voyage, and while Douglas read his proofs for him he was already beginning a third journal. We cannot trace its growth as we can the growth of the second, because we have not the materials. We have the journal itself, breaking off five weeks before Cook's death, a fragment of fairly full log in his hand carrying on his story for ten days longer, and a copy by his clerk of what we may call, in nautical terms, a 'Log and Proceedings' which goes exactly as far as the journal does. There must have been much more. How much more, it is impossible to guess. It is impossible to guess because of the loss of all his 'loose papers', as they are defined, in transit from the Admiralty to his editor, Douglas again. Three parcels were sent; at least one disappeared for ever. Fortunately the journal itself survived. We can guess at the nature of loose papers, but guessing provides us with no evidence. What strikes us at once is that the journal is a sophisticated document. Cook knew from the start exactly what he wanted to do. His second voyage experience of writing, recasting, and final arduous revision had left him in no doubt. He set out deliberately to write a book, a book by James Cook—not one that would need no further attention, and could go straight to a printer, but still one that had reached virtual finality in shape, proportions, and intended detail. I say 'intended' detail because he left a large number of small blank spaces for figures of latitude and longitude, bearings, geographical names, and so on, which he could easily look up in his log later when he was not in the full cry of composition, or about which he had not made up his mind. Once or twice there is a longer hiatus, as where on leaving Van Diemen's Land he writes, 'Mr Anderson my Surgeon spent the few days we lay here in Examining the Country and gave me the following account of its Natural productions'—but omits to copy the account in the three pages he leaves for it. But he has directed his clerk to copy it out elsewhere, and this is done, and we know exactly what he intended. The log entries for the long days at sea are remorselessly compressed to a sentence or two of narrative: we can generally get more about winds and weather from his officers, sometimes even from the two journal-keeping surgeons Anderson and Samwell. There are entries occasionally deleted in the journal itself, reflecting an alteration in the plan of the voyage. Thus, after writing some descriptive sentences page 19 on Unalaska as he advances into the Arctic, he does away with them, because making a second visit on his return he finds much more to say, and consolidates his impressions. He wrote originally only on the rectos of his leaves, but adds a good deal on the versos, by way of enlarging or clarifying the text opposite. There are, of course, the ordinary deletions and second thoughts. Dating is managed throughout by setting the name of the month at the top of the page, with the succession of days, in consistently civil reckoning, in the margin. I may add that by this time his spelling has greatly improved. One must have the feeling that if Cook had lived there would have been a fair copy of all this, and of his entries for the rest of the voyage, and that when he arrived at the Admiralty to report on his proceedings he could have said not merely, 'Here is my journal', but 'Here is my book'.
As I have mentioned William Anderson I may add that he was the Banks or Wales of the third voyage. He was an engaging young man, of scientifically wide-ranging mind, not as lively as Banks, not as humorous as Wales; of a natural probity, an excellent observer and interesting writer, none the less. His death of tuberculosis in the Bering Sea in August 1778 was by common consent an unhappy blow to the expedition. Cook, it seems, had a real affection for him, 'a very great regard', and his conversation and his writing were at Cook's disposal. As far as one can see, these were not taken into the substance of Cook's own writing, as were Banks and Wales; but he was, to adapt slightly a famous remark, damned good to quote from. Douglas, when he came to present Cook to the public, found this too, and quoted him in whole chapters: 'he enabled me' (to quote now editorial reminiscence) 'to draw up a much more interesting Narrative than could have been extracted from Capt Cook's M.S.' Cook could this time exercise no control. While Douglas 'faithfully represented the facts'—I quote from him again— he 'was less scrupulous in cloathing them with better Stile than fell to the usual Share of the Capt'. And there was the truly excellent King, who wrote the third volume, with a proper politeness. This Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, of 1784, was indeed a co-operative work, not at all Cook's as the previous one had been.
At this stage a few words may perhaps be said, more specifically, about the captain's writing, that inferior style that usually fell to his share, apart from the process by which he built up his completed journals. The process is fairly clear, beginning with the page 20 unprepared plunge into recording the days of the first voyage, and ending with the careful, the thought-out, planning of the journal of the third. We are reminded that the history of Cook the explorer is the history of careful planning, and, within that planning, of elasticity in adaptation, the history of the gifted apprentice who so quickly became a master. He did not so quickly and entirely become a master of words. He loved facts, the investigation of facts, the reduction of hypothesis and myth or vagueness to facts, and he had a professional devotion to the process and the tools by which this was done. The tools were his ship and her furniture, his compass, sextant, chronometer. He found that the serious mind he brought to these things, he must bring also to words. True, if words are to reflect facts accurately, to give other people the full roundness and experience of facts, they need an intimate knowledge of both their concreteness— for they too have a potential concreteness—and their subtle interconnections, the wavering 'atmosphere' round some of them like that Cook found round the planet Venus when he observed it from Tahiti in 1769; of the sort of latent, almost physical property, that makes them burst, sometimes, into illuminating fire when two of the concrete pieces are brought together. Cook did not have this knowledge—nor, one fancies, did Douglas or Hawkesworth. But he had seriousness, simple integrity, a perfectly unassuming and primary wish to tell the truth, and he seized on the best words for this as they came to him. His reviewer in the Gentleman's Magazine hit it off quite well, speaking of a 'plain natural strength and clearness, and an unaffected modesty which schools cannot teach'. As his mind is straightforward, then, and uncultivated in the conventional sense, he does not write with much picturesqueness, there is no particular vitality in his incorrectness. In expression, in description, he does nothing to adventure out of the ordinary; one cannot imagine embarking on his Voyages as one travels with Doughty in his Arabia Deserta, rapt away more by Doughty than by Arabia Deserta.
I have already said that Cook did not romanticize; nor did he dramatize. He did not have the dramatic mind; I do not think he was self-conscious enough to dramatize even himself. Although he speaks of himself constantly enough—his journals were in form personal things—I do not think he sees himself very often. There is a famous instance on the second voyage: 'I whose ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but page 21 as far as I think it possible for man to go'—he saw himself at that moment, certainly, turning back without sorrow from the edge of the ice-field; and there is a simple eloquence, and an eloquent rhythm, in the words. But I doubt if it was a dramatic vision. And if he had had much sense of the force of words, apart from their truth, would he have altered these few as he did in what I have called his Version Two?—'I who had Ambition not only to go farther than any one had done before, but as far as it was possible for man to go'. You have rubbed down the fine edge of your prose and your personality, one would say to him, isn't that rather a pity? To which he would probably reply that he wasn't interested in a fine edge, he was saying the same thing and had saved two words over it; and as for personality, all he was doing was explaining why he had turned tail. I think he is conscious of himself in his depth of exhaustion and misery after escaping the reef in August 1770, and his words are riveting enough then. I think with difficulty of other instances. On the third voyage, his difference with his crew over sugar-cane beer: but why, one is tempted to ask, could he not make more of one of the great moments of the first voyage, his discovery of Cook Strait? 'I was abundantly recompenced for the trouble I had in assending the hill, for from it I saw what I took to be the Eastern Sea and a strait or passage from it into the Western Sea a little to the Eastward of the entrance of the Inlet in which we now lay with the Ship'. Perhaps it is enough. He saw a passage; he felt abundantly recompensed; he says so in a few simple and quite accurate words; the Lords of the Admiralty would ask for no more, and why should we? Well: these voyages are not made for the sake of despairs and exultations, or for the improvement of a literary style. They are made for the improvement of Geography and Navigation. The fewer despairs we have the better; and exultations will only take our minds off the business we have in hand.
A friend of mine whose critical intimations I value more highly than my own finds Cook's third voyage journal, in its latest appearance, dull: at least, so I infer from the falling away he detects in it from what he calls the fresh vigour of the first and the confident exuberance of the second, 'some tired writing'—to go no further. I should certainly agree that whether the actual writing seems tired or not, a good deal of it must be the writing of a tired man. If 'dull' adequately renders my friend's verdict then I cannot agree, page 22 though I am probably the last person to be able to make a valid judgement on grounds of pure literature; for prolonged textual study has left me with the impression that every word of every journal and every scrap of paper is important, carries a compulsive, a trembling excitement. Without wanting to make general dogma of that I immediately find in this third journal a dozen pages that strike me as good; but what are a dozen in five hundred? Perhaps Cook should arbitrate between us, in a passage that I may cite not in its first very imperfect form, nor as it went to the printer in 1776 with the final polish of the Canon of Windsor; and I apply it, allowing for changes in naval rank, not only to his second journal but to his first and his third ones as well—judging 'that it would be more exceptable to the Public, in the Authors words, than in any other persons, and that the Candid and faithfull manner in which it is written would counterbalance the want of stile and dullness of the subject. It is a work for information and not for amusement, written by a man, who has not the advantage of Education, acquired, nor Natural abilities for writing; but by one who has been constantly at sea from his youth, and who, with the Assistance of a few good friends gone through all the Stations belonging to a Seaman, from a prentice boy in the Coal Trade to a Commander in the Navy. After such a Candid confession he hopes the Public will not consider him as an author, but a man Zealously employed in the Service of his Country and obliged to give the best account he is able of his proceedings'.