The Children of the New Forest (1847), by Captain Marryat

This is, of course, a modern cover… I unfortunately do not own a 1st edition, much as I would love to.

Captain Frederick Marryat (1792-1848) is well known as a Victorian novelist as well as an officer in the Royal Navy. His semi-autobiographical Mr. Midshipman Easy (1836) and his later Masterman Ready (1841)—both naval adventures—are perhaps his most famous works, but he wrote a total of 26 novels beginning with The Naval Officer in 1829. His final two novels—The Little Savages and Valerie—were published posthumously in 1848. It is interesting to note that Marryat spent time in both the USA and Canada, and in fact took part in the British defense during the 1837 Rebellion in Upper Canada. His novels set in North America thus exhibit far more authenticity than those of, for example, G. A. Henty’s later “Boys’ Own” style Imperialist adventure tales.

Published in 1847, The Children of the New Forest was the last novel released while the author still lived (see the comments for a bit more about editions). Unlike his more swashbuckling naval and military adventure novels, Children of the New Forest is historical, set during the English Civil War and Cromwellian rule in England. A Victorian historical novel appeals on a number of grounds, but I must admit that I had long put off reading Children of the New Forest, thinking that it would be a significant investment in time and energy, Victorian boys’ novels being what they are: wordy and often unnecessarily pompous or overly didactic in tone. Those that are not, I have found—per Henty and Haggard—are often almost offensively Imperialist. This renders them fascinating to study, but not so enjoyable to read. Still, when I was at a loss for what to read on the bus coming home from the office a few weeks ago, I pulled Marryat’s novel off the shelf and began at the beginning. By the time I reached home an hour later, I was a quarter of the way through the book and thoroughly engaged. I finished it within three days.

The story tells of the four children of the loyalist Colonel Beverley, who is killed defending King Charles I against the Cromwellian army in the Battle of Naseby in 1645. His home is subsequently destroyed, and the

This frontispiece of the Beverley mansion burning was created by Marryat’s son (http://www.bl.uk/collections/early/victorian/children/childn3.html).

children presumed dead. To keep them safe, however, a loyal retainer has taken them to his woodsman’s cottage deep in the New Forest, where they grow to semi-adulthood before his death of old age. The eldest son takes a post as secretary to a sympathetic Forest Warden, and eventually becomes embroiled in the Royalist plans to restore the monarchy. Hidden identities, love affairs, politics, loyalties and legalities: Children of the New Forest has it all, presented in prose that is fluid, with descriptions that are lush and poetic. Perhaps it is because I do start out liking Regency and Victorian novels—when I have the leisure to devote to them—but despite expectations I found The Children of the New Forest a lively, entertaining, yet informative tale that I strongly recommend to any modern reader—of any age—interested in British history, childhood studies, or just a well-written tale of honour, loyalty, and survival in hard times.

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7 comments on “The Children of the New Forest (1847), by Captain Marryat

  1. Maria Allen says:

    I have an edition of ‘Children of the New Forest’ gifted to someone in 1896. The only reference to print is ‘Printed for the booksellers’. The cover is bottle green, decoratively embossed, a gilt title and author’s surname on the spine, and gilt crest, including a lion and unicorn, on the front.

  2. Peter Economos says:

    Hi, the first edition was not 1836, it was 1847 – Printed in this year as two volumes, which have the Vol number in Gilt on the spine. The title on the front covers is also gilt, surrounded by a wreath in gilt and then there is the blind stamped pattern to the top and bottom of front and back covers for both volumes.
    The earliest edition had 12 plates (reduced to 8 shortly after the initial FE printing run to save costs). The plate opposite the title page in Vol I will be “The Burning of Arnwood” Opposite the title page in Vol II is another plate, “The robber acquaints Edward with the spot where the treasure was hidden”.
    If you have two volumes and these plates are opposite the title pages, then they are likely to be the first edition. The title pages both are in red and green ink. The page after the title page will list the names and page numbers of the plates, 8 plates in Vol I and 4 plates in Vol II.

    I hope this helps with your questions, even if it was from some time ago. Peter – Auscollectiblebooks Australia.

    • Thanks for this, Peter. I looked again for the copy I seem to have found stating that it was 1836, and it has (not surprisingly, I guess) disappeared from the internet. Could it possibly have been a mis-labelling of a first edition of Midshipman Easy, I wonder? Regardless, I appreciate your setting the record straight.

  3. Shonda says:

    I’m currently reading this book, and love it very much as well. The copy I have is very old, but unfortunately does not have its publication date in it. I got it at a garage sale among other old books that belonged to someone’s grandmother. I wish I knew which edition it was. If you know what the first edition looked like, perhaps you could help me ascertain if this is it? It seems highly unlikely, but the book does look very very old. It’s almost falling apart in some places. It would be quite fascinating to know which edition I have. Otherwise, a very enthralling read nonetheless.

  4. […] think I didn’t like Treasure Island as much as did Captain Marryat’s Children of the New Forest (1847), perhaps because I like camping in the forest more than life on the high seas, but I really […]

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