Time, though a good Collector, is not always a reliable Historian. That is to say, that although nothing of interest or importance is lost, yet an affair may be occasionally invested with a glamour that is not wholly its own. I venture to think that Piracy has fortuned in this particular. We are apt to base our ideas of Piracy on the somewhat vague ambitions of our childhood; and I suppose, were such a thing possible, the consensus of opinion in our nurseries as to a future profession in life would place Piracy but little below the glittering heights of the police force and engine-driving. Incapable of forgetting this in more mature years, are we not inclined to deck Her (the “H” capital, for I speak of an ideal), if not in purple and fine linen, at least with a lavish display of tinsel and gilt? Nursery lore remains with us, whether we would or not, for all our lives; and generations of ourselves, as schoolboys and pre-schoolboys, have tricked out Piracy in so resplendent a dress that she has fairly ousted in our affections, not only her sister profession of “High Toby and the Road,” but every other splendid and villainous vocation. Yet Teach, Kid, and Avery were as terrible or grim as Duval, Turpin, and Sheppard were courtly or whimsical. And the terrible is a more vital affair than the whimsical. Is it, then, unnatural that, after a lapse of nigh on two centuries, we should shake our wise heads and allow that which is still nursery within us to deplore the loss of those days when we ran—before a favouring “Trade”—the very good chance of being robbed, maimed, or murdered by Captain Howel Davis or Captain Neil Gow? It is as well to remember that the “Captains” in this book were seamen whose sole qualifications to the title were ready wit, a clear head, and, maybe, that certain indefinable “power of the eye” that is the birth-right of all true leaders. The piratical hero of our childhood is traceable in a great extent to the “thrillers,” toy plays, and penny theatres of our grandfathers. Here our Pirate was, as often as not, a noble, dignified, if gloomy gentleman, with a leaning to Byronic soliloquy. Though stern in exterior, his heart could (and would) melt at the distresses of the heroine. Elvira’s eyes were certain to awaken in his mind the recollection of “other eyes as innocent as thine, child.” In short, he was that most touching of all beings, the Hero-cum-Villain. And it was with a sigh of relief that we saw him at the eleventh hour, having successfully twitted the “Government Men” and the Excise (should he have an additional penchant for smuggling), safely restored to the arms of the long-suffering possessor of the other eyes.
Alas! this little book mentions no Poll of Portsmouth, nor does it favour us with a “Yeo, heave, oh!” nor is there so very much “cut and thrust” about it. It was written in that uninspiring day when Pirates were a very real nuisance to such law-abiding folk as you and I; but it has the merit of being written, if not by a Pirate, at least by one who came into actual contact with them....