"As Savage As A Bear With A Sore Head"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Twenty-six volumes are included in the standard edition of works by Captain Marryat. Son of a member of Parliament, young Frederick several times ran away from school until finally at the age of fourteen, he was allowed to join the British navy. There he served against Napoleon and in the Burmese War, and reached the rank of Commander. However, his articles attacking the system of recruiting by press gangs lost him favor, and he resigned in 1829, to spend the rest of his life as a writer. The King's Own is his only tragic novel; and it has a more artful plot than his other books. Its hero is drawn from the novelist's second and favorite son, William, who died at the age of seven. Captain M––is a portrait of his first commander, Lord Cochrane, later admiral of Chile's navy during its struggle for independence. The book was completed on shipboard, during a six weeks' charting expedition in the Atlantic. The novelist's variety of interests may explain its many digressions. The book's most famous scene, the sea fight and shipwreck, is patterned on a naval battle between the French and English in 1797. Though the novel will never be as popular as Marryat's Peter Simple or Mr. Midshipman Easy, many critics consider it his best work. Chapter 26 contains one of the digressions, a story told by the coxswain Marshall, to Surgeon Macallan. On a previous ship, a pet cat had made dirt on the master's sextant case. Though usually even-tempered, the captain has ordered the crew to kill the cat. None of the sailors is willing, but finally, under the captain's eye and in order to keep the ship's deck clean, the cat is thrown overboard and shot while in the water.

"Well, sir, I never seed a ship's company in such a farmant, or such a nitty kicked up 'tween decks, in my life . . . all agrees that no good would come to the ship a'ter that, and very melancholy they were, and couldn't forget it.
"Well, sir, our sailing orders come down the next day, and the first cutter is sent on shore for the captain, and six men out of ten leave the boat, and I'm sure that it warn't for desartion, but all along of that cat being hove overboard and butchered in that way–for three on 'em were messmates of mine, . . . and if they had had a mind to quit the sarvice, I should have know'd it. The captain was as savage as a bear with a sore head, and did nothing but growl for three days afterwards, and it was well to keep clear on him, for he snapped right and left, like a mad dog."