TOM CRINGLE’S LOG by Michael Scott is a fast-paced and loosely joined series of romantic sea adventures set in the North Sea during the Napoleonic wars and in the Caribbean shortly thereafter. Scott, a Scottish merchant rather than a professional writer, spent much of his early life in Jamaica and drew heavily upon his experiences in writing sketches and short stories. Like many of his contemporaries in England, Scott’s book was first serialized in BLACKWOOD MAGAZINE from 1829 to 1833; therefore, Scott belongs to what became known as the Blackwood Group of authors, including Christopher North, John Galt, John G. Lockwood, and Susan Ferrier.
There is almost no plot in TOM CRINGLE’S LOG and even little connection between episodes. Great numbers of people appear briefly in disconnected incidents and then disappear, for the novel is, as the name implies, a recital of one man’s experience as an officer on various British warships during the Napoleonic wars. Although the book gives the reader some firsthand accurate accounts of minor actions in the war with Napoleon and many sidelights on the War of 1812 with America, Scott emphasizes merry bibulous exploits ashore rather than the business of fighting.
The first-person journalistic narrative is wholly concerned with adventure, literally racing from one episode to another with little, if any, character development. Names such as Mr. Bong, Wagtail, Barnaby Blueblazes, and Mr. Tailtackle serve to identify characters; but since the various personages appear and vanish with such rapidity, these names are of little consequence.
Perhaps this mode of narration can be attributed to the age of the narrator (thirteen years old in the beginning). It would be natural for a boy of his age to avoid detailed characterizations in favor of the great adventures encountered while fighting the pirates. Youthful narrators, however, are also capable of providing useful insights, but Scott does not fully exploit these possibilities.
This lack of characterization is partly offset by rousingly humorous scenes, such as those of Aaron Bong, the plantation owner, and of heroic struggles between great vessels of the sea. Scott also has an excellent command of numerous dialects, which he learned from being a merchant, and a thorough knowledge of nautical terms—all of which serve as realistic trappings for this most romantic, disorganized novel.