The story of Mr. Kipling's Captains Courageous is one of those simple, vigorous conceptions which we have come to expect from him, and the motive is one to which we are all ready to respond. Redemption by a strong hand pleases our willful philanthropy. To drag a putty-faced, impudent fifteen-year-old heir to thirty millions away, by the winds of heaven and the deep sea, from his devil of indulgence, though the devil be in this instance also his mother, and by the same winds and sea to instill manliness into him, is a grim and delicious idea. The gorgeous simplicity of it would befit the Arabian Nights. A big, soft-armed wave picks the boy from the deck of an ocean steamer, and drops him into a dory which happens with fairy-tale appropriateness to come by, and this convenient conveyance delivers him over to a crew of stern-faced, laconic fishermen, who knock the nonsense out of him and put him in the way of learning the two lessons that in Mr. Kipling's eyes make up the chief duty of man—to work and not to be afraid. This is the whole story. The task, to be sure, requires nine months, and the account of it stretches over three hundred and twenty pages, but after the first twenty pages there is no plot, no development, no surprise. It awakens neither suspense nor hope nor fear. Everybody is reasonably safe, and the redemptive process apparent from the first goes on without check or hindrance.
The theme, however, gives an opportunity for dealing with a phase of life which Mr. Kipling has never before attempted to portray, and we have as a result the most vivid and picturesque treatment of New England fishermen that has yet been made. The atmosphere is unlike that in any other of Mr. Kipling's books; it is sober almost to sombreness, for the New England fisherman does not countenance hilarity or undue mirth. From the doleful chantey of Disko Troop in the cabin of the We 're Here to the funereal Memorial Day at Gloucester and Mrs. Troop's despairing plaint of the sea, the tone of the book is never thoroughly merry. Neither is the movement of it ever swift, for the story is of men to whom time is seldom pressing, and whose lives are ruled by the moods of the unhasting sea. Perhaps it is by reason of this that there is in the book greater restraint and serenity of language than in much of Mr. Kipling's earlier writing. There is less prodigality of words and of figures than in some earlier work, and the charm is that of fitness rather than form. These good things there are in Captains Courageous: a theme that is healthy and satisfying, a mood and an atmosphere that fit the occasions, and a measure of that serenity of manner which many of Mr. Kipling's critics have missed and almost despaired of. Yet this last excellence is paid for with a great price. Though it may bring relief from the go-fever and insistence of the earlier work, it is relief procured at the cost of life. We miss here the throb of impatient power that made the Light that Failed and The Man who Would be King intoxicants.