Deep Water

by Captain Pryce Mitchell
[Atlantic Monthly and Little, Brown, $2.50]
A Goon many sea books come to me. I have a landsman friend who has the unpleasant, though well-meaning, habit of sending me every sea book he comes across. And those by retired skippers are often the weirdest. When I saw that Deep Water was by a retired skipper I groaned.
When I had read the first eighteen pages of Mitchell’s book I had to lay it down. I could go no farther then. At the risk of being judged a sentimental sort of slob, I must admit that there was a dimness in my eyes. I took paper and I wrote to Mitchell, as man writes to man. For I also was raised with the smell of salt water, of tar and of cordage, in my nostrils; and, like him, I also have followed the sea. And when I had written to him I picked up his book again, and read on; through the afternoon, through the evening, and on and on into the night. It was a cold night, and my fire went out. I dragged a quilt from my bed, wrapped it about me, and continued to read. I was a lad on my first voyage again.
Be it ship, master, mate, or man that Mitchell writes of, each is painted full true. I recognize, and have met, each. And when he writes of a wind, it is of a wind that he writes. He gives me the heave of our old sea, the sting of her spray on my face. And when, for a time, he leaves the sea and goes on shore adventuring, I go with him; as hopefully, as merrily, as wearily or wonderingly as he goes himself. The shore part of his yarn is every bit as fine as the sea part. Just what part of his yarn hits me hardest would be mighty difficult to say, for all of it stabs home. It’s hard to talk about it! It is plain talk, and simple talk, and that, being high art, is the very best sort of talk. I’d be sorry for the nowadays lad who did not revel in it. I’d be sorry for the grown-up who could n’t get a message from it, forget his troubles, and feel young again! It’s an epic, learned by and told by a man of the old sea breed. A plain fellow without any frills to him, but with the heaven-given gift for spinning a grand yarn.
In a way it would be impudence for me, who was never more than a mate, to criticize Captain Mitchell’s book. But I wish the old days were back, and that I, a lad again, were just away to sea on my first voyage — under a skipper such as Pryce Mitchell. And no man can say more than that.