My Son on the Galley

by Jacob Wallenberg, translated by Peter Graves. Narvik Press/Dufour Editions, 192 pages, $24.00.
Wallenberg (1746-1778), the son of a minor and none too affluent Swedish official, had by the age of twenty-three contrived to become ordained as a clergyman and to acquire the post of ship’s chaplain on the Swedish East India Company’s Finland, bound for Canton. Wallenberg’s account of the voyage is a Swedish classic, which is one reason for translating it, but there is a better reason. Despite some gentle homilies and verses that have, one trusts, suffered in translation, the text is plain old-fashioned funny. The author was an unbridled chauvinist. No people were as good as Swedes, no country as fine as Sweden, no church equal to the Lutheran, and young Wallenberg made merry mock of everyone from homely girls in Norway to stuffy and inarticulate Dutchmen in South Africa. He did not neglect drinking parties aboard ship, or his own lack of success as a naturalist and horseman, or his unrewarded interest in women. (His remarks on women would get him lynched by modern feminists.) There is a certain guilty pleasure in chuckling over an author who never heard of political correctness.