Unpunished Cruelties of the High Seas. A Letter to Samuel Whitbread, Esq., M.P. by A Liverpool Merchant.

BRIGHT Henry Arthur with an autograph letter by,; HAWTHORNE Nathaniel (1859)

£15000.00  [First Edition]

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First Edition. 8vo (185 x 115mm). 15pp. A very good copy. Green pebbled cloth, covers and spine lettered in gilt (a little rubbed at the edges).

London: James Ridgway,


At the heart of this volume is Henry Arthur Bright’s pamphlet, Unpunished Cruelties on the High Seas. A letter to Samuel Whitebread, Esq. M.P by a Liverpool Merchant (London: James Ridgway, 1859) in which Bright throws light on the plight of sailors who are severely punished at sea and return to shore terribly injured, but have, “no legal protection whatsoever” (p.4). Bright was a partner in the Liverpool shipping company, Gibbs, Bright & Co. and so was well placed to witness the mistreatment of sailors when they arrived in Liverpool, he reveals that “ordinary assaults, and kindred offences, nay, even manslaughter escape punishment altogether” (p.4).

Bound alongside the pamphlet – forming essentially an archive of correspondence in one volume relating to the cause – are forty letters of support from numerous different correspondents both in England and America. The letters have been bound in chronological order around Bright’s pamphlet so show the initial flurry of support for the cause, the final arrangements for printing the work, the initial success of the campaign after publication and the beginnings of an attempt to make the cause known in America.

The most important letter in the volume is from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Bright (dated 1st April, 1859 and written in Rome). Bright first met Hawthorne when he visited America in 1852 and the two grew close when Hawthorne travelled to England to take up the post of American consul in Liverpool in 1853. Bright and Hawthorne spent much time together and when Hawthorne eventually returned to America he noted that “He [Franics Bennoch, Scottish merchant and poet] and Henry Bright are the only two men in England to whom I shall be much grieved to bid farewell” (Notebook, June 14th 1859). According to the ODNB ““It was through Hawthorne that Bright learned about the brutalities inflicted on American sailors, some of whom were seriously, occasionally fatally, injured by ships' officers in the name of discipline”. The letter from Hawthorne to Bright is almost entirely unpublished and has only previously been referred to anecdotally in Julian Hawthorne’s memoir of his Father: “’Mr Hawthorne’, writes Mr. Bright, ‘took a warm interest in putting down cruelty at sea, especially in American ships; and I have a long letter from him on the subject [the present letter]. But he did not wish to come forward publically in the matter. The question had disturbed me a good deal, and at the time (1859) I was preparing a pamphlet, and hoped to get a letter from your father which I might quote; but he did not wish to be quoted, and all I could do was to allude to him and to the then Consul. Mr. Dudley. Now the evil is much abated. I enclose an extract from your father’s letter (Rome, April, 1859)’: - The extract is as follows: ‘It is a very horrible state of things; there is an immense amount of unpunishable cruelty: but the perpetrators of it, as well as the sufferers by it, are the victims of a vicious system. At the bottom of the whole lies the fact that there are no good seaman to be had; the next worst thing is the mode of shipping seamen, and the payment of advance wages, lastly there is the infinite absurdity of allowing our ships to go to sea without arming the officers with any legal means of enforcing their authority’” (Julian Hawthorne, Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife, London, 1885, Vol. II p.152). It is only these nine lines of the letter (taken from Julian Hawthorne’s book) that appear as a “Fragment” in the Letters of Nathaniel Hawthorne (Ohio State University, 1987, Vol. 18 p.167). The complete letter – bound in this present volume – is 8 pages long and runs to approximately 200 lines of text. The portion of the letter published by Julian Hawthorne contains none of the graphic descriptions of cruelty contained in Hawthorne’s full letter. The importance that Bright and Hawthorne placed on this case is made clear by Raymona E. Hull in her book, Nathaniel Hawthorne the English Experience, 1853-1864 (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980). Hull notes that during this period, when Hawthorne was writing intensely, he was unable to fully respond to correspondence and so was only able to write “the one letter that Bright had asked him to send to Milnes as an aid to him in giving a speech in Parliament on the mistreatment of sailors” (p.177). This is clearly the letter that is being discussed in letter no.24 in this collection. The letter from Bright to Hawthorne requesting he send the information to Milnes is published in full in Hawthorne and his Wife (p.226-7, the letter is dated July 29th 1859). In a later letter (also published in Hawthorne and his Wife) Bright writes to Hawthorne stating, “thank you heartily for writing to Monckton Milnes on the cruelty question” (p.228, letter dated September 8th 1859).

The other letters in the volume are from Samuel Whitbread, Harriet Martineau, Archibald Campbell, Reginald Hart, Thomas Hughes, Henry Morley, Charles Eliot Norton, Richard M. Milnes, James Heywood, William Rathbone and others [Full details available on request].


Stock Code: 217422

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