It’s boating season! What’s more, it’s wedding season. What better way to, yes, marry the happy pair than to examine a timely gift to the Archives and Special Collections of a rare copy of “Mr. Hardy Lee, His Yacht.” This slender volume is by Charles Ellery Stedman (1831-1905), who published a limited number of copies in 1857. Stedman was a doctor by profession, but he knew his way around a boat and a drawing pad. The book, said to be “the first American book on the sport [of yachting],” contains 24 sketches illustrating how a young man might gain a fortune, a yacht, and a wife, all in one season.
A superficial inspection of the volume provides an amusing little story; a more careful inspection discloses a concise lesson in boating terminology (consider first Mr. “Hardy Lee”: “hard-a-lee,” “a command to bring a boat about on the opposite tack”); social customs (including a suggestion that a glass of porter and a sardine might be beneficial to seasickness, and much matching of boating terminology to mating ritual); and 19th-century slang and humor (“Has he got any of them botherin’ women along with him, Cuff?”). A nice way to get at the details is to examine the published version against Stedman’s sketchbook “Windseye,” which is in the collection of the Boston Athenaeum and already digitized: http://cdm.bostonathenaeum.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p15482coll8/id/231.
By comparing the 1856 sketchbook against the 1857 version, one can see those elements Stedman chose to alter, leave out, or elaborate. We find, for example, that the order of the drawings in the sketchbook is different from that of the printed volume, and the latter contains two drawings (pages 12 and 24 in pdf below) that are not in the sketchbook. Some of the sketchbook drawings contain illuminating variations in the text: we learn from the sketchbook that Mr. Lee’s fortune is $80,000 (a good deal for his day) and that the boat must’ve taken a bite out of that sum.
The sketchbook also reveals that the earlier name of Hardy Lee’s lady’s is Mary Poppleton (in the printed version she is the more obviously named Miss Goldmore), and her brother Bill Poppleton (not named in the final version) accompanies her on the boat. The lady, incidentally, hails from New York, which seems to explain a lack of knowledge about boating so regrettable that it makes the steward grin and the appalled captain redden, a shade recognizable even in black and white:
The book is a gift from Professor Edward Belt, longtime friend of the Amherst College Library, who knows a thing or two about boats and tried to explain sailing to this writer. In an e-mail, Ed provided his informed interpretation of the marriage proposal scene below.
I had initially assumed the sailor had taken it upon himself to come to Mr. Lee at that moment suggesting that Mr. Lee give the order to trim the fore peak halliard, which is tied off at the base of the mast. If so, that would have been a breach of discipline… If the sailor was not acting on his own in this matter (which is doubtful), he must have been acting on the orders of the Captain/Pilot.
The lighthouse in the background and the rocks to the right of it suggest that the schooner was sailing by one of Boston Harbor’s outlying islands. A slight trimming of the top of the foremast sail might have been called for but only if the vessel was much closer to those rocks than is shown…. No trimming should have been necessary on the Windseye until lighthouses at the entrance were far behind. However, there may have been a deeper reason. The Pilot may have deliberately wished to interrupt the owner’s proposal, realizing his job would be affected by the outcome. This makes sense because trimming the foremast peak is a very trivial matter and would not affect the vessel’s speed much if at all. Once the order was given, why then did the sailor need to go to that particular spot in the boat? The halliard is tied off at the base of the mast where Hardy Lee [and Mary] were, and the pilot knew that.
What the pilot also knew is that a man “can’t keep a wife and a yacht too.” Still, he retains some hope.
Even if you’re not interested in sailing or marrying, “Mr. Hardy Lee, His Yacht” is a book worth examining. Several images from the book have already appeared online, but the full volume in the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections is also available as a pdf.