Apr 04


The Brown WedgePost a comment • 148 views

DEAD MAN’S CHESS: (Three Questions abt Treasure Island pt 2)

#2: What are Long John Silver’s politics?
(sorry this is v.long: scroll down to excellent = less homework-y stuff from sarah and mike g. and tom)

i. Even if we agree that the action takes place in an Ahistorical Romance DreamTime ‘ which I’m not sure I do (see Q#1) ‘ any such time must be located during the Long Century between the two English Revolutions (1642-1660; 1688) and the American Revolution of 1776. Many contradictory utopian social ideals welled up when Charles I’s head came off: even when 1688 turned out to be more a Glorious Compromise and Retreat, the most radical of idealisms weren’t lost but fled ‘ underground, overseas to America, or simply offshore, beyond reach of law’s power…
ii. Dr Livesey notes that a pirate whistles ‘Lillibulero‘, the ultra-Whig anti-Jacobite themetune that fifed-and-drummed James II off the throne (Protestant marching bands still play it in N.Ireland). Pirates belong firmly on the wastrel wing of Puritanism; Tudor authorities encouraged them as licensed sub-contractors (Drake; Hawkins; Ralegh) to singe the King of Spain’s (Catholic) beard and plunder the Spanish Main. As late as the Gordon Riots in 1780, no-popery had a mob-democratic anti-heirarchy undercurrent…
iii. Establishing his credentials, Silver invokes England and Flint ‘ the classic buccaneering tradition ‘ and then makes a fascinating distinction. Flint feared him; was proud of him: proud of Silver who puts his money in the bank; who never denies himself except when at sea, but is investing in his future. After this voyage Silver plans to become a ‘gentleman’, not ‘of fortune’ (ie no longer a happy-go-lucky pirate), but ‘in earnest’: with a coach and – semi-joking, semi-serious ‘ a seat in Parliament (the latter being why JimH, the Squire and the Doctor must all die: he doesn’t want his past catching up on him when he’s an MP…). In the most unexpected place, the Protestant Work Ethic (planning, foresight, setting money by) trumps here-and-now hedonism…
iv. Silver was Flint’s quartermaster, which is to say he was in charge of Flint’s men, representing their issues to the captain (‘lambs ain’t the word’). ‘Pirates,’ argues the historian Marcus Rediker, ‘constructed a culture of masterless men’: making contrast with the authoritarian brutality and strictness of merchant and naval shiplife, Rediker stresses the rough democracy of some pirate communities, the fact that decisions of general policy were open to discussion; that pirate captains were often elected and could be ‘ as Silver is in TI, via the Fo’c’s’le Council and the Black Spot ‘ deposed; that written constitutions protecting rights and establishing procedure were by no means uncommon (Rediker explicitly argues that radicalised seafarers played a role in shaping American Constitutional activism ‘ certainly pirates and smugglers found haven in the early American colonies). The Corsair Nation at Sal’ (the Republic of the Bou Regreg) in North Africa flourished between 1640-60 ‘ more democratic, it was said, than most of the civilised nations of Europe. Alongside the dissident experimental colony on Eleutheria, there were pirate settlements in the Bahamas, : not to mention the legendary Libertalia in Madagascar (even if entirely invented by Defoe, this was a fiction that embodied genuine political desires and fears).
v. One last major political element peeps round the edge of this tale. As long as the forces of British Naval Law and Order were set to protect the ships of the Slave Trade, pirate crews were (ambivalently) against it: some at least freed all slaves from the the slaveships they encountered (others of course simply helped themselves to the merchandise: booty is booty). In 1713, in the Treaty of Asiento, the Spanish gave to the British the monopoly for three decades of the Slave Trade between Africa and Spanish America (the South Sea Company being of the primary beneficiaries, resulting in speculation fever and the South Sea Bubble). Though she never appears in person, Silver’s wife ‘ mentioned early and at the very end ‘ is black.

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