Requiem for a Master


Dudley Pope, the novelist and historian, died on 25 April.

 I had heard he was ill. He had not written anything new since Ramage and the Dido in 1989, although many of his histories were republished in the 1990s by the U.S. Naval Institute Press.

 While not the best known today of C. S. Forester's successors - surely Patrick O'Brian qualifies there - Pope may have been the most important. He was the first person after Forester to create a novel cycle around a Royal Navy officer of the Napoleonic War period, and demonstrated that Forester's success was replicable.

 Pope's novels mixed an entertaining story, relative accuracy with only a modicum of silliness. Well -- maybe more than a modicum at times, but they were so entertaining you did not care.

 The improbability factor in the Yorke and Ramage series lay in the amount of combat experienced -- and the overwhelming victory achieved. Nick Ramage racked up almost as many major warships captured as the whole of the Royal Navy during the period 1798-1810 (roughly the period covered). Yet the individual actions were plausibly portrayed. It was only over time and in total that the toll became ridiculous.

 On the other hand, one feature for which Pope is often criticized is actually fairly realistic - Ramage's band of brothers - enlisted and commissioned - who followed him from ship to ship. Since everyone's rear was on the line, competent captains attracted competent followers - who stuck with the devil they knew. You lived longer that way. And among ships companies that were together over time mortality rates tended to be lower - because disease rates went up as new members were added to the crew. N.A.M. Rodgers discussed this in his book The Wooden World.

Dudley Pope was also a good historian. I gobbled up his histories -- both WWII and sailing era -- when I was in my teens. Plus, his book Life In Nelson's Navy makes a good companion to The Wooden World. It allows one to see the changes that took place over 50 years.

Damn. I'll miss him.

Mark Lardas
Palestine, TX

Copyright 1997 by Mark N. Lardas
Commercial reproduction prohibited without written consent of the author.

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