Books May 1991
Capacities for invention
A review of Joseph Conrad: A Biography by Jeffrey Meyers.
Joseph Conrad (1857–1924) is a perfect example of the artist who spends the first part of his life in action and adventure, the rest in writing about it. His achievements in both were remarkable. Jozef Teodor Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowski left his native Poland for a life at sea when he was seventeen. He came to England for the first time at the age of twenty with only a few words of the language, but eight years later passed an examination for ship’s master. Jeffrey Meyers’s biography quotes some typical questions for the chief mate’s and master’s examinations which make clear the special difficulties they posed for somebody whose native language was not English (“You foul another ship as you are getting under weigh, and carry away your boomkin and cat-head flush with the bows:—how will you secure the anchor for sea, and work the foresail?”). But the ability to pass such...
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