Read CHAPTER IX - ECCENTRICITIES OF A GOOD HEART of Edward FitzGerald and "Posh" "Herring Merchants", free online book, by James Blyth, on ReadCentral.com.

There must always be an interval ashore between the return of the drifters from the western voyage and their sailing north to follow the herring down from Aberdeen to Yarmouth. And during this interval, in 1869, FitzGerald wrote one or two letters to Posh which have survived that wholesale destruction of which their recipient speaks.

“WOODBRIDGE, Friday.

“Newson is up here with the Yacht, Posh; and we shall start to-morrow with the Tide about 10.30. I doubt if we shall get out of the harbour: or, even if we do that, get to Lowestoft in the Day. But you can just give a look to the Southward to-morrow evening, or Sunday. I write this, because we may not have more than a day to stay at Lowestoft.

“E. FG.”

Despite his silk hat and his boa, FitzGerald was a keen and genuine lover of yachting. Even in the way in which he took his enjoyment of this he was original. Posh asserts that he has seen his “guv’nor” lying in the lee scuppers while the Scandal was heeling over in a stiff breeze, and permitting the wash of the sea to run over him till he was drenched to the skin. Indeed, although his long lean body looked frail, he was reckless in the way in which he treated it. Posh tells one story which I give in his words. He vouches for its truth, and I give it on his authority and not as vouching for its accuracy myself. Personally I believe the tale is true enough, but I admit that it requires a power of assimilation which is not given to all.

“He! he!” says Posh. “He was a rum un sometimes, was my guv’nor! I remember one day when the Scandal was a layin’ agin’ the wharf where the trawl market is now. Mr. Sims Reeves, the lawyer [this was a prominent counsel on the Norwich circuit, not the famous tenor], and some other friends came over for a sail, and they and Tom [Newson] was below while me and Jack and the guv’nor was on deck, astarn. The mains’l was h’isted, but there wasn’t no heads’l on her, and we lay theer riddy to get unner way. There was a fresh o’ wind blowin’ from the eastard, not wery stiddy, and as we lay theer the boom kep’ a wamblin’ and a jerkin’ from side to side, a wrenchin’ the mainsheet block a rum un. The guv’nor was a readin’ of a letter as had just been brought down by the poost. ‘Posh,’ he say, ’here’s a letter with some money I niver expected to git,’ he say. ‘That’s a good job,’ when just then the boom come over wallop and caught him fair on the side of his hid, and knocked him oover into the harbour like one o’clock. He was a wearin’ of his topper same as us’al, and all of a sudden up he come agin just as Jack an’ me was raychin’ oover arter him. His topper come up aisy like, as though ’twas a life-buoy if I may say soo, and unnerneath it come the fur boa, and then the guv’nor. And as true as I set here he was still a holdin’ that letter out in front of him in both hands. Well, I couldn’t help it. I bust out a laughin’, and soo did Jack an’ all, and then we rayched down and copped hold on him and h’isted him aboord all right and tight, but as wet as a soused harrin’. He come up a laughin’, playsed as Punch, an’ give orders to cast off and git up headsail ta oncet. And would yew believe me, he wouldn’t goo below ta shift afore we got right out to the Corton light, though Mr. Reeves axed him tew time and time agin! Not he. That was blowin’ a fresh o’ wind, an’ he jest lay down in the lee scuppers, and ‘I can’t get no wetter, Posh,’ he say, and let the lipper slosh oover him. Ah! He was a master rum un, was my olé guv’nor!”

The northern herring voyage of the Meum and Tuum in 1869, that is to say, the eight weeks’ fishing down the east coast from Aberdeen to Lowestoft from the beginning of August to the end of September, seems to have been about up to what FitzGerald might have called “Neighbour’s fare.” He wrote to Mrs. W. H. Thompson (the wife of the Master of Trinity): “My lugger has had (along with her neighbours) such a Season hitherto of Winds as no one remembers. We made 450 pounds in the North Sea” (that is to say, in the north fishing before the home Martinmas fishing began); “and (just for fun) I did wish to realise 5 pounds in my pocket. But my Captain would take it all to pay Bills. But if he makes another 400 pounds this Home Voyage! Oh, then we shall have money in our pockets. I do wish this. For the anxiety about all these people’s lives has been so much more to me than all the amusement I have got from the Business, that I think I will draw out of it if I can see my Captain sufficiently firm on his legs to carry it on alone. True, there will still be the same risk to him and his ten men, but they don’t care; only I sit here listening to the Winds in the Chimney, and always thinking of the eleven hanging at my own finger ends” (Letters, II, 110, Eversley Edition).

The number of hands on a herring drifter used to be eleven, which seemed excessive till the labour of hauling nearly two miles of nets by hand is remembered. Now that almost every drifter which goes into the North Sea has a donkey engine to do the hardest work of the hauling the number aboard the dandies is lessened to nine.

This letter to Mrs. Thompson is the first suggestion that FitzGerald has any idea of ending the partnership, a suggestion which became fully developed in 1870.

But before Posh was hard at it every day, fishing off the Norfolk coast, his “guv’nor” wrote him a note in a much more cheerful strain. Indeed, this is a letter by itself, unlike any other of the writer’s which I have seen, though (as Dr. Aldis Wright says) “FitzGerald never wrote a letter like any one else.” The power of throwing himself “into the picture,” the humour of conscious imitation, were never more brilliantly illustrated than by this hail-fellow-well-met letter, written by the scholar and poet:

“MARKETHILL, WOODBRIDGE, Wednesday.

“Now then, Posh, here is a letter for you, sooner than you looked for,
and moreover you will have to answer it as soon as you can.

“I want you to learn from your friend Dan Fuller what particulars you can about that Lugger we saw at Mutford Bridge. Draft of Water, Length of Keel, What sails and Stores; and what Price; and any other Questions you may think necessary to ask. If the man here who has a notion of buying such a Vessel to make a Yacht of on this river sees any hope of doing so at a reasonable rate, and with a reasonable hope of Success, he will go over next week to look at the Vessel. He of course knows he would have to alter all her inside: but I told him your Opinion that she would do well cutter rigged.

“So now, Poshy, do go down as soon as is convenient, to Dan, and stand him half a pint and don’t tell him what you are come about, but just turn the conversation (in a Salvaging sort of way) to the old Lugger and get me the particulars I ask for. Perhaps Dan’s heart will open over Half a Pint as yours has been known to do. And if you write to me as soon as you can what you can learn, why I take my Blessed Oath that I’ll be d –­d if I don’t stand you Half a Pint, so help me Bob, the next time I go to Lowestoft. I hope I make myself understood.

“The Elsie is being gutted, and new timbered, and Mr. Silver has bought a new dandy of forty tons, and Ablett Percival” (cf. spelling in other letters) “is to be Captain. I think of going down the river soon to see Captain Newson. I have been on the River To-day and thought that I should have been with you on the way to Yarmouth or Southwold if I had stayed at Lowestoft. Instead of which I have been to the Lawyer here.

“Good-bye, Poshy, and believe me always yours to the last Half Pint.

“E. FG.

“I enclose a paper with my questions marked, to which you can add
short answers.”

Dan Fuller was the builder of the Meum and Tuum. His son is still living, and a well-known mechanic in Lowestoft. Mutford Bridge will be better recognised as the bridge at Oulton Broad.

Once again FitzGerald chuckles at the morality of the “salwagers,” and chuckles again at the expansiveness of the East Anglian “half a pint,” which may mean anything between its nominal measure and the full holding capacity of the drinker which is as vague as “half a pint,” itself.

The Elsie was a yacht which belonged to a syndicate of Woodbridge yachtsmen, of whom Mr. Silver (a Woodbridge friend of FitzGerald’s) was one and Mr. Manby was another. The two friends who went to Mutford Bridge to look at the lugger were (so far as Posh can remember) Mr. Silver and Mr. Cobbold, of Cobbold’s Bank. Posh says that the lugger was a beauty. But nothing came of the visit, and the Woodbridge man did not buy her.

As yet the warning which FitzGerald had given Posh in his sermon had (so far as the letters tell us) served its purpose. But the letters appear to be deceitful in this, and the next chapter must deal with a painful phase of the partnership.