Jules Verne

The Survivors of the Chancellor


Jules Verne

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was issued in 1875. Shipwrecks occur in other of Verne's tales; but this is his only story devoted wholly to such a disaster. In it the author has gathered all the tragedy, the mystery, and the suffering possible to the sea. All the vari- ous forms of disaster, all the possibilities of horror, the depths of shame and agony, are heaped upon these unhappy voyagers. The accumulation is mathematically complete and emotionally unforgettable. The tale has well been called the "imperishable epic of shipwreck."

The idea of the book is said to have originated in the cele- brated French painting by Gericault, "the Wreck of the Medusa," now in the Louvre gallery. The Medusa was a French frigate wrecked off the coast of Africa in 1816. Some of the survivors, escaping on a raft, were rescued by a passing ship after many days of torture. Verne, however, seems also to have drawn upon the terrifying experiences of the British ship Sarah Sands in 1857, her story being fresh in the public mind at the time he wrote. The Sarah Sands caught fire off the African coast while on a voyage to India carrying British troops. There was gunpowder aboard li- able to blow up at any moment. Some of it did indeed ex- plode, tearing a huge hole in the vessel's side. A storm added to the terror, and the waters entering the breach caused by the explosion, combated with the fire. After ten days of desperate struggle, the charred and sinking vessel reached a port.

The extreme length of life which Verne allows his people in their starving, thirsting condition is proven possible by medical science and recent "fasting"' experiments. The dramatic climax of the tale wherein the castaways find fresh water in the ocean is based upon a fact, one of those odd geographical facts of which the author made such frequent, skillful and instructive use.

"Michael Strogoff" which, through its use as a stage play, has become one of the best known books of all the world, was first published in 1876. Its vivid, powerful story has made it a favorite with every red-blooded reader. Its two well-drawn female characters, the courageous hero- ine, and the stern, endurant, yearning mother, show how well Verne could depict the tenderer sex when he so willed. Though usually the rapid movement and adventure of his stories leave women in subordinate parts.

As to the picture drawn in "Michael Strogoff" of Russia and Siberia, it is at once instructive and sympathetic. The horrors are not blinked at, yet neither is Russian patri- otism ignored. The loyalty of some of the Siberian exiles to their mother country is a side of life there which is too often ignored by writers who dwell only on the darker view.

The Czar, in our author's hands, becomes the hero figure to the erection of which French "hero worship" is ever prone. The sarcasms thrown occasionally at the British newspaper correspondent of the story, show the changing attitude of Verne toward England, and reflect the French spirit of his day.

The Survivors of the Chancellor

by Jules Verne


CHARLESTON, September 27, 1898. -- It is high tide, and three o'clock in the afternoon when we leave the Battery quay; the ebb carries us off shore, and as Captain Huntly has hoisted both main and top sails, the north- erly breeze drives the Chancellor briskly across the bay. Fort Sumter ere long is doubled, the sweeping batteries of the mainland on our left are soon passed, and by four o'clock the rapid current of the ebbing tide has carried us through the harbor mouth.

But as yet we have not reached the open sea we have still to thread our way through the narrow channels which the surge has hollowed out amongst the sand-banks. The captain takes a southwest course, rounding the lighthouse at the corner of the fort; the sails are closely trimmed; the last sandy point is safely coasted, and at length, at seven o'clock in the evening, we are out free upon the wide At- lantic.