The Review of Reviews, Volume 24, August 1901, pp 201-203.
[Attributed to W. T. Stead]


     "The Lord of the Sea" is a very remarkable novel which confirms the conviction I expressed when I read "The Yellow Danger," by the same author. Mr. Shiel is a man of genius with a great imagination, but he is somewhat of a rough diamond, and he will never realise the full possibilities of success that lie before him until he can take to himself a collaborator who will supplement his gifts, prune down his redundancies, and make the public recognise him at his real value. "The Lord of the Sea" is an original conception. In "The Yellow Danger" Mr. Shiel described in lurid colours the possibilities of the overwhelming of the white world by the yellow man, a possibility for the imagining of, which he claimed no originality. "The Yellow Danger " has been the bugbear of the Russians ever since the days of Tamerlane. But it must be admitted that in his new story, "The Lord of the Sea," the central idea is brilliantly original.

     Mr. Shiel appears to be of the school of Dr. Wallace and Henry George, or of some other of the numerous sects of land nationalises. He is convinced that rent is robbery, and that the millennium would dawn if the rental was paid to the Governments, to be disbursed by them for the benefit of the people, instead of going into the pockets of landlords, to be used by them for the benefit of their families. This idea is not new, neither is it true, for it requires very little thinking to come to the conclusion that if the present Government, for instance, had the whole of the rent-roll of the United Kingdom to play with it would only have a larger sum to waste on wanton war and unnecessary expenditure. The very last thing it would do would be to inaugurate the millennium. Mr. Shiel or his hero appears to have persuaded himself that if land were nationalised and all rents paid to the Government, men would earn enough in one day to keep them in comfort during six; and that sin and sorrow and all the miseries of this mortal world would vanish as an evil dream before the wings of the morning. It is not necessary to argue this question. Mr. Shiel is not a political economist; he is a sensational novelist, and he has a right to choose his own standpoint. All that I want the reader to understand is that this is Mr. Shiel's standpoint, and that it is because he accepts it that he has written his book. At the same time those who do not care anything about land nationalisation or economic theories, or the inauguration of the millennium, will not rind their enjoyment of "The Lord of the Sea" in the least degree impaired by the theories of its author as to the origin of the mischief of our social system. They will be content to take him for granted, and to hurry on to the story.

     Now, it is hardly fair to Mr. Shiel to tell the story in detail, but a general outline of some of the incidents may be permitted. The first half of the story reads like a compound of " Never too Late to Mend " and the first part of" Monte Christo." The story begins with a supposition —unfortunately by no means an imaginable one—that 10,000,000 Jews, expelled from all the European countries, take refuge in England, where in a very short space of time they become a very formidable element in the body politic. In other words, the Jews dominate everything; and one particular evil Jew of the name of Frankl, who has got a daughter beautiful as a Mahomedan houri, buys up the estate in which the hero, Richard Hogarth, is living with his sister as one of the tenants of the estate. This said Jew, Frankl, who is the villain of the piece, in the extravagance of his plutocratic tyranny, decrees that the people on his estate shall wear a fez. This the Hogarths refuse to do, with the result that they are marked down for destruction. The Jew squire makes love to the village maiden, Richard Hogarth's sister, and finding her not complaisant, wrecks a bank in which the family savings are deposited, turns them out of house and home, and after a variety of complicated villainies succeeds in getting Hogarth convicted of a murder which he did not commit, and claps his sister into a private Jewish lunatic asylum, in which her reason speedily gives way. Now Frankl's daughter, the radiant vision of loveliness, had fallen in love with Richard Hogarth, and he with her; but as he was supposed to be a Gentile, marriage was impossible, even if differences of station had not existed. Note, however, as necessary for the due development of the story, that Richard Hogarth was not a Gentile, but was himself a Jew, Spinoza by name, heir to considerable landed property, but brought up by his foster-parents without any knowledge of his real ancestry.

     Hogarth's sentence to death is commuted to penal servitude for life, and he spends some years in Colmoor. Mr. Shiel gives a sympathetic account of the miseries of convicts, following therein Mr. Charles Reade, and all other writers who have had to deal with the organised brutality of our prison system.      When in gaol, Hogarth meets a precious rascal of an unfrocked priest, who tells him a marvellously cock-and bull story of how he was sent to prison on a false accusation of having stolen some diamonds, which diamonds in reality he had found as the débris of an aerolite, which had burst in the north-east of Europe, just before Hogarth had been sent to gaol. In reality the scoundrel was serving a term of penal servitude for endeavouring to outrage Miss Frankl—Hogarth's adored. Hogarth is offered two chances of escape, and refuses them both. The first he gives away to the scoundrel priest, who escapes ; the second he gives to a man who is convicted partly upon his evidence of having committed a murder of which he was innocent. This poor wretch does not escape, for as he is being carried off through the air by the rescuing balloon he is shot by the sentries and falls to earth.

     After this, the radiant gospel of the establishment of the millennium by land nationalisation dawns upon Hogarth in gaol, and in the presence of this brilliant truth he waives his scruples about escaping, but gives formal notice to the Governor of his intention to escape at the first opportunity. He is maltreated as usual, and confined in a cold dungeon without light or fire, flogged, and generally mishandled; but he then sets about to contrive his escape. Mr. Shiel, in this, ventures upon well-trodden ground, and provokes dangerous comparisons; but even with the memory of Monte Christo fresh in our minds, it must be said that his readers will find his method of dealing with the problem exceedingly original. By great ingenuity and miraculous daring, he succeeds in attaching a line of strips of tin, made from his skilly can, from a lightning conductor to the great bell in the tower. He [202] then waits until a thunderstorm comes along, in which the electric flood diverted from the conductor to the bell, reduces the latter to silence. Having obtained some chloroform, with the aid of the friend who contrived the two previous escapes, he reduces the warders in the infirmary to a state of insensibility, possesses himself of their keys, and climbs to the bell tower. As a peculiar aggravation of the situation, his Cockney murderer, who was in the infirmary at the time, insists upon accompanying him. Hogarth, therefore, has not only to provide for his own escape, but also to carry with him this miserable scoundrel, on penalty of his raising the alarm. They climb up to the belfry, and conceal themselves inside the bell. The hue and cry is raised; the country is scoured for miles round, but of course they are not found. They are sitting, shivering and starving in the inside of the great bell. In a paroxysm of hunger and passion the Cockney murderer bites a piece out of Hogarth's shoulder and eats it, whereupon Hogarth bashes his face to pieces with his fists, and reduces him to temporary quiescence. The bell being indispensable for the maintenance of the discipline of the gaol, no time was lost in removing it from its position in the lofty tower, and when the bell came down the two escapees were lowered with it. It was placed upon a trolley, and carted out of the gaol. It was impossible, however, for them to raise the bell, and there seemed imminent prospect that they would perish of starvation inside. The bell, however, was at last hoisted on board ship, and put to sea. The same night a collision occurred, the ship with the bell went to the bottom, and Hogarth, after a long buffeting with the waves, was washed ashore, naked and senseless. When he was revived he rejoiced not a little to think that he was at least quit of his murderer.

     He made his way back to his native village, to hunt for the aerolite which had fallen in the wood in the Frankl's estate, the secret of which he had learnt in prison. He had not much difficulty in finding it, and exulted in the discovery that the aerolite weight was greater than he could lift, and was packed from end to end with diamonds of size and lustre greater than any that had ever been taken from the De Beers mines.      After passing through many adventures in the course of which the scoundrel priest and the Cockney murderer turn up at the most inconvenient moment, to steal the diamonds which are restored to him by Miss Frankl, Hogarth is at last in possession of wealth far in excess of Monte Christo's, and proceeds to carry out the project over which he had brooded in the cells at Colmoor. One of the weak points in the story of Dumas is that beyond satisfying personal vengeance Monte Christo did nothing at all with his wealth.

     After a period, during which Hogarth uses his wealth among other things to buy up the De Beers mines, and to pose before the world as the greatest living millionaire, he sets to work to realise his great design. It is this which makes him the lord of the sea, and gave the title to the book. Mr. Shiel declares in his preface that the two naval men to whom he has submitted his story have assured him— one, that the seizure of the sea, therein related, is perfectly practicable and feasible; and the other, who, he says, if anyone does, deserves the title of expert, declared that it would not be at all difficult at the present time. Hogarth strikes up an alliance with the Republic of Ecuador, and in the name of the President of the Republic orders the construction of eight gigantic floating islands, each of which is armour clad, and provided with an adequate flotation to stand the roughest storms of the Atlantic. Each of these gigantic floating fortresses he anchors or stations in some way, not quite clearly explained by Mr. Shiel, in positions commanding the trade routes of the world. The Boodah, which was the flagship, so to speak, of this strange flotilla of floating fortresses, came to rest just in the northern limb of the Gulf Stream where it divides, part towards Ireland and part towards Africa, and she remained in the middle of the trade route between Europe and the United States, a route which she covered for fifty miles, twenty-five to the north and twenty-five to the south, by her bigger guns.

     Each of these gigantic sea-castles was heavily armed and manned with trained crews of blue-jackets. When the eight were completed, the trade-routes of the world lay under the guns of Hogarth. Inside these floating fortresses everything that wealth could buy in the shape of luxury was provided, and a trip to these floating palaces was the favourite amusement of the wealthy classes throughout the world. Everything went merry as a marriage bell, until all was ready for the carrying out of Hogarth's great design. Then suddenly, without a word of warning, he launched the famous decree, in which he proclaimed to the astonished world that he had become the Lord of the Sea, and that as landlords levied rent from all those who use the land, which had originally been given to mankind to be held in common, so he, the new Lord of the Sea, would levy rent upon all those who ventured to use the sea. No one should use the sea excepting by his leave, and every vessel plying upon the surface of the ocean must pay to him a rent of 4s. per ton for every voyage.      A row of eight lay in vast irregular crescent (its convexity facing Europe) from just outside the Straits of Gibraltar, where O'Hara admiraled the Mahomet, to the 55th of latitude, where lay the Goethe on the Quebec-Glasgow route. These commanded all the European trade with the States and with S. America, as well as with W. and S. Africa, and with Australia by Cape Horn. Another lay in the narrows of the Gulf of Aden, commanding the whole world's traffic by Suez with the East and with S. Africa. Another in the middle of the narrows of the Kattegat commanded all out-going and in-coming Baltic trade. Another, fifteen miles from San Francisco, and another a hundred and fifty miles from Nagasaki on the edge of the Black Stream, commanded the Japanese-San Francisco, the Australian, and San Francisco trades, and great part of the Japano-RussoChinese. These were the principal trades of the world.      "All unauthorised ships passing on my domain will in due course be destroyed." The German Atlantic liner, Kaiser Wilhelm der Groesse, was the first ship upon which this sea-rent was levied. The captain, when summoned to the Boodah, wrathfully refused to pay a farthing, and on leaving the Boodah ordered the ship to go full steam ahead. As the steamer forged ahead, Hogarth ordered out a flotilla of boats to pull after her. She was showing a clean pair of heels, and had already put two miles between herself and the Boodah, when "suddenly space seemed to open its mouth in a chasm and bay gruff and hollow, like old hell-gate dogs; and almost at the same moment, quite close by the Kaiser, a column of water belched with one dull humph of venom two hundred feet on high. When this dropped back wide-showering, with it came showering a black rain of wreckage .....A six inch shell..... had half shattered her engines, killing two stokers; and a torpedo-mine had knocked a hole, five feet across, in her port beam."      The crew were rescued with her papers, mail-bags and £270,000 in specie, and were brought back to the Boodah, where they were royally entertained by Hogarth and kept prisoners for four days. [203]      During those four days the disappearance of the great ship created profound consternation in Europe and America. When at last they were liberated news began to arrive of similar occurrences on all the other trade routes. Only seventeen ships were sunk, and by that time the whole ocean as well as the whole earth had learned the new conditions upon which it was to be permitted to use the sea.

     For three weeks the nations of the world stood paralysed before this audacious usurpation. Meanwhile Hogarth was steadily gathering in the rent-roll of the sea, amounting to £103,000,000 a year. At the end of that time a great European coalition was formed for the purpose of destroying the sea-castles. The Allies differed, however, as to what should be done with the sea-castles when they were captured, and France and Russia decided that the opportunity was favourable for making an attack upon England. Disregarding the threatened danger, the English Fleet with its Allies advanced to attack the Boodah—26 battleships, 20 cruisers, 7 torpedo boats, 4 destroyers, 4 torpedo-rams, and 3 sloops.      Hogarth having received a telegram from the seacastle of the Straits of Gibraltar that the invasion of England was toward, sent word to the British admiral telling him of the danger which threatened England, and urging him to return in hot haste to beat off the Franco-Russian invasion. As might be expected, the admiral scoffed at him, and began the attack with the battle-word of "Britannia," to which Hogarth replied by displaying the signal of "Justitia." The English had been joined by the Americans, who had brought six battleships and four cruisers. The vast armada encircled the Boodah, and then rained hell fire upon the sea-castle. Every shot told, and for two minutes the Boodah seemed one mount of flame. One of her great 110-ton guns and four of her 6-inchers were shivered into fragments; in her casements seventeen men lay dead, but although all the top-hampers had gone, her thunder-marred visage looked grimly forth like a face new risen from smallpox. Up to this moment she had not fired a gun. But seven of her assailants were sunk or sinking. The batteries of the Boodah then began to play, and of the forty-three ships thirty-nine were hit, and seventeen foundered. The British admiral, seeing that success was hopeless, endeavoured to withdraw, only to find that he had been fighting over a great mine, the ocean for miles around having been strewn with torpedoes of all kinds, dirigable, automobile, and mine. The Boodah was a real shore, although she had no beach with pebbles on it, but for twenty miles round each of the great sea-castle's submarine mines were sunk and little boats of varnished cork, electrically connected with the fort by rigid wires, contained them. The whole network was chartered to an inch, and co-ordinated with the range tables. Hence, of the seventy-eight ships which had begun the siege, twenty-one only—and several of these half wrecks—reached the twenty-five mile limit.

     It would be unfair to Mr. Shiel to tell the end of the story, which goes on with a succession of thrilling episodes, including an indefinite number of murders, assassinations, kidnapping, and sea-fights, culminating ultimately in the restoration of the Jews to Jerusalem, with Richard Hogarth, now at last discovered to be a genuine Jew, installed as the promised Messiah, and reigning till a good old age over the chosen people, with the former Miss Frankl as Queen, her evil father having been judiciously disposed of by the Cockney murderer, who for that service may be forgiven all his other sins.      This bare outline of the story is sufficient to show the lavish extravagance with which Mr. Shiel crams his romance with exciting episodes. There is enough matter in "The Lord of the Sea" to furnish half a dozen ordinary novels, and yet it is somewhat a waste of good material. It is like a basket full of diamonds, none of which are adequately polished and cut. Nevertheless, the reader who wants something thrilling on a holiday will have to go far before he finds any stronger meat than that which is contained in the covers of Mr. Shiel's book.


31, Torrington Sqr. WC.
August 15, 1901

My Dear Mr. Stead:

     I was surprised to see today that you had made my Lord of the Sea one of the "Books of the Month:" surprised, for you had told me that you had made arrangements for Moore’s book*, and I did not expect that you would resort to the device of this two. As I cannot help thinking that this was done out of favour to me, I am writing to say how kind and good I think that. But it is nothing strange for you to act in that way, is it?

         Yours very truly,
         M. P. Shiel

P.S. I don’t believe that land nationalization would mean the millennium: but that every act of private or public justice is a step in that direction: and that so great an act of justice would be a great stride in that direction. For such as you and me, isn’t the question thus: "is it just?"

P.P.S. If one of the men who help you to run the Review of Reviews die, or take to drink, or otherwise fail you, I shall be always glad, if you will offer it me, to take his place. I am at present reviewing and doing causeries for the Daily News: but have heaps of time.


*Sister Teresa by George Moore, London: Fisher Unwin, 1901 was also a "Book of the Month" in the August, 1901 Review of Reviews. Normally only one book would be given such extensive treatment. (John D. Squires.)

[Source: Harold Billings, M. P. Shiel: The Middle Years 1897 - 1923, p. 128. The original letter is located in the W. T. Stead Papers, Churchill Archives, Cambridge.]

Posted: January 15, 2011.

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