W(illiam) Clark Russell

Born February 24th 1844 in New York, USA - Died November 8th 1911 in Bath, Avon County, England


Please Note:
An american collector and connaisseur of “dime novels”, Ralph Cummings, are said to have written a small biography of Clark Russell (Life of W. Clark Russell). So far we haven't been able to find a copy, but would very much like one - even if it is just a photocopy or a scan.


Pen names

Eliza Rhyl Davies; Sydney Mostyn; Philip Sheldon; Seafarer

Life

William Clark Russell was born in New York as the son of an english songwriter, Henry Russel. Early in life he went into the service of the british commercial fleet, in which he served from 1858 to 1866. After that, he tried his hand as a journalist for the Newcastle Daily Cronicle. and later on the Daily Telegraph in London, writing under the pen name of “Seafarer”.

Later, he settled down in London as an author of sea yarns, tales of adventures at sea, and some biographical works on famous english sailors. He also compiled a vocabulary on sailer's language.

When he grew old, he moved to Bath, Avon County. He was married an had a son, Herbert Russell (1869-1944), who followed in his father's footsteps as a journalist, and amongst other things covered WW1 as a correspondent for Reuters News Agency.

Russell's first great succes as a writer was “The Wreck of the Grosvenor”. According to the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers (1st ed. St. James Press, 1998) he never again was able to write anything on this level (I don't agree!).

The poet Sir Edwin Arnold has dubbed him “The prose Homer of the ocean” and others “a better Marryat”, and contemporary danish reviewers shared those views. He is also indirectly recommended by sir Arthour Conan Doyle in the Sherlock Holmes short story “The Seven Orange Pips”, in which dr. Watson is “deep in one of Clark Russell's fine sea-stories until the howl of the gale from without seemed to blend with the text, and the splash of the rain to lengthen out into the long swash of the sea waves.”

Herman Melville (of “Moby Dick” fame) dedicated a - today forgotten - collection of poems - “John Marr and other Sailors”, privately published in 25 (!) copies, 1888, to Russell, probably returning the favor of a dedication to Melville that Russell 7 years earlier had given in “An Ocean Tragedy”. Melville and Russell corresponded in Melville's later years, and perhaps it's more or less due to Russel's promotion in the english press, that Melville's works got some audience in England in the late 1800's.

Like so many other authors of the fantastic and adventurous, Russell didn't write for the children or youngsters until his later years, but nevertheless his books ended up as “books for boys”, even if they might not be able to compete with the works of more colorful authors like Jules Verne or Robert Louis Stevenson (neither of which wrote children's books either, by the way).

In Denmark and the rest of Scandinavia his books were mostly published in more or less abridged versions, except some very early (hard to find today) serials in newspapers.

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