A Gipsy of the Horn.

Although not a polar book as such there is this passage on reading during a voyage around the world:

p. 230-32: Sing-songs were almost our only amusement on the long passage home. Reading was impossible, for the very good reason that we had no books left. The few that had survived the West Coast had succumbed to the rigours of the Horn and been dumped, a sodden pulp, overboard. My battered old Shakespeare was the only book left in the half-deck and I hung on to that with grim solicitude. It was the Globe edition and I often blessed the serviceable paper and neat print—less good workmanship would never have stood so much salt water. We often read scraps out loud, and on one occasion, when the bosun came in I fired off the first scene of The Tempest at him. He was immensely taken with it, but would hardly believe it was Shakespeare at all. However, he knew what ‘bringing a ship to try’ was, which was more than I did at the time or, I dare swear, a good many others who read the play.

Shakespeare knowledge of the sea always struck me as remarkable, For an inland-born poet he was very fond of sea similes, and astonishingly accurate in his use of nautical technicalities. How did he acquire his knowledge? One ignorant of sea-life would hardly use the phrase—“remainder biscuit after a voyage” as a synonym for dryness, or talk of a man as “clean-timbered.”

I like to think that in the obscure early years of the poet’s life in London he made a trip to sea, perhaps as an adventurer in one of the ships that smashed up the Armada. At least, no one can prove he didn’t; and to my mind what more likely than that a high-spirited youth doing odd jobs about the old Shoreditch theatre, in the scrambling and unquiet times when Medina Sidonia was fitting out, should join some salt-scarred vessel and get his sea experience hanging on to the skirts of some bulky Spaniard in the Narrow Seas? At any rate it would account for the great number of his sea similes and straightforward use of sea terms. [There are two more fascinating pages on Shakespeare and the sea.]