Courage and Peril by Herbert Havens et.al. (1909) Hardbound, 252 pages 10″ x 7.5″
The British public school education of 100 years ago is often remembered for the production of a puritanical breed of adventurers, with a taste for a challenge, whatever the hardships, or risk to life, out in the wildest and loneliest places on the planet. Most especially those under the sway of the British Empire, then nearing its own imperial peak. We may assume that this taste for spartan endurance was enjoyed by the officers as opposed to the troops and servants..
The existence of the Empire, with its communications networks, real or threatened military presence, and under-developed, even undiscovered back-waters, offered an enviable advantage to those able to take up the challenge. If you were unable to indulge the fantasy first-hand, there were always the classic explorer’s narratives, or the adventure magazines such as Boys Own Paper, or the lesser known Union Jack, or maybe 400 others at different times and places. Truly an escapism from the humdrum world of boarding school, or office.
These adventure stories, of which Courage and Peril was a typical compilation, featured eccentric, larger than life individuals, who might in some respects be scarcely believable but for the numbers of the rich specimens of rascaldom or escapade, whether for or against the Empire that flourished around the end of the nineteenth century. Women feature very seldom, romance not at all. Innumerable anecdotes deliberately mix up the comic with the downright dangerous, in an understated manner perhaps only truly appreciated by the British.
The clichés we all remember, the Arab slave traders, who are also a threat to single white women, pirates, no longer in the Caribbean, but a potent enemy in Chinese or Malay waters, Nandi tribesmen with poisoned arrows, man eating tigers, steamy malarial rivers, whalers in frigid Antarctic waters, gold diggers on the South African veldt, to name but a few.
Writers such as G A Henty, wrote from their own incredible experiences. He was a hospital orderly in the Crimea before becoming a war journalist, reporting on Garibaldi in the Tyrol, Napier in Ethiopia, Paris under the Communes, the Russians at Khiva, with Wolseley fighting the Ashanti, with the Carlists in Spain and the Turks in Serbia. All these experiences formed the resoundingly successful yarns he told and re-told. He prided himself on his “historical fidelity and manly sentiment” but entertainment figures most in these stories.
The following illustrations from Courage and Peril tell their own story; minor works of art in themselves.
This copy was an end of year gift from his school to my grandfather: