Mr. Midshipman Hornblower
First edition cover
|Author||C. S. Forester|
|Publisher||Michael Joseph, London|
|Media type||Paperback & Hardcover|
|LC Class||PR6011.O56 M7 1998|
|Followed by||Lieutenant Hornblower
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower (published 1950) is a Horatio Hornblower novel written by C. S. Forester. Although it may be considered as the first episode in the Hornblower saga, it was written as a prequel; the first Hornblower novel, The Happy Return, was published in 1937.
- 1 Plot introduction
- 2 Plot summary
- 2.1 Hornblower and the Even Chance
- 2.2 Hornblower and the Cargo of Rice
- 2.3 Hornblower and the Penalty of Failure
- 2.4 Hornblower and the Man Who Felt Queer
- 2.5 Hornblower and the Man Who Saw God
- 2.6 Hornblower the Frogs, and the Lobsters
- 2.7 Hornblower and the Spanish Galleys
- 2.8 Hornblower and the Examination for Lieutenant
- 2.9 Hornblower and Noah's Ark
- 2.10 Hornblower the Duchess, and the Devil
- 3 Characters
- 4 Translations
- 5 Adaptations
- 6 Sources
Horatio Hornblower commences his career in the Royal Navy as an inexperienced midshipman in January 1794. Through a series of challenges and adventures both in and out of combat, Hornblower discovers he is actually talented in both seamanship and leadership. People initially thought Hornblower a dullard but later grew to respect him.
This novel is episodic, with named chapters that often focus on a self-contained incident.
Hornblower and the Even Chance
In this story, a gawky and seasick Hornblower comes aboard his first ship. He immediately earns the contempt of the other midshipmen. The young Hornblower is particularly despised by a midshipman named Simpson. Simpson, at age thirty-three, had failed his examination for lieutenant too many times to ever expect promotion. He takes out his bitterness and disappointment on his juniors. Hornblower is extremely unhappy. He takes the first opportunity for death presented to him by challenging Simpson to a duel. Hornblower finds that the most mathematically sound method for the duel is to have one of the two pistols loaded and the other not, and to exchange shots at point-blank range, with neither Hornblower nor Simpson knowing which is which. The captain secretly frustrates this by having the officers of the duel load neither weapon and claiming a misfire when neither discharges. The captain later has him transferred to the frigate HMS Indefatigable.
Hornblower and the Cargo of Rice
In The Cargo of Rice, aboard Indefatigable, the newly situated Midshipman Hornblower is put in command of the French ship Marie Galante, carrying a cargo of rice from New Orleans, by order of Captain Pellew after it is taken as a prize. It is Hornblower's first time in command of a ship since joining the Royal Navy. He is instructed to take the captured French ship and her crew to a British port where he is to receive his next orders. Sailing is relatively smooth for Hornblower and his four seamen, until one of the crew (Matthews) informs him that the ship is taking on water from somewhere. Hornblower recalls that Marie Galante was struck below the hull's waterline by a cannonball from Indefatigable before her capture. They check for moisture but find none until it is pointed out that the dried rice will absorb all of it. They hastily attempt to patch the hole with a sail, but by then the rice has expanded so much that the ship is breaking apart. A massive attempt to jettison the rice comes too late and Hornblower commands all hands to abandon ship. Hornblower's crew and the French prisoners are left at sea in an open boat.
Hornblower and the Penalty of Failure
In The Penalty of Failure, Hornblower and his crew are still out at sea, between British and French ports. The captain of the recently sunk Marie Galante pleads with Hornblower to navigate to France and release him and his men, and promises safe passage for Hornblower and his crew. Hornblower promptly rejects the Captain's pleading in spite of their bleak situation and uses his pistols to prevent a mutiny. Not long afterwards, Hornblower and his crew are caught by a privateer named Pique which was converted from a slave ship. This ship is commanded by Captain Neuville. Hornblower is now a prisoner of war, but Indefatigable falls in with them and makes chase. As Pique is the faster sailer, Hornblower devises a plan to slow her down: he sets a fire, which soon spreads to the very flammable paint locker. All hands are diverted to fighting the fire, which soon breaks out on the deck and spreads to the rigging, immediately slowing the vessel. The British ship ultimately overpowers Pique, extinguishes the fire and Captain Neuville and his crew surrender. Hornblower's fears of reprimand for losing Marie Galante are quickly extinguished by the offhanded dismissal of the incident by Captain Pellew. However, instead of taking credit for the fire, Hornblower claims there was a spontaneous combustion in the paint locker, as way of punishing himself for losing Marie Galante in the first place.
Hornblower and the Man Who Felt Queer
Upon returning to Indefatigable, Hornblower is involved with a mission planned by Captain Pellew to take the French corvette Papillon. Hornblower is set to command Indefatigable's jolly boat. His job in the raid is to board Papillon after the other boats do, climb the mast and loose the main topsail so Papillon can sail out to meet Indefatigable. Before setting out, Hornblower practises his task on Indefatigable to try and calm his nerves. While reviewing his men prior to shoving off, a man named Hales mentions to Hornblower that he feels "a bit queer-like." After the boat crews depart, Hales begins having an epileptic seizure. Because of the necessity of silence, Hornblower strikes Hales with the tiller of his boat. On boarding the ship Hornblower and his men are frustrated by the absence of a footrope along the yardarm. Hornblower's fear of heights and poor balance cause him to freeze, until he reminds himself that he acted decisively enough when laying out Hales; to withdraw now would be an act of extreme cowardice. Motivated by this act of emotional self-flagellation Hornblower runs unaided along the yardarm and looses the topsail. During the fighting the jolly boat is lost, with Hales still aboard, but Papillon is taken as a prize of Indefatigable. Hornblower feels bad about the loss of Hales, without whom Hornblower believes he would never have found the courage to complete his task. Jackson claims that Hales would have never made a decent seaman anyway. Given the success of their mission Hornblower realises the loss of the jolly boat will not be held against him, but still regrets the inevitable death of Hales.
Hornblower and the Man Who Saw God
When Styles, a man in Hornblower's division, appears strangely marked with "boils" all over his face, Hornblower is suspicious. He gains a clue from Finch, another of his men, who suffers from delusions and claims that "God's in the maintop, but the Devil's in the cable tier, but only in the dog watches". After thinking about what this means, Hornblower investigates the cable-tier in the dog-watch and discovers a group of men "rat fighting". Styles, with his hands tied behind his back, has to kill as many rats with his mouth as possible within a short time, while the others bet on the result. A horrified Hornblower orders them up on deck and threatens to report them. Later, in action against a French ship, Hornblower and Finch are firing a swivel gun from the mizzen-top when the mast is hit and begins to fall. Hornblower convinces Finch to jump to safety by telling him to "get to God". The two men make a desperate jump to safety.
Hornblower the Frogs, and the Lobsters 
Hornblower takes part in attempted invasion by British and French Royalist forces at Quiberon in order to support the failed Revolt in the Vendée. Hornblower is ordered ashore with his seamen acting as gunners, and gains his first experience of land warfare and the horrors of the Revolution, including the guillotine. The expedition ends in failure and Hornblower escapes back to his ship, saddened, but philosophical. The Frogs are the French and the Lobsters are the (red-coated) British regiment landed to support them.
Hornblower and the Spanish Galleys
Hornblower's ship, Indefatigable, is in Cádiz when Spain makes peace with France. Since Spain becomes officially neutral, the British ship of war is forced to leave. Spain has completed its turnaround and joined France in an alliance by the time Indefatigable is escorting a convoy through the Straits of Gibraltar. When the ships are becalmed, two Spanish galleys attack. They are fought off by the British, and Hornblower leads the capture of one of them, which gains him promotion to Acting-Lieutenant.
Hornblower and the Examination for Lieutenant
After Indefatigable comes into port at Gibraltar, Acting-Lieutenant Hornblower reports to Santa Barbara where he and others are to take their examination for lieutenant. When asked a question by one of the captains conducting the examination, Hornblower freezes up and is about to be failed when an alarm of cannon fire interrupts the examination; fire ships have been sent by the enemy in an attempt to destroy the British ships at Gibraltar. Hornblower and Captain Foster, one of the examining captains, take heroic action and prevent a disaster for the British, and jump in the water. They are rescued by the crew of one the fire ships, themselves escaping in a small boat, but then a British guard boat captures them in return. Since the Spanish crew saved his and Hornblower's life, Foster orders that they be released. The examining board does not reassemble since Foster falls out with another examining captain, who had been standing by with a boat but failed to reach them before the Spanish crew. Hornblower will need to wait for a later examining board. The story ends with Foster, impressed by Hornblower's actions, telling Hornblower that, since the attack prevented him from failing the examination, he should "Be thankful for small mercies. And even more thankful for big ones."
Hornblower and Noah's Ark
Acting-Lieutenant Hornblower accompanies the diplomat Mr. Tapling to buy cattle and grain from the Bey of Oran to resupply the fleet. However an outbreak of the bubonic plague in the city forces Hornblower, Tapling and his boat-crew to take refuge aboard the transport ship Caroline and remain in quarantine for three weeks until they are clear of infection. Hornblower struggles with a tiny crew aboard a worn-out ship, but still manages to take a prize in the shape of an unsuspecting privateer lugger, and deliver the supply ship to the fleet's base at Gibraltar. There he is reprimanded by the Victualling Officer for having allowed his crew to feast on fresh beef over the last three weeks.
Hornblower the Duchess, and the Devil
Hornblower is given command of the French prize Le Reve and ordered to return to England with despatches and, to his astonishment, a passenger – the Duchess of Wharfedale. Unfortunately, in thick fog Hornblower sails his ship directly into the middle of a Spanish fleet off Cape St. Vincent. Anticipating capture Hornblower prepares to throw his dispatches overboard, but is persuaded by the Duchess, who also reveals her true identity as a popular actress, to allow her to conceal them under her clothes, as she is sure to be repatriated immediately. This he does, and much later while in a Spanish prison at Ferrol receives a letter from her detailing her successful return to England, and another from the Admiralty confirming his promotion to Lieutenant. Later, while on parole Hornblower rescues some sailors from a Spanish ship wrecked on the cliffs below him. After the rescue he and his assistants, some Spanish fishermen, are forced out to sea by bad weather and found by another British frigate. Despite the temptations of staying on board, Hornblower reminds the Captain that he is released on parole and is returned to Spain under a flag of truce. Several months later, in recognition of his bravery, the Spanish authorities release him, "I am to restore you under flag of truce to your fellow countrymen, in recognition of - 'your courage and self-sacrifice in saving life at the peril of your own.'"
- Captain Keene – Commander of the Justinian. A "sick man, of melancholy disposition" who transfers Hornblower to the Indefatigable out of kindness and a belief in his abilities. (The Even Chance)
- Mr. Clay – First lieutenant on board. Described as neither alert nor masterful, and therefore lets Simpson rule the midshipman's berth with tyranny. (The Even Chance)
- Mr. Masters – An elderly lieutenant on watch when Hornblower first boards the Justinian. (The Even Chance)
- Mr. Bowles – The Master (The Even Chance)
- Mr. John Simpson – Another midshipman, who, by long years of service, is the senior warrant officer. He is good-looking and in his mid-thirties, and takes out his frustration at a thwarted naval career on his fellow midshipmen. When Hornblower first meets him he has failed his lieutenant's exam and his status as acting-lieutenant was revoked. (The Even Chance)
- Mr. Cleveland and Mr. Hether – Two other midshipmen on the ship, who serve as Simpson's reluctant seconds in the duel. (The Even Chance)
- Mr. Mackenzie – Another midshipman on the ship. (The Even Chance)
- Preston and Danvers – Two Masters' Mates that Hornblower asks to be his seconds in the duel with Simpson. (The Even Chance)
- Dr. Heppelwhite – The ship's surgeon. A bulky drunk, who eventually blabs Captain Keene's secret about the unloaded dueling pistols. (The Even Chance)
- Captain Sir Edward Pellew – Commander of the Indefatigable. A fair, but impatient man, beloved by his crew for his daring pursuit of prizes. (The Cargo of Rice, The Penalty of Failure, The Man Who Felt Queer, The Man Who Saw God, The Spanish Galleys, The Examination for Lieutenant, Noah's Ark)
- Mr. Eccles – The first lieutenant of the ship, described as grey-haired with "surprisingly young blue eyes." He commands the launch. (The Man Who Felt Queer, The Man Who Saw God, The Spanish Galleys)
- Mr. Chadd – A lieutenant on the ship. It is implied that he may be the second lieutenant. He commands one of the gigs. (The Man Who Felt Queer, The Spanish Galleys)
- Mr. Bolton – The third lieutenant on the ship, known for his bellowing voice. He appears to command the longboat. (The Cargo of Rice, The Penalty of Failure,The Man Who Felt Queer, The Man Who Saw God, The Frogs and the Lobsters, The Spanish Galleys, The Examination for Lieutenant, Noah's Ark)
Warrant Officers and Petty Officers
- Mr. Soames – The sailing master, who gives Hornblower and the other midshipmen their lessons in sailing and navigation. He commands the cutter. An older gentleman with vast experience at sea, Pellew relies on him. He is killed when a Spanish galley rams the cutter. Hornblower is made acting-lieutenant to fill his spot in the watch. (The Cargo of Rice, The Man Who Felt Queer, The Spanish Galleys)
- Mr. Waldron – The boatswain. (The Man Who Saw God)
- Mr. Mallory – A midshipman of over two years' seniority. He commands the second gig in the cutting out of the Papillon. (The Man Who Felt Queer)
- Mr. Kennedy – Another midshipman on the ship. Friendly to Hornblower, the two often engage in light-hearted banter. (The Man Who Felt Queer, The Frogs and the Lobsters)
- Mr. Bracegirdle – A well-to-do midshipman friendly to Hornblower. He is good humored and frequently loans clothing to Hornblower for special occasions. (The Man Who Saw God, The Frogs and the Lobsters, The Examination for Lieutenant, Noah's Ark)
- Mr. Low – The ship's surgeon, frequently drunk. (The Man Who Saw God)
- Mr. Wales – The carpenter. (The Spanish Galleys)
- Muggridge – The surgeon's mate. A gambler, drinker, and trouble-maker. (The Man Who Saw God)
- Partridge – The bosun's mate. Involved in gambling. (The Man Who Saw God)
- Jackson – Coxswain of the jolly boat, and Hornblower's designated replacement if he falls in small boat action. He is captured with Hornblower on La Reve and is presumably imprisoned by the Spanish. (The Man Who Felt Queer, The Spanish Galleys, The Duchess and the Devil)
- Matthews – A senior seaman who acts as petty officer of the prize crew for Hornblower on the Marie Galante. (The Cargo of Rice, The Penalty of Failure)
- Hunter – Another seaman on the prize crew of the Marie Gallante. (The Cargo of Rice, The Penalty of Failure)
- Hales – A member of the jolly boat crew who has an epileptic seizure and is struck in the head by Hornblower to maintain silence in the attack on the Papillon. He is either killed by the blow or captured by the French with the jolly boat. (The Man Who Felt Queer)
- Oldroyd – A member of the jolly boat crew and Hornblower's division of the ship's company. (The Man Who Felt Queer, The Man Who Saw God, The Spanish Galleys)
- Bromley – A member of the jolly boat crew. (The Spanish Galleys)
- Franklin – A member of the jolly boat crew killed seizing one of the Spanish galleys. (The Spanish Galley)
- Styles – One of the men of Hornblower's division with mysterious boils on his face. (The Man Who Saw God)
- Finch – Another man in Hornblower's division, who claims to see God in the mizzen-top, and the devil in the cable tier. (The Man Who Saw God)
- Lewis – A member of the ship's company caught gambling by Hornblower. (The Man Who Saw God)
- Douglas and Herbert – Crew members stationed in the mizzen-top when in action. (The Man Who Saw God)
- Maxwell and Jordan – Crew members detailed to the Caroline during its quarantine. (Noah's Ark)
- The Marquis de Pauzauges – A brigadier general in the French emigre army, leading a small expedition sent to seize the town of Muzillac in support of landings at Quiberon Bay. He is prim and proper, but seemingly more attentive to revenge against his enemies than the activities of his army. (The Frogs and the Lobsters)
- The Earl of Edrington – A major of the 43rd Foot commanding a small battalion sent to assist a French emigre invasion. His personality is cold and formal, but he is an effective commander of infantry. (The Frogs and the Lobsters)
- Captain "Black Charlie" Hammond – Commander of HMS Calypso, who sits on Hornblower's examination board for lieutenant. (The Examination for Lieutenant)
- Captain "Dreadnought" Foster – Commander of the HMS Dreadnought, who sits on Hornblower's examination board for lieutenant. With Hornblower, he saves the prison-hulk Santa Barbara from a fire ship. (The Examination for Lieutenant)
- Captain Harvey – the dockyard post-captain, who sits on Hornblower's examination board for lieutenant. (The Examination for Lieutenant)
- Mr. Chalk – A lieutenant of the Goliath, leading a press gang, who plays whist with Hornblower, Simpson, and Caldwell. He is Hornblower's partner when the latter challenges Simpson to a duel for an accusation of cheating. (The Even Chance)
- Mr. Caldwell – A midshipman of the Goliath, who plays whist with Hornblower, Simpson, and Caldwell. (The Even Chance)
- Captain Neuville – Commander of the slaver Pique, which captures the prize crew of the abandoned Marie Galante. (The Penalty of Failure)
- Mr. Tapling – A member of His Majesty's diplomatic service responsible for relations with the Bey of Oran. (Noah's Ark)
- Mr. Duras – His Majesty's Consul at Oran, pro tem. He dies of plague. (Noah's Ark)
- Sir Hew Dalrymple – Military governor of Gibraltar. He and his wife host a dinner part where Hornblower meets the would-be Duchess of Wharfedale. (The Duchess and the Devil)
- Mr. Hunter and Master's Mate Winyatt – Hornblower's warrant officers on La Reve. Presumably imprisoned with him in Spain. (The Duchess and the Devil)
- Kitty Cobbham – An actress posing as a duchess to secure safe passage back to England. Her transport is entrusted to Hornblower on La Reve and when captured she devises the plan to allow the dispatches to be carried through. Her testament to Hornblower's character and abilities is critical to his promotion to lieutenant. (The Duchess and the Devil)
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower was translated into German by Hanns-Georg Sommerwerck as Fähnrich Hornblower in 1952, and into French by Maurice Beerblock as M. l'aspirant de marine Horatio Hornblower in 1953. The book was also translated into Norwegian by Odd Feydt Midshipman Hornblower and Polish by Henryka Stępień "Pan midszypmen Hornblower".
Four of the episodes form the basis for the first four instalments of the TV series Hornblower which were released both in the USA and the UK, sometimes with alternate titles. Starring Ioan Gruffudd in the title role, they are :
- The Even Chance (AKA The Duel) (also includes material from "The Cargo of Rice", "The Man Who Felt Queer" and "The Man Who Saw God")
- The Examination for Lieutenant (AKA The Fire Ships) (also includes material from "Noah's Ark")
- The Duchess and the Devil
- The Frogs and the Lobsters (AKA The Wrong War)
- Forester, C.S, Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, Michael Joseph, London (1st ed. 1 June 1950) ISBN 0-316-28909-4