The Captain of the Polestar and Other Tales HTML version

Cyprian Overbeck Wells
From my boyhood I have had an intense and overwhelming conviction that my real
vocation lay in the direction of literature. I have, however, had a most unaccountable
difficulty in getting any responsible person to share my views. It is true that private
friends have sometimes, after listening to my effusions, gone the length of remarking,
"Really, Smith, that's not half bad!" or, "You take my advice, old boy, and send that to
some magazine!" but I have never on these occasions had the moral courage to inform
my adviser that the article in question had been sent to well-nigh every publisher in
London, and had come back again with a rapidity and precision which spoke well for the
efficiency of our postal arrangements.
Had my manuscripts been paper boomerangs they could not have returned with greater
accuracy to their unhappy dispatcher. Oh, the vileness and utter degradation of the
moment when the stale little cylinder of closely written pages, which seemed so fresh and
full of promise a few days ago, is handed in by a remorseless postman! And what moral
depravity shines through the editor's ridiculous plea of "want of space!" But the subject is
a painful one, and a digression from the plain statement of facts which I originally
From the age of seventeen to that of three-and-twenty I was a literary volcano in a
constant state of eruption. Poems and tales, articles and reviews, nothing came amiss to
my pen. From the great sea-serpent to the nebular hypothesis, I was ready to write on
anything or everything, and I can safely say that I seldom handled a subject without
throwing new lights upon it. Poetry and romance, however, had always the greatest
attractions for me. How I have wept over the pathos of my heroines, and laughed at the
comicalities of my buffoons! Alas! I could find no one to join me in my appreciation, and
solitary admiration for one's self, however genuine, becomes satiating after a time. My
father remonstrated with me too on the score of expense and loss of time, so that I was
finally compelled to relinquish my dreams of literary independence and to become a clerk
in a wholesale mercantile firm connected with the West African trade.
Even when condemned to the prosaic duties which fell to my lot in the office, I continued
faithful to my first love. I have introduced pieces of word-painting into the most
commonplace business letters which have, I am told, considerably astonished the
recipients. My refined sarcasm has made defaulting creditors writhe and wince.
Occasionally, like the great Silas Wegg, I would drop into poetry, and so raise the whole
tone of the correspondence. Thus what could be more elegant than my rendering of the
firm's instructions to the captain of one of their vessels. It ran in this way :--
"From England, Captain, you must steer a
Course directly to Madeira,
Land the casks of salted beef,