Edward FitzGerald and "Posh" - "Herring Merchants"
by James Blyth
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Transcribed from the 1908 John Long edition by David Price, email






Copyright by John Long, 1908 All Rights Reserved



March, 1908

{"Posh" Fletcher in 1870. Taken for Edward FitzGerald: p0.jpg}


There can be no better foreword to this little sketch of one of the phases of Edward FitzGerald's life than the following letter, written to Thomas Carlyle in 1870, which was generously placed at my disposal by Dr. Aldis Wright while I was giving the sketch its final revision for the press. The portrait referred to in the letter is no doubt that reproduced as the photograph of 1870.


"Your 'Heroes' put me up to sending you one of mine—neither Prince, Poet, or Man of Letters, but Captain of a Lowestoft Lugger, and endowed with all the Qualities of Soul and Body to make him Leader of many more men than he has under him. Being unused to sitting for his portrait, he looks a little sheepish—and the Man is a Lamb with Wife, Children, and dumber Animals. But when the proper time comes—abroad—at sea or on shore—then it is quite another matter. And I know no one of sounder sense, and grander Manners, in whatever Company. But I shall not say any more; for I should only set you against him; and you will see all without my telling you and not be bored. So least said soonest mended, and I make my bow once more and remain your

"Humble Reader, "E. FG."

Too much has been made by certain writers, with more credulity than discretion, of some personal characteristics of a great-hearted man. My purpose in tendering this sketch to the lovers of FitzGerald is to show that in many ways he has been calumniated. The man who could write the letters to his humble friend, which are here printed; the man who could show such consistent tenderness and delicacy of spirit to his fisherman partner, and could permit the enthusiasm of his affection to blind him to the truth, was no sulky misanthrope; but a man whose heart, whose intensely human heart, was so great as to preponderate over his magnificent intellect. Edward FitzGerald was a great poet, and a great philosopher. He was a still greater man.

Therefore, my readers, if, during the perusal of these few letters, you "in your . . . errand reach the spot"—whether it be at Woodbridge, Lowestoft, or in that supper-room in town "Where he made one"—". . . turn down an empty glass" to his memory.

For there is no Saki to do it, either here or with the houris.



Towards the end of the summer of 1906 I received a letter from Mr. F. A. Mumby, of the Daily Graphic, asking me if I knew if Joseph Fletcher, the "Posh" of the "FitzGerald" letters, was still alive. All about me were veterans of eighty, ay, and ninety! hale and garrulous as any longshoreman needs be. But it had never occurred to me before that possibly the man who was Edward FitzGerald's "Image of the Mould that Man was originally cast in," the east coast fisherman for whom the great translator considered no praise to be too high, might be within easy reach.

My first discovery was that to most of the good people of Lowestoft the name of the man who had honoured the town by his preference was unknown. A solicitor in good practice, a man who is by way of being an author himself, asked me (when I named FitzGerald to him) if I meant that FitzGerald who had, he believed, made a lot of money out of salt! A schoolmaster had never heard of either FitzGerald or Omar.

It was plain that the educated classes of Lowestoft could help me in my search but little. So I went down to the harbour basins and the fish wharves, and asked of "Posh" and his "governor."

Not a jolly boatman of middle age in the harbour but knew of both. "D'ye mean Joe Fletcher, master?" said one of them. "What—old Posh? Why yes! Alive an' kickin', and go a shrimpin' when the weather serve. He live up in Chapel Street. Number tew. He lodge theer."

So up I went to Chapel Street, one of those streets in the old North Town of Lowestoft which have seen better days. A wizened, bent, white-haired old lady answered my knock, after a preliminary inspection from a third- floor window of my appearance. This, I learnt afterwards, was old Mrs. Capps, with whom Posh had lodged since the death of his wife, fourteen years previously.

"You'll find him down at the new basin," said the old lady. "He's mostly there this time o' day."

But there was no Posh at the new basin. Half a dozen weather-beaten shrimpers (in their brown jumpers, and with the fringe of hair running beneath the chin from ear to ear—that hirsute ornament so dear to East Anglian fishermen) were lounging about the wharf, or mending the small- meshed trawl-nets wherein they draw what spoil they may from the depleted roads.

All were grizzled, most were over seventy if wrinkled skin and white hair may be taken as signs of age. And all knew Posh, and (oh! shame to the "educated classes!") all remembered Edward FitzGerald. The poet, the lovable, cultured gentleman they knew nothing of. Had they known of his incomparable paraphrase of the Persian poet, of his scholarship, his intimacy with Thackeray, Tennyson, Carlyle, the famous Thompson, Master of Trinity, they would have recked nothing at all. But they remembered FitzGerald, who has been called by their superiors an eccentric, miserly hermit. They remembered him, I say, as a man whose heart was in the right place, as a man who never turned a deaf ear to a tale of trouble.

"Ah!" said one of them. "He was a good gennleman, was old Fitz." (They all spoke of him as "old Fitz." They thought of him as a "mate"—as one who knew the sea and her moods, and would put up with her vagaries even as they must do. His shade in their memories was the shade of a friend, and a friend whom they respected and loved.) "That was a good day for Posh when he come acrost him. Posh! I reckon you'll find him at Bill Harrison's if he bain't on the market."

"Posh" was no fancy name of the poet's for Joseph Fletcher, but the actual proper cognomen by which the man has been known on the coast since he was a lad. Most east coast fishermen have a nickname which supersedes their registered name, and "Posh" (or now "old Posh") was Joseph Fletcher's.

Bill Harrison's is a cosy little beerhouse in the lower North Town. It is called Bill Harrison's because Bill Harrison was once its landlord. Poor Bill has left house and life for years. But the house is still "Bill Harrison's."

Here I found Posh. At that time, little more than a year ago, I wrote of him as "a hale, stoutly-built man of over the middle height, his round, ruddy, clean-shaven face encircled by the fringe of iron-grey whiskers running round from ear to ear beneath the chin. His broad shoulders were held square, his back straight, his head poised firm and alert on a splendid column of neck."

Alas! The description would fit Posh but poorly now.

"Yes," said he. "I was Mr. FitzGerald's partner. But I can't stop to mardle along o' ye now. I'll meet ye when an' where ye like."

I made an appointment with him, which he failed to keep. Then another. Then another, and another. I lay wait for him in likely places. I stalked him. I caught stray glimpses of him in various haunts. But he always evaded me.

I think old Mrs. Capps got tired of leaning her head out of the third- floor window of No. 2 Chapel Street, and seeing me waiting patiently on the doorstep expectant of Posh.

At length I cornered him (from information received) fairly and squarely at the Magdala House, a beerhouse in Duke's Head Street, two minutes' walk from his lodgings.

I got him on his legs and took him down Rant Score to Bill Harrison's.

"Now look here," said I. "What's the matter? You've made appointment after appointment, and kept none of them. Why don't you wish to see me?"

Posh shuffled his feet on, the sanded bricks. He drank from the measure of "mild beer" (twopenny), for which he will call in preference to any other liquid.

"Tha'ss like this here, master," said he. "I ha' had enow o' folks a comin' here an' pickin' my brains and runnin' off wi' my letters and never givin' me so much as a sixpence."

"Oho!" I thought. "That's where the rub is."

I gave him a trifling guarantee of good faith, and his face brightened up. Gradually I overcame his reserve, and gradually I persuaded him that I did not seek to rob him of anything. I'm a bit of a sailor myself, and I think a little talk of winds, shoals, seas, and landmarks did more than the trifling guarantee of good faith to establish friendly relations with the old fellow.

But he made no secret of his grievance, and I tell the tale as he told it, without vouching for its accuracy, but confident that he believed that he was telling me the truth. And, if he was, the man referred to in his story, the man who robbed him to all intents and purposes, is hereby invited to do something to purge his offence by coming forward and "behaving like a gennleman"—upon which I will answer for it that all will be forgiven and forgotten by Posh.

"Ye see, master," said Posh, "that was a Mr. Earle" (I don't know if that is the correct way of spelling the name, because Posh is no great authority on spelling; but that's how he pronounced it) "come here, that'll be six or seven year ago, and he axed me about the guv'nor, and for me to show him any letters I had. He took a score or so away wi'm, and he took my phootoo and I told him a sight o' things, thinkin' he was a gennleman. Well, he axed me round to Marine Parade, where he was a stayin' with his lady, and he give me one drink o' whisky. And that's all I see of him. He was off with the letters and all, and never gave me a farden for what he had or what he l'arnt off o' me. I heerd arterwards as the letters was sold by auction for thutty pound. I see it in the paper. If he'd ha' sent me five pound I'd ha' been content. But he niver give me nothin' but that one drink. And ye see, master, I didn't know as yew worn't one o' the same breed!"

I have endeavoured to trace these letters, and to identify this Mr. Earle. Mr. Clement Shorter has been kind enough to do his best to help me. No record can be found. And to clinch matters, Dr. Aldis Wright (whom I cannot thank enough for all his kindness to me in connection with this volume) tells me that he has never been able to find out where the letters are or who has them. One thing is certain: the person who took advantage of Posh's ignorance will not be able to publish his ill-gotten gains in England so long as any copyright exists in the letters. For no letter of FitzGerald's can be published without the consent of Dr. Aldis Wright, and he is not the man to permit capital to be made out of sharp practice with his consent. I have heard rumours of certain letters to Posh being published in America, with a photograph of Posh and Posh's "shud." They may have been published under the impression that they were properly in the possession of the person holding them. I know nothing of that, nor of what letters they are, nor who published them, nor when and where they were issued. But I do know what Posh has told me, and if the volume (if there is one) was published in America by one innocent of trickery, here is his chance to come forward and explain.

I was glad to see that Posh no longer numbered me among "that breed." But I was no longer surprised at the difficulty I had experienced in getting to close quarters with the man. From that time on he was the plain-speaking, independent, humorous, rough man that he is naturally. He has his faults. FitzGerald indicates one in several of his letters. He is inclined to that East Anglian characteristic akin to Boer "slimness," and it is easy enough to understand that the breach between him and his "guv'nor" was inevitable. The marvel is that the partnership lasted as long as it did, and that that refined, honourable gentleman (and I doubt if any one was ever quite so perfect a gentleman as Edward FitzGerald) was as infatuated with the breezy stalwart comeliness of the man as his letters prove him to have been.

As all students of FitzGerald's letters know, the association between FitzGerald and Posh ended in a separation that was very nearly a quarrel, if a man like FitzGerald can be said to quarrel with a man like Posh. But Posh never says a word against his old guv'nor's generosity and kindness of heart. He puts his point of view with emphasis, but always maintains that had it not been for other "interfarin' parties" there would never have been any unpleasantness between him and the great man who loved him so well, and whom, I believe in all sincerity, he still loves as a kind, upright, and noble-hearted gentleman.

And as Posh's years draw to a close (he was born in June, 1838) I think his thoughts must often hark back to the days when he was all in all to his guv'nor. For evil times have come on the old fellow. He is no longer the hale, stalwart man I first saw at Bill Harrison's.

A little before the Christmas of 1906 he was laid up with a severe cold. But he was getting over that well, when, one Sunday, a broken man, almost decrepit, came stumbling to my cottage door.

"The pore old lady ha' gorn," he said. "She ha' gorn fust arter all. Pore old dare. She had a strook the night afore last, and was dead afore mornin'."

Into the circumstances of his old landlady's death, of the action of her legal personal representatives, I will not go here. It suffices to say that Posh and the other lodgers in the house were given two days to "clear out" and that I discovered that the old fellow had been sleeping in his shed on the beach for two nights, without a roof which he could call his home. Thanks to certain readers of the Daily Graphic and to the members of the Omar Khayyam Club, I had a fund in hand for Posh's benefit, and immediately put a stop to his homelessness. Indeed, he knew of this fund, and that he could draw on it at need when he chose. But I believe the old man's heart was broken. He has never been the same man since. The last year has put more than ten years on the looks and bearing of the Posh whom I met first. But his memory is still good, and I was surprised to see how much he remembered of the people mentioned in the letters published in this volume when I read them through to him the other day. He cannot understand how it is that these letters have any value. He tells me he has torn up "sackfuls on 'em" and strewn them to the winds. The actual letters have been sold for his benefit, and I think that FitzGerald would be pleased if he knew (as possibly he does know) that his letters to his fisherman friend, have proved a stay to his old age.

{Posh in 1907: p26.jpg}

I have done my best to give approximate dates to the letters, and where I have succeeded in being absolutely correct I have to thank Dr. Aldis Wright, whose courtesy and kindliness, the courtesy and kindliness from a veteran to a tyro which is so encouraging to the tyro, have been beyond any expression of thanks which I can phrase. I hope that the letters and notes may help to make a side of FitzGerald, the simple human manly side, better known, and to enable my readers to judge his memory from the point of view of those old shrimpers by the new basin as a "good gennleman," as a noble-hearted, courageous man, as well as the more artificial scholar who quotes Attic scholiasts in a playful way as though they were school classics. Every new discovery of FitzGerald's life seems to create new wonder, new admiration for him; and there are, I hope, few who will read without some emotion not far from tears the sentence in his sermon to Posh.

"Do not let a poor, old, solitary, and sad Man (as I really am, in spite of my Jokes), do not, I say, let me waste my Anxiety in vain. I thought I had done with new Likings: and I had a more easy Life perhaps on that account: now I shall often think of you with uneasiness, for the very reason that I had so much Liking and Interest for you."


The biography of a hero written by his valet would be interesting, and, according to proverbial wisdom, unbiased by the heroic repute of its subject. But it would be artificial for all that. Even though the hero be no hero to his valet, the valet is fully aware of his master's fame; indeed, the man will be so inconsistent as to pride himself, and take pleasure in, those qualities of his master, the existence of which he would be the first to deny.

Where, however, a literary genius condescends to an intimacy with a simple son of sea and shore who is not only practically illiterate but is entirely ignorant of his patron's prowess, the opinions of the illiterate concerning the personal characteristics of the genius obtain a very remarkable value as being honest criticism by man of man, uninfluenced by the spirit either of disingenuous adulation or of equally disingenuous depreciation. That these opinions are in the eyes of a disciple of the great man quaint, almost insolently crude is a matter of course. But when they tend to show the master not only great in letters but great in heart, soul, human kindness, and generosity, they form, perhaps, the most notable tribute to a great personality.

{Cottage at corner of Boulge Park, where FitzGerald lived for many years: p30.jpg}

With the exception of Charles Lamb, no man's letters have endeared his memory to so many readers as have the letters of Edward FitzGerald. But FitzGerald's friends (to whom most of the letters hitherto published were addressed) were cultured gentlemen, men of the first rank of the time, of the first rank of all time, men who would necessarily be swayed by the charm of his culture, by the delicacy of his wit, by the refinement of his thoughts.

In the case of "Posh," however (that typical Lowestoft fisherman who supplied "Fitz" with a period of exaltation which was as extraordinary as it was self-revealing), there were no extraneous influences at work. Posh knew the man as a good-hearted friend, a man of jealous affection, as a free-handed business partner, as a lover of the sea. He neither knew nor cared that his partner (he would not admit that "patron" would be the better word!) was the author of undying verse. To this day it is impossible to make him understand that reminiscences of FitzGerald are of greater public interest than any recollection of him—Posh.

It was not easy to explain to him that it was his first meeting with Edward FitzGerald that was the thing and not the theft of his (Posh's) father's longshore lugger which led to that meeting. However, time and patience have rendered it possible to separate the wheat from the tares of his narrative; and what tares may be left may be swallowed down with the more nutritious grain without any deleterious effect.

In the early summer of 1865 some daring longshore pirate made off with Fletcher senior's "punt," or longshore lugger, without saying as much as "by your leave." The piracy (as was proper to such a deed of darkness) was effected by night, and on the following morning the coastguard were warned of the act. These worthy fellows (and they are too fine a lot of men to be disbanded by any twopenny Radical Government) traced the boat to Harwich. Here the gallant rover had sought local and expert aid to enable him to bring up, had then raised an awning, as though he were to sleep aboard, and, after thus satisfying the local talent to whom he was still indebted for their services, had slunk ashore and disappeared. Old Mr. Fletcher, on hearing the news, started off to Harwich in another craft of his, and (fateful fact!) took his son Posh with him.

Both the Fletchers were known to Tom Newson, a pilot of Felixstowe Ferry, and they naturally looked him up.

For years Edward FitzGerald had been accustomed to cruise about the Deben and down the river to Harwich in a small craft captained by one West. But in 1865 he was the owner of a smart fifteen-ton schooner, which he had had built for him by Harvey, of Wyvenhoe, two years previously, and of which Tom Newson was the skipper and his nephew Jack the crew. According to Posh, the original name of this schooner was the Shamrock, but she has become famous as the Scandal. It happened that when the Fletchers were at Harwich in search of the stolen punt, Edward FitzGerald had come down the river, and Newson made his two Lowestoft friends known to his master.

There can be no doubt that at that time, when he was twenty-seven years of age, Posh was an exceptionally comely and stalwart man. And he was, doubtless, possessed of the dry humour and the spirit of simple jollity which make his race such charming companions for a time. At all events his personality magnetised the poet, then a man of fifty-six, already a trifle weary of the inanities of life.

FitzGerald must have been tolerably conversant with the Harwich and Felixstowe mariners—with the "salwagers" of the "Ship-wash"—and the characters of the pilots and fishermen of the east coast. But Posh seems to have come to him as something new. How it happened it is impossible to guess. Posh has no idea. He has a more or less contemptuous appreciation of FitzGerald's great affection for him. But he cannot help any one to get to the root of the question why FitzGerald should have singled him out and set him above all other living men, as, for a brief period of exaltation, he certainly did.

From the first meeting to the inevitable disillusionment FitzGerald delighted in the company of the illiterate fisherman. Whether he took his protege cruising with him on the Scandal, or sat with him in his favourite corner of the kitchen of the old Suffolk Inn at Lowestoft, or played "all-fours" with him, or sat and "mardled" with him and his wife in the little cottage (8 Strand Cottages, Lowestoft) where Posh reared his brood, FitzGerald was fond even to jealousy of his new friend. The least disrespect shown to Posh by any one less appreciative of his merits FitzGerald would treat as an insult personal to himself. On one occasion when he was walking with Posh on the pier some stranger hazarded a casual word or two to the fisherman. "Mr. Fletcher is my guest," said FitzGerald at once, and drew away his "guest" by the arm.

It must have been soon after their first meeting that FitzGerald wrote to Fletcher senior, Posh's father:—



"Your little boy Posh came here yesterday, and is going to-morrow with Newson to Felixtow Ferry, for a day or two.

"In case he is wanted at Lowestoft to attend a Summons, or for any other purpose, please to write him a line, directing to him at

"Thomas Newson's, "Pilot, "Felixtow Ferry, "Ipswich.

"Yours truly, "EDWARD FITZGERALD."

{11 Market Hill, Woodbridge (showing tablet outside FitzGerald's old rooms): p36.jpg}

At this time Posh was earning his living as the proprietor of a longshore "punt," or beach lugger. In those days there were good catches of fish to be made inshore, and it was not unusual for a good day's long-lining (for cod, haddock, etc.) to bring in seven or eight pounds. Shrimps and soles fell victims to the longshoremen's trawls, and altogether there were a hundred fish to be caught to one in these days. Moreover, before steam made coast traffic independent of wind, the sand-banks outside the roads were a great source of profit to the beach men, who went off in their long yawls to such craft as "missed stays" coming through a "gat," or managed to run aground on one of the sand-banks in some way or other. The methods of the beach men were sometimes rather questionable, and Colonel Leathes, of Herringfleet Hall, tells a tale of a French brig, named the Confiance en Dieu, which took the ground on the Newcome Sand off Lowestoft about the year 1850. The weather was perfectly calm, but a company of beach men boarded her and got her off, and so established a claim for salvage. As a result she was kept nine weeks in port, and her skipper, the owner, had to pay 1200 pounds to get clear.

All things considered, it is probable that a Lowestoft longshoreman, in the sixties and seventies of the nineteenth century, could make a very good living of it, and even now, now when poverty has fallen on the beach, no beach man, unspoilt by the curse of visitors' tips, would bow his head to any man as his superior.

FitzGerald always took a humorous delight in the business of "salwaging" (as the men call it), and in his Sea Words and Phrases along the Suffolk Coast (No. II), he defines "Rattlin' Sam" as follows: "A term of endearment, I suppose, used by Salwagers for a nasty shoal off the Corton coast." In the same publication (I) he defines "saltwagin." "So pronounced (if not solwagin') from, perhaps, an indistinct implication of salt (water) and wages. Salvaging, of course."

Posh tells how his "guv'nor" would clap him on the back and laugh heartily over a "salwagin'" story. "You sea pirates!" he would say. "You sea pirates!"

In the spring of 1866 FitzGerald stayed at 12 Marine Terrace, Lowestoft, in March and April, and passed most of his time with Posh. In the evenings he would sit and smoke a pipe, or play "all-fours." In the day he liked to go to sea with Posh in the latter's punt, the Little Wonder. The Scandal was not launched that year till June, and although he "got perished with the N.E. wind" (Two Suffolk Friends, p. 101), he revelled in the rough work.

{12 Marine Terrace, Lowestoft: p39.jpg}

He must have been a quaint spectacle to the Lowestoft fishermen, for Posh assures me that he always went to sea in a silk hat, and generally wore a "cross-over," or a lady's boa, round his neck. Now a silk hat and a lady's boa aboard a longshore punt would be about as incongruous as a court suit in a shooting field. But FitzGerald was not vain enough to be self-conscious. He knew when he was comfortable, and that was enough for his healthy intelligence. Why should he care for the foolish trifles of convention? So to sea he went, top hat and all. And a good and hardy sailor man he was, as all who remember his ways afloat will testify.

Shortly before or after his visit to Lowestoft in the spring of 1866 FitzGerald wrote to Posh:—



"When I came in from my Boat yesterday I found your Hamper of Fish. Mr. Manby has his conger Eel: I gave the Codling to a young Gentleman in his ninetieth year: the Plaice we have eaten here—very good—and the Skaite I have just sent in my Boat to Newson. I should have gone down myself, but that it set in for rain; but, at the same time, I did not wish to let the Fish miss his mark. Newson was here two days ago, well and jolly; his Smack had a good Thing on the Ship-wash lately; and altogether they have done pretty well this Winter. He is about beginning to paint my Great Ship.

"I had your letter about Nets and Dan. You must not pretend you can't write as good a Letter as a man needs to write, or to read. I suppose the Nets were cheap if good; and I should be sorry you had not bought more, but that, when you have got a Fleet for alongshore fishing, then you will forsake them for some Lugger; and then I shall have to find another Posh to dabble about, and smoke a pipe, with. George Howe's Schooner ran down the Slips into the Water yesterday, just as I was in time to see her Masts slipping along. In the Evening she bent a new Main-sail. I doubt she will turn out a dear Bargain, after all, as such Bargains are sure to.

"I was looking at the Whaleboat I told you of, but Mr. Manby thinks she would . . . you propose.

"Here is a long Yarn; but to-morrow is Sunday; so you can take it easy. And so 'Fare ye well.'


The boat referred to in this letter was probably a small craft in which FitzGerald had been in the habit of cruising up and down river with one "West." It certainly was not the Scandal, for as transpires in the letter, that "Great Ship" was not yet painted for the yachting season.

Mr. Manby was a ship agent at Woodbridge.

The "Ship-wash" was, and is, the "Rattlin' Sam" of Felixstowe, and Tom Newson, FitzGerald's skipper, had evidently had a good bit of "salwagin'."

"Dan" is not the name of a man, but of a pointed buoy with a flag atop wherewith herring fishers mark the end of their fleets of nets, or (vide Sea Words and Phrases, etc.). "A small buoy, with some ensign atop, to mark where the fishing lines have been shot; and the dan is said to 'watch well' if it hold erect against wind and tide. I have often mistaken it for some floating sea bird of an unknown species."

The prophecy that as soon as Posh got his longshore fleet complete he would wish to go on a "lugger," that is to say, to the deep-sea fishing, was destined to be fulfilled, and that with the assistance of FitzGerald himself. But no one ever took Posh's place. FitzGerald's experience as a "herring merchant" began and ended with his intimacy with Posh.

{Old Lowestoft herring-drifter with "Dan" fixed to stem: p43.jpg}

George Howe, whose schooner was launched so that FitzGerald was just in time to see her masts slipping along, was one of the sons of "old John Howe," who, with his wife, was caretaker of Little Grange for many years. The schooner was, Posh tells me, exceptionally cheap, and FitzGerald's reference to her meant that she was too cheap to be good.

Since Posh's letter-writing powers received praise from one so qualified to bestow it, there must have been a falling off from want of practice, or from some other cause, for the old man is readier with his cod lines than with his pen by a very great deal, and it is difficult to believe that he ever wielded the pen of a ready writer. But perhaps FitzGerald was so fascinated by the qualities which did exist in his protege that he saw his friend through the medium of a glamour which set up, as it were, a mirage of things that were not. Well, it speaks better for a man's heart to descry non-existent merits than to imagine vain defects, and it was like the generous soul of FitzGerald to attribute excellencies to his friend which only existed in his imagination.


In 1866 Posh became the owner of a very old deep-sea lugger named the William Tell, and, to enable him to acquire the nets and gear necessary for her complete equipment as a North Sea herring boat, he borrowed a sum of 50 pounds from Tom Newson, and a further sum of 50 pounds from Edward FitzGerald. FitzGerald thought that Newson should have security for his loan (vide Two Suffolk Friends, p. 104), but Newson refused to accept any such thing. He, too, seems to have been under the influence of Posh's fascination. On October 7th, 1866, FitzGerald wrote (Two Suffolk Friends, p. 105): "I am amused to see Newson's devotion to his young Friend. . . . He declined having any Bill of Sale on Posh's Goods for Money lent; old as he is (enough to distrust all Mankind) . . . has perfect reliance on his Honour, Industry, Skill and Luck."

About this time FitzGerald must have written the following fragment, in which he refers to Newson's loan:—

"You must pay him his Interest on it when you can, and then I will take the Debt from him, adding it to the 50 pounds I lent you, and letting all that stand over for another time.

"My dear Posh, I write all this to you, knowing you are as honest a fellow as lives: but I never cease hammering into everybody's head Remember your Debts, Remember your Debts. I have scarcely ever [known?] any one that was not more or less the worse for getting into Debt: which is one reason why I have scarce ever lent money to any one. I should not have lent it to you unless I had confidence in you: and I speak to you plainly now in order that my confidence may not diminish by your forgetting one farthing that you owe any man.

"The other day an old Friend sent me 10 pounds, which was one half of what he said he had borrowed of me thirty years ago! I told him that, on my honour, I wholly forgot ever having lent him any money. I could only remember once refusing to lend him some. So here is one man who remembered his Debts better than his Creditor did.

"I will ask Newson about the Cork Jacket. You know that I proposed to give you each one: but your Mate told me that no one would wear them.

"Yesterday I lost my purse. I did not know where: but Jack had seen me slip into a Ditch at the Ferry, and there he went and found it. So is this Jack's Luck, or mine, eh, Mr. Posh?

"E. FG."

The debt to Newson was subsequently taken over by FitzGerald, and a new arrangement made on the building of the Meum and Tuum in the following year. But this fragment is important, in that it strikes a note of warning, which had to be repeated again and again during the partnership between the poet and the fisherman. Posh was happy-go-lucky in his accounts. I believe he was perfectly honest in intention, but he did not understand the scrupulosity in book-keeping which his partner thought essential to any business concern.

FitzGerald himself was very far from being meticulous where debts due to him were concerned. Dr. Aldis Wright can remember more than one instance in which FitzGerald tore up an acknowledgment of a loan after two or three years' interest had been paid. "I think you've paid enough," or "I think he's paid enough," would be his bland dismissal of the debt due to him. Many Woodbridge people had good cause to know the generosity of the man as well as ever Posh had cause to know it. FitzGerald may not have opened his heart to his Woodbridge acquaintance so freely as he did to Posh, but he was always ready to loosen his purse-strings.

The cork jackets were afterwards supplied to the crew of the Meum and Tuum, as will be apparent in the letters.

"Jack," who found the purse, was Jack Newson, Tom Newson's nephew, and the "crew" of the Scandal.


In 1867 Posh sold the old William Tell to be broken up. She was barely seaworthy and unfit to continue fishing. An agreement was entered into with Dan Fuller, a Lowestoft boat-builder, for a new lugger to be built, on lines supplied by Posh, at a total cost (including spars) of 360 pounds. FitzGerald had suggested that the boat should be built by a Mr. Hunt, of Aldeburgh, but Posh persuaded him to consent to Lowestoft and Dan Fuller instead. "I can look arter 'em better," said he, with some show of reason.

The agreement was, in the first instance, between Dan Fuller and Posh, but FitzGerald took a fancy to become partner with Posh in the boat and her profits. He was to find the money for the new lugger, and to let the sums already due from Posh remain in the partnership, while Posh was to bring in the nets and gear he had.

But by this time FitzGerald had seen symptoms in Posh which caused him anxiety. He loved his humble friend, and his anxiety was on account of the man and not on account of the possibilities of pecuniary loss incurred through Posh's weakness. On December the 4th, 1866, he wrote to Mr. Spalding, of Woodbridge: "At eight or half-past I go to have a pipe at Posh's, if he isn't half-drunk with his Friends" (Two Suffolk Friends, p. 107).

On January 5th, 1867, he wrote to the same correspondent (Two Suffolk Friends, p. 108) referring to Posh: "This very day he signs an Agreement for a new Herring-lugger, of which he is to be Captain, and to which he will contribute some Nets and Gear. . . . I believe I have smoked my pipe every evening but one with Posh at his house, which his quiet little Wife keeps tidy and pleasant. The Man is, I do think, of a Royal Nature. I have told him he is liable to one Danger (the Hare with many Friends)—so many wanting him to drink. He says it's quite true and that he is often obliged to run away: as I believe he does: for his House shows all Temperance and Order. This little lecture I give him—to go the way, I suppose, of all such Advice. . . ."

I fear that poor Posh's limbs soon grew too stiff to permit him to run away from the good brown "bare." But the lecture which FitzGerald mentions so casually was surely one of the most delicately written warnings ever penned. The sterling kindness of the writer is as transparent in it as is his tenderness to an inferior's feelings. No one but a very paragon of a gentleman would have taken the trouble to write so wisely, so kindly, so tenderly, and so earnestly. The appeal must surely have moved Posh, for the pathos of the reference to his patron's loneliness could not but have its effect.

But to touch on the sacred "bare" of a Lowestoft fisherman is always dangerous. There are many teetotallers among them now, and they would resent any imputation on their temperance. But those who are not teetotallers would resent it much more. FitzGerald warned his friend in as beautiful a letter as was ever written. But Posh could never regard the "mild bare," the "twopenny" of the district, as an enemy. He rarely touched spirits. Now, at the age of sixty-nine, he enjoys his mild beer more than anything and cares little for stronger stuff. But there is no doubt that this same mild beer inserted the edge of the adze which was to split the partnership in a little more than three years' time—this and the "interfarin' parties," whom Posh blames for all the misunderstandings which were to come.



"My Lawyer can easily manage the Assignment of the Lugger to me, leaving the Agreement as it is between you and Fuller. But you must send the Agreement here for him to see.

"As we shall provide that the Lugger when built shall belong to me; so we will provide that, in case of my dying before she is built, you may come on my executors for any money due.

"I think you will believe that I shall propose, and agree to, nothing which is not for your good. For surely I should not have meddled with it at all, but for that one purpose.

"And now, Poshy, I mean to read you a short Sermon, which you can keep till Sunday to read. You know I told you of one danger—and I do think the only one—you are liable to—Drink.

"I do not the least think you are given to it: but you have, and will have, so many friends who will press you to it: perhaps I myself have been one. And when you keep so long without food; could you do so, Posh, without a Drink—of some your bad Beer [sic] too—now and then? And then, does not the Drink—and of bad Stuff—take away Appetite for the time? And will, if continued, so spoil the stomach that it will not bear anything but Drink. And this evil comes upon us gradually, without our knowing how it grows. That is why I warn you, Posh. If I am wrong in thinking you want my warning, you must forgive me, believing that I should not warn at all if I were not much interested in your welfare. I know that you do your best to keep out at sea, and watch on shore, for anything that will bring home something for Wife and Family. But do not do so at any such risk as I talk of.

"I say, I tell you all this for your sake: and something for my own also—not as regards the Lugger—but because, thinking you, as I do, so good a Fellow, and being glad of your Company; and taking Pleasure in seeing you prosper; I should now be sorely vext if you went away from what I believe you to be. Only, whether you do well or ill, show me all above-board, as I really think you have done; and do not let a poor old, solitary, and sad Man (as I really am, in spite of my Jokes), do not, I say, let me waste my Anxiety in vain.

"I thought I had done with new Likings: and I had a more easy Life perhaps on that account: now I shall often think of you with uneasiness, for the very reason that I have so much Liking and Interest for you.

"There—the Sermon is done, Posh. You know I am not against Good Beer while at Work: nor a cheerful Glass after work: only do not let it spoil the stomach, or the Head.

"Your's truly, "E. FG."


FitzGerald having made up his mind to give Posh a lift by going into partnership with him began by finding not only the money for the building of the boat but a name for her when she should be ready for sea. It seemed to him that "Meum and Tuum" would be an appropriate name, and the Mum Tum is remembered along the coast to this day as a queer, meaningless title for a boat. At a later date FitzGerald is reported to have said that his venture turned out all Tuum and no Meum so far as he was concerned. But it is possible that Posh dealt more fairly with him than he thought. At all events Posh thinks he did.

The boat was to be paid for in instalments. So much on laying the keel, so much when the deck was on, etc., etc., and FitzGerald took the greatest interest in her building. He had first thought of christening the lugger "Marian Halcombe," after Wilkie Collins's heroine in The Woman in White, as appears from a letter to Frederic Tennyson, written in January, 1867 (Letters, II, 90, Eversley Edition):—

"I really think of having a Herring-lugger I am building named Marian Halcombe. . . . Yes, a Herring-lugger; which is to pay for the money she costs unless she goes to the Bottom: and which meanwhile amuses me to consult about with my Sea-folks. I go to Lowestoft now and then by way of salutary Change; and there smoke a Pipe every night with a delightful Chap who is to be Captain."

Again on June 17th (Letters, II, 94, Eversley Edition) he wrote to the late Professor Cowell of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge:—

"I am here in my little Ship" (the Scandal) "with no company but my crew" (Tom Newson and his nephew Jack) ". . . and my other—Captain of the Lugger now a-building: a Fellow I never tire of studying—If he should turn out knave, I shall have done with all Faith in my own Judgment: and if he should go to the Bottom of the Sea in the Lugger—I shan't cry for the Lugger."

There was some delay in getting the deck planks on the lugger, for FitzGerald wrote to Mr. Spalding on May 18th, 1867 (Two Suffolk Friends, p. 110), that she would be decked "next Week," whereas her planking was not finished till June, and, on a Friday in June, FitzGerald wrote to Posh:—



"I am only back To-day from London, where I had to go for two days: and I am very glad to be back. For the Weather was wretched: the Streets all Slush: and I all alone wandering about in it. So as I was sitting at Night, in a great Room where a Crowd of People were eating Supper, and Singing going on, I thought to myself—Well, Posh might as well be here; and then I should see what a Face he would make at all this—This Thought really came into my mind.

"I had asked Mr. Berry to forward me any Letters because I thought you might write to say the Lugger was planked. But now you tell me it is no such thing: well, there is plenty of time: but I wished not to delay in sending the Money, if wanted. I have seen, and heard, no more of Newson; nor of his new Lugger from Mr. Hunt—I am told that one of the American yachts, The Henrietta, is a perfect Model: so I am going to have a Print of her that I may try and learn the Stem from the Stern of a Ship. If this North-Easter changes I daresay I may run to Lowestoft next week and get a Sail, but it is too cold for that now.

"Well, here is a letter, you see, my little small Captain, in answer to yours, which I was glad to see, for as I do not forget you, as I have told you, so I am glad that you should sometime remember the Old Governor and Herring-merchant


It should be observed that in this letter, as in several of those written to Posh, FitzGerald signed his name, "Edward FitzGerald," in full, a practice from which he was averse owing to certain facts connected with another Edward Fitzgerald. Those who have heard the story of the historic first meeting between the poet and the late Mr. Bernard Quaritch will remember why our FitzGerald disliked the idea of being confused with the other Edward Fitzgerald.

{Posh and his old "Shud," in which nets, etc., belonging to the partnership were stored, and where the letters now published were found: p62.jpg}

The letter here given forces a delightful picture upon us. Its simplicity makes it superbly graphic. Think of FitzGerald, refined in feature and reserved in manner, a little unconventional in dress, but not sufficiently so to be vulgarly noticeable—think of the man who has given us the most poetical philosophy and the most philosophical poetry, all in the most exquisite English, in our language, sitting probably at Evans's (it sounds like Evans's with the suppers and the music) and looking a little pityingly at the reek about him like the "poor old, solitary, and sad Man as he really was in spite of his Jokes"; and then imaging in his mind's eye the handsome stalwart fisherman whom he loved so truly, and believing that he was as morally excellent as he was physically! "What a Face he would make at all this!" thought the poet.

Five or six years ago a good friend of mine, the skipper of one of the most famous tugs of Yarmouth, had to go up to town on a salvage case before the Admiralty Court. With him as witnesses went one or two beach men of the old school, wind-and sun-tanned old shell-backs, with voices like a fog-horn, and that entire lack of self-consciousness which is characteristic of simplicity and good breeding. My friend the skipper was cultured in comparison with the old beach men, and he was a little vexed when one old "salwager" insisted on accompanying him to the Oxford Music Hall. All went well till some conjurers appeared on the stage. Then the skipper found that he had made a mistake in edging away from the beach man. For that jolly old salt hailed him across the house. "Hi, Billeeoh! Bill Berry! Hi! Lor, bor, howiver dew they dew't? Howiver dew they dew't, bor? Tha'ss whoolly a masterpiece! Hi! Billeeoh! Theer they goo agin!"

The skipper always ends the story there. He is as brave a man as any on the coast. It was he who stood out in Yarmouth Roads all night to look for the Caistor life-boat the night of the disaster—a night when the roads could not be distinguished from the shoals, so broken into tossing white horses was the whole offing—but I believe he slunk down the stairs of the Oxford that night, and left the old beach man still expressing his delighted wonder.

Perhaps FitzGerald thought that Posh would be as excited as the old beach man.

"Mr. Berry" (as every one knows who knows anything about FitzGerald) was the landlord of the house on Markethill, Woodbridge, where the poet lodged. (By the way, he was, so far as I know, no relation of my Bill Berry.) A sum of 50 pounds was due to Dan Fuller on the planking being completed, and FitzGerald was anxious to let Posh have the money as soon as it was needed. He "remembered his debts" even before they became due.

I have already stated that Hunt was a boat-builder at Aldeburgh, and that FitzGerald had, at first, wished Posh to employ him to build the Mum Tum, as the Meum and Tuum was fated to be called.

The kindly jovial relations between the "guv'nor" and his partner could not be better indicated than by the name FitzGerald gives himself at the close, just before he once more signs his name in full. Well, perhaps the legal luminary of Lowestoft would justify his inquiry if Edward FitzGerald was the man who made a lot of money out of salt by saying, "Well, he called himself a herring-merchant."

The schoolmaster who had never heard of either FitzGerald or Omar Khayyam would (according to the nature of the breed) sniff and say "What? A herring-merchant and a tent-maker! My boys are the sons of gentlemen. I can't be expected to know anything about tradesfolk of that class."

But Posh has a sense of humour, and he says, "Ah! He used to laugh about that, the guv'nor did. He'd catch hold o' my jersey, so" (here Posh pinches up a fold of his blue woollen jersey), "and say, 'Oh dear! Oh dear, Poshy! Two F's in the firm. FitzGerald and Fletcher, herring salesmen—when Poshy catches any, which isn't as often as it might be, you know, Poshy!' And then he'd laugh. Oh, he was a jolly kind-hearted man if ever there was one."

And then Posh's eyes will grow moist sometimes, I think perhaps with the thought that he might—ah, well! It's too late now.

Posh wishes me to give the dimensions of the lugger, as she was of his own designing and proved a fast and stiff craft. He had given her two feet less length than her beam called for, according to local ideas, and FitzGerald called her "The Cart-horse," because she seemed broad and bluff for her length. She was forty-five feet in length, with a fifteen- foot beam and seven-foot depth. She was first rigged as a lugger, but altered to the more modern "dandy" (something like a ketch but with more rake to the mizzen and with no topmast on the mainmast) before she was sold. Any one about the herring basins who has arrived at fisherman's maturity (about sixty years) will remember the Mum Tum, and, so far as she was concerned, the partnership was entirely successful, for no one has a bad word to say for her.


It is impossible to arrive at the exact sum of money which FitzGerald brought into the partnership between him and Posh, but it must have been something like five hundred pounds. The lugger cost 360 pounds to build, and, in addition, Posh was paid 20 pounds for his services (see Letters, p. 309), and various payments had to be made for "sails, cables, warps, ballast, etc." Posh brought in what nets and gear he had, and his services. The first notion was that FitzGerald should be owner of three-fourths of the concern; but on a valuation being made it was found that the nets and gear contributed by Posh were of greater value than had been supposed, and before the Meum and Tuum put to sea it was understood that Posh should be half owner with his "guvnor." Posh is very firm in his conviction that up to the return of the boat from her first cruise there had been no mention of any bill of sale, or mortgage, of the boat and gear to FitzGerald to secure the money he had found. According to him his partner was to be a sleeping partner and no more, and the entire conduct and control of the business were to be vested in Posh. The quarrels and misunderstandings which subsequently arose on this point Posh attributes to certain "interfarin' parties" (and especially to a Lowestoft lawyer), who were under the impression that FitzGerald had not looked after himself so well as he might have done and who thought that this omission should be remedied. Possibly they had an idea that they might "make somethin'" in the course of the remedial measures.

Early in August Posh sailed north with his crew to meet the herring on their way down south. His luck was poor, and on August 26th FitzGerald wrote him from Lowestoft:—

"LOWESTOFT, Monday, August 26.


"As we hear nothing of you, we suppose that you have yet caught nothing worth putting in for. And, as I may be here only a Day longer, I write again to you: though I do not know if I have anything to say which needs writing again for. In my former letter, directed to you as this letter will be, I desired you to get a Life Buoy as soon as you could. That is for the Good of your People, as well as of yourself. What I now have to say is wholly on your own Account: and that is, to beg you to take the Advice given by the Doctor to your Father: namely, not to drink Beer and Ale more than you can help: but only Porter, and, every day, some Gin and Water. I was talking to your Father last Saturday; and I am convinced that you inherit a family complaint: if I had known of this a year ago I would not have drenched you with all the Scotch, and Norwich, Ale which I have given you. . . . Do not neglect this Advice, as being only an old Woman's Advice; you have, even at your early time of life, suffered from Gravel; and you may depend upon it that Gravel will turn to Stone, unless you do something like what I tell you, and which the Doctor has told your Father. And I know that there is no Disease in the World which makes a young Man old sooner than Stone: No Disease that wears him more. You should take plenty of Tea; some Gin and Water every night; and no Ale, or Beer; but only Porter; and not much of that. If you do not choose to buy Gin for yourself, buy some for me: and keep it on board: and drink some every Day, or Night. Pray remember this: and do it.

"I have been here since I wrote my first Letter to Scarboro'; that is to say, a week ago. Till To-day I have been taking out some Friends every day: they leave the place in a day or two, and I shall go home; though I dare say not for long. Your wife seems nearly right again; I saw her To-day. Your Father has engaged to sell his Shrimps to Levi, for this season and next, at 4s. a Peck. Your old Gazelle came in on Saturday with all her Nets gone to pieces; the Lugger Monitor came in here yesterday to alter her Nets—from Sunk to Swum, I believe. So here is a Lowestoft Reporter for you: and you may never have it after all. But, if you do, do not forget what I have told you. Your Father thinks that you may have missed the Herring by going outward, where they were first caught: whereas the Herring had altered their course to inshore. . . . Better to miss many Herrings than have the Stone.

"E. FG."

Here, again, the delicate solicitude of this perfect gentleman is apparent. "If you do not choose to buy Gin for yourself, buy some for me: and keep it on board: and drink some every Day, or Night." That is to say, "If you think that you cannot afford to buy gin for yourself don't worry about the expense. I'll see you are not put to any extra cost. But I can't bear to think that you may suffer for the want of a medicine because of your East Anglian parsimony."

It must be remembered that East Anglia was notorious for the frequency of the disease in question. The late William Cadge, of Norwich, probably the finest lithotomist in the world (as Thompson was the greatest lithotritist), once told me that he had performed over four hundred operations in the Norwich Hospital for this disease alone.

But FitzGerald's fears concerning Posh were not realised. He seems to have had an especial dread of the disease (as who has not?), for in a letter to Frederic Tennyson of January 29th previously (II, 89, Eversley Edition) he wrote (of Montaigne): "One of his Consolations for The Stone is that it makes one less unwilling to part with Life."

Levi was a Lowestoft fishmonger, referred to in the footnote of Two Suffolk Friends, p. 108.

The Gazelle was the "punt" or longshore boat which Posh bought at Southwold, and called (by reason of her splendid qualities) The Little Wonder.

The difference between "sunk" and "swum" herring nets would be unintelligible to a modern herring fisher. Now the nets are thirty feet in depth, are buoyed on the surface of the sea, and are kept perpendicular (like a wall two miles long) by the weight of heavy cables or "warps" which stretch along the bottom of the nets. I am, of course, referring to North Sea fishing only, and not to the longshore punts, whose nets are not half the depth of the North Sea fleets.

In FitzGerald's time if the herring were expected to swim deep the nets were sunk below the cables or warps which strung them together, and if they were thought to be swimming high they were buoyed above the warps, the system of fishing being called "sunk" in the former case and "swum" in the latter. Now all nets are "swum," that is to say, all are above the warps and are buoyed on the surface. But the depth has increased so much (to what is technically known as "twenty-score mesh," which comes to about thirty feet) that there is no need to alter their setting.

Posh's wife, whose state of health is referred to in this letter, survived till 1892, but for many years suffered from tuberculosis in the lungs.

The Monitor was a Kessingland craft, and belonged to one Hutton.

But whether Posh fished with "sunk" or "swum" nets his luck was out for the season of 1867. The fish as a rule get down to the Norfolk coast about the beginning of October, and Posh had followed them down from Scarborough. About the end of September, or the beginning of October, FitzGerald wrote to his partner, addressing the letter to 8 Strand Cottages, Lowestoft, in the expectation that the Meum and Tuum had come south with the rest of the herring drifters, Yarmouth, Lowestoft, North and South Shields, and Scotch.

{Strand Cottages, where Posh lived. No. 8, his cottage, is marked with a white cross: p77.jpg}

"WOODBRIDGE, Saturday.


"I write you a line, because I suppose it possible that you may be at home some time to-morrow. If you are not, no matter. I do not know if I shall be at Lowestoft next week: but you are not to suppose that, if I do do [sic] not go there just now I have anything to complain of. I am not sure but that a Friend may come here to see me, and also, unless the weather keep warmer than it was some days ago, I scarce care to sleep in my cabin: which has no fire near it as yours has.

"If I do not go to Lowestoft just yet, I shall be there before very long: at my friend Miss Green's, if my Ship be laid up.

"I see in the Paper that there have been some 40 lasts of Herring landed in your market during this last week: the Southwold Boats doing best. I began to think the Cold might keep the Fish in deep water, so that swum nets would scarce reach them yet. But this is mere guess. I told you not to answer all my letters: but you can write me a line once a week to say what you are doing. I hope our turn for "Neighbour's fare" is not quite lost, though long a coming.

"Newson and Jack are gone home for Sunday. To-night is a grand Horsemanship, to which I would make you go if you were here. Remember me to all your People and believe me yours

"E. FG.

"I see that the . . . [illegible] vessel: and, as far as I see, deserved to do so."

Miss Green was the landlady of the house at 12 Marine Terrace, Lowestoft, where FitzGerald usually stayed when he did not sleep aboard the Scandal.

Up to the date of the letter, and, indeed, throughout the season of 1867, the Meum and Tuum had bad luck. FitzGerald thought it was time that the luck should change, for "Neighbour's fare" is defined in Sea Words and Phrases along the Suffolk Coast as "Doing as well as one's neighbours. 'I mayn't make a fortune, but I look for "Neighbour's fare" nevertheless.'"


"Neighbour's fare" was long in coming to FitzGerald in his venture as a "herring merchant." But he was happy enough in the consciousness that he was doing Posh a good turn. Whether or not Posh had a greater share of the earnings of the boat than he was entitled to I cannot say. Certainly he began to thrive exceedingly about this time, and, as an old longshoreman seven years Posh's senior, said to me the other day, "He might ha' been a gennleman! He used to kape his greyhounds, and he had as pratty a mare as the' wuz in Lowestoft. Ah! Mr. FitzGerald was a good gennleman to him—that he wuz!"

Once again the epithet "good," which he so pre-eminently merited.

But whether the year had been bad or good, it was necessary for the sleeping partner to look into the accounts of the firm.

On Christmas Day of 1867, when the season was over and all the herring drifters had "made up," that is to say, had worked out their accounts and struck a balance of profit or loss, Fitzgerald wrote to Posh:—

"WOODBRIDGE, Christmas Day.


"Unless I hear from you to-morrow that you are coming over here, I shall most likely run over myself to Miss Green's at Lowestoft—by the Train which gets there about 2.

"I shall look in upon you in the evening, if so be that I do not see you in the course of the day. I say I shall look in upon [sic] to- morrow, I dare say:—But, as this is Christmas time and I suppose you have many friends to see, I shall not want you to be at school every evening.

"This is Newson's piloting week, so he cannot come.

"E. FG."

Posh did not go to Woodbridge, so FitzGerald went to Miss Green's, whence, on December the 28th, he wrote one of his most characteristic letters (in that it embraced interests so widely different) to Professor Cowell. The letter begins with a reference to M. Garcin de Tassy and his "annual oration," and continues with some passages of great interest concerning the Rubaiyat and Attar's "Birds." (Dr. Aldis Wright's Eversley Edition of Letters, II, 100.) Then from a delicate and dainty piece of criticism the poet turns to his herring business. "I have come here to wind up accounts for our Herring-lugger: much against us as the season has been a bad one. My dear Captain [Posh], who looks in his Cottage like King Alfred in the Story, was rather saddened by all this, as he had prophesied better things. I tell him that if he is but what I think him—and surely my sixty years of considering men will not so deceive me at last!—I would rather lose money with him than gain it with others. Indeed I never proposed Gain, as you may imagine: but only to have some Interest with this dear Fellow."

Well, he had his wish, though Posh maintains that there was gain in the business at a certain time to be referred to hereafter, and that there might have been plenty of gain but for the "interfarin' parties" before mentioned.

From the first there was a difficulty in persuading Posh to keep any accounts of either outgoings or incomings. He seems to have paid a bill when he thought of it, or when he had the money for it handy. But no idea of book-keeping, even in its most rudimentary form, was ever entertained by him.

And FitzGerald had, before ever the partnership was an accomplished fact, impressed on Posh the importance of remembering his debts.

Before the spring fishing began in 1868 the question of accounts came to the fore. On March the 29th the sleeping partner wrote from Woodbridge:—


"I have your Letter of this Morning:—I suppose that you have got mine also. I hope that you understood what I said in it—about the Bills, I mean—that you should put down in writing all outgoings, and in such a way as you, or I, might easily reckon them up: I mean, so as to see what each amounts to—No man's Memory can be trusted in such matters; and I think that your Memory (jostled about, as you say, with many different calls, [sic no close to parenthesis] needs to have writing to refer to. Do not suppose for one moment that I do not trust you, my good fellow: nor that I think you have made any great blunder in what Accounts you did keep last year. I only mean that a man ought to be able to point out at once, to himself or to others, all the items of an Account; to do which, you know, gave you great Trouble—You must not be too proud to learn a little of some one used to such business: as Mr. Spalding, for instance.

"If you think the Oil and Cutch are as good, and as cheap, at Lowestoft as I can get them here, why not get them at once at Lowestoft? About that green Paint for the Lugger's bottom:—Mr. Silver got some so very good for Pasifull's Smack last year that I think it might be worth while to get some, if we could, from his Merchant. You told me that what you got at Lowestoft was not very good.

"I am very glad that the Lugger is so well thought of that any one else wants to build from her. For she was your child, you know.

"Mr. Durrant has never sent me the plants. I doubt he must have lost some more children. Do not go to him again, if you went before. I daresay I shall be running over to Lowestoft soon. But I am not quite well.

"E. FG.

"Remember me to your Family: you do not tell me if your Mother is better."

The Mr. Spalding here referred to was at that time the manager for a large firm of agricultural implement makers. Subsequently he became the curator of the museum at Colchester, and the letters from FitzGerald to him which were handed to Mr. Francis Hindes Groome formed the most valuable part of the second part of Two Suffolk Friends called "Edward FitzGerald. An Aftermath."

"Oil" and "cutch" are preservatives for the herring nets. The oil is linseed, and the nets are soaked in it before they are tanned by the cutch. Cutch is a dark resinous stuff, which is thrown into a copper full of water and boiled till it is dissolved. Then the liquid is thrown over the nets and permitted to soak in. After the nets are soaked in linseed oil, and before they are tanned, they are hung up to dry in the open air. The process has to be repeated several times during each fishing, and those who are familiar with Lowestoft and Yarmouth must also be familiar with the sight and smell of the nets, hanging out on railings, either on public open spaces or in private net yards. Where rails are not obtainable the nets are often spread on the ground, and an ingenious idea for the quaint shape of Yarmouth (unique with its narrow "rows") is that the rows represent the narrow footpaths between the spaces on which the nets used to be laid to dry.

"Pasifull" is sometimes called "Percival," sometimes "Pasifall," and sometimes as in this letter. His Christian name was Ablett, and he was both a fisherman and a yacht hand.

Mr. Durrant was a market gardener and fruiterer in Lowestoft, and his sons carry on the same business in three shops in Lowestoft now. One of them remembers FitzGerald as a visitor and "a queer old chap," and that's all he knows about him.

I do not think Posh troubled himself much about the accounts. But there was another subject already broached which was to cause some unpleasantness between the partners.

Some of FitzGerald's friends, both at Lowestoft and elsewhere, had become uneasy at the hold which Posh had obtained over him. They feared lest he should become a baron of beef at which Posh could cut and come again. More than one advised him that he should have some better security than a mere partnership understanding, that he should, in fact, insist on having a bill of sale, or mortgage of the Meum and Tuum and her gear to secure the money he had found. Possibly he was swayed by Posh's backwardness in the matter of account. Certainly he came to the conclusion that his friends were right, and that he should have a charge on the boat and her gear. Now I believe that Posh tells the truth when he says that in the first instance there was no mention of any such charge. And he was not a business man enough to see the reasonableness of FitzGerald's demand. He was, moreover, urged by the secretiveness of his race, the love of keeping private affairs from outsiders, and he bitterly resented the proposition. Indeed, during the early months of 1868, there were constant semi-quarrels, which were as constantly patched up. FitzGerald loved the man too well to quarrel with him definitely. Besides, Posh had not been well. In January FitzGerald wrote to Professor Cowell (Letters, II, 103, Eversley Edition): "I have spent lots of money on my Herring-lugger, which has made but a poor season. So now we are going (like wise men) to lay out a lot more for Mackerel; and my Captain (a dear Fellow) is got ill, which is the worst of all."

But in this first instance Posh gave way. On April 14th FitzGerald wrote Mr. Spalding: "I believe that he and I shall now sign the Mortgage Papers that make him owner of Half Meum and Tuum. I only get out of him that he can't say he sees much amiss in the Deed." But Posh is still bitter about that deed, and still blames his old "guv'nor" for having listened to the "interfarin' parties." He does not know what was the matter with him that spring. "I was quare, sir," he says. "I don't know what ta was. But I was quare."

He got well in time to go off after the spring mackerel, which used to be a regular fishing season off Lowestoft, though now mackerel are getting as scarce as salmon off the Norfolk and Suffolk coast. But the Meum and Tuum's bad luck still followed her with the longer and bigger meshed nets. On June 16th, 1868, FitzGerald wrote to Mr. Spalding (Two Suffolk Friends, p. 113):—

"Mackerel still come in very slow, sometimes none at all: the dead calm nights play the deuce with the Fishing, and I see no prospect of change in the weather till the Mackerel shall be changing their Quarters. I am vexed to see the Lugger come in Day after day so poorly stored after all the Labour and Time and Anxiety given to the work by her Crew; but I can do no more, and at any rate take my share of the Loss very lightly. I can afford it better than they can. I have told Newson to set sail and run home any Day, Hour, or Minute, when he wishes to see his Wife and Family."

Newson and Jack were down at Lowestoft with the Scandal, and it was characteristic of FitzGerald to give his skipper leave to run home when he wished. FitzGerald always liked the Meum and Tuum to be in harbour on a Sunday so that the men could see their wives and families and have a "good hot dinner."


Now that the Meum and Tuum was ready for work FitzGerald's anxiety for the lives of her crew made him insist upon their taking life-belts aboard with them, although the mate had stated that no one would wear them. On April 24th a letter was written to Posh from Woodbridge.


"I hear from Mr. Birt this morning that the Life Belts were sent off to you yesterday—directed to your house. So I suppose they will reach you without your having to go look for them. But you can enquire at the Rail if they don't show up.

"Mr. Birt says that he makes the Belts of two sizes for the Life Boat. But he has sent all yours of the large size, except one for the Boy. I had told him I thought you were all of you biggish Men, except the Boy. I suppose I have blundered as usual. But if the Jackets are too big you must change some of them. That will only cost carriage; and that I must pay for my Blunder.

"I doubt you have been unlucky in your drying days—yesterday we had such violent showers as would have washed out your oil, I think. And it must have rained much last night. But you share in my luck now, you know.

"But I am very glad the children are better. I thought it was bad weather for fever. There has been great sickness here, I think. Mr. Gowing and his house are as tedious as Mr. Dove and my house; we must hope that does not mean to play as false.

"I am very sorry for your loss of lines and anchors.

"E. FG."

Mr. Gowing was, so far as Posh can recollect, a Woodbridge builder, and Mr. Dove was the Builder who altered Little Grange for FitzGerald. Whether or not the life-belts fitted or were ever used I can't ascertain. But I believe that one was in existence a year or so ago. The "lines and anchors" were, Posh thinks, lost from his old punt the Gazelle.

For the sake of convenience I give a letter here which is somewhat out of date, but inasmuch as it has nothing to do with the fishing but only with the trust which FitzGerald had in Posh it may very well come in here.



"I forgot to tell you that I had desired a Day and Night Telescope to be left for me at the Lowestoft Railway Station—Please to enquire for it: and, if it be there, this Letter of mine may be sufficient Warrant for you to take the Glass.

"Do not, however, take the Glass out to sea till we have tried it.

"We got here yesterday. I shall not be at Lowestoft this week at any rate.


"Please to send me word about the Glass. I left a note for you in George Howe's hands before we started. I was sorry not to see you; but you knew where to find me on Monday Evening."

The glass was, Posh assures me, a good one. But no one knows what became of it. Later FitzGerald again mentions the glass.



"If I could have made sure from your letter that you were going to stop on shore this Day, I would have run over to see you. You tell me of getting a Job done: but I cannot be sure if you are having it done To-day: and I do not go to Lowestoft for fear you may be put to sea again.

"Of course you will get anything done to Boat or Net that you think proper.

"You did not tell me how the Spy-Glass answers. But do not trouble yourself to write.


{Woodbridge River (evening) where the "scandal" berthed: p97.jpg}

As soon as I asked Posh the meaning of the signature "Flagstone FitzGerald" he burst out laughing. "What!" said he. "Hain't yew niver heard about ole Flagstone? He was a retail and wholesale grocer and gin'ral store dealer at Yarmouth name —-" (well, we will say Smith for purposes of reference. As the man's sons still carry on his old business here in Lowestoft it is as well not to give the true name. By the way, I do not mean that the sons carry on the "flagstone" business), "and he owned tew or t'ree boots and stored 'em hisself. Well, when they come to make up (and o' coorse he'd chudged the men for the stores, ah! and chudged 'em high!) they went t'rew the stores an' found as he'd weighted up the sugar and such like wi' flagstone! Well, they made it sa hot for him at Yarmouth that he had ta mewve ta Lowestoft, and he was allust called Flagstone Smith arter that. I reckon as the Guv'nor heerd the yarn and liked it. Ha! Ha! Ha!"

And it isn't a bad yarn for one which is actually true in every respect.

About the same time, or a little later (for it is impossible to fix the date of these letters definitely), Fitzgerald wrote:—

"WOODBRIDGE, Saturday.


"I suppose the Lugger had returned, and that you had gone out in her again before my last Note, with Newson's Paper, reached you. I have a fancy that you will go home this evening. But whether you are not [sic] do not stay at home to answer me. I have felt, as I said, pretty sure that the Boat was back from Harwich: and we have had no such weather as to make me anxious about you. One night it blew; but not a gale: only a strong Wind.

"I shall be expecting Newson up next week.

"I have thought of you while I have been walking out these fine moonlight nights. But I doubt your fish must have gone off before this.

"You see I have nothing to say to you; only I thought you might to [sic] hear from me whenever you should come back.

"E. FG."


The poor mackerel season ended in the second week of July. Why, when mackerel were so scarce, the Meum and Tuum did not give up the fishing and try for "midsummer herring" it is difficult to understand, and Posh does not remember the reason, if there was one. Possibly the change of nets, etc., etc., was too much trouble. Anyhow, the season was unprofitable for the mackerel boats. On Monday, July 13th, FitzGerald was still on the Scandal at Lowestoft, and wrote from there to Mr. Spalding (Two Suffolk Friends, p. 113): "Posh made up and paid off on Saturday. I have not yet asked him, but I suppose he has just paid his way, I mean so far as Grub goes. . . . Last night it lightened to the South, as we sat in the Suffolk Gardens—I, and Posh, and Mrs. Posh. . . ."

The "making up" may require some little explanation. The "drift" fishing—i.e. the herring and mackerel fishing (for though sprats and pilchards are caught by drift nets, it is unnecessary to consider them when dealing with the great North Sea drift fishing)—is carried on on a system of sharing profits between owners and fishermen. Trawlers, i.e. craft that fish with a "trawl" net for flat fish, haddocks, etc., etc., are managed differently.

"Making up" is the technical term for balancing profit and loss of a season, and ascertaining the sums which are due to owners and crew respectively.

In the days when Fitzgerald was a "herring merchant," the systems of Yarmouth and Lowestoft were different. At Yarmouth the owner of the boat took nine shares out of sixteen, and bore all losses of damaged or lost nets, etc., the remaining seven shares being divided among the crew in varying proportions. For instance, the skipper took 1.75 or two shares, the mate 1.25 or 1.5, and so on down to the boy with his one-half or three-eighths share. At Lowestoft the shares were also divided into sixteen; but the owner took only eight, and the crew the other eight. The losses of gear, nets, etc., however, were borne equally between the two lots of eight shares, and, on the whole, I believe the Yarmouth system was more favourable to the men, though the Lowestoft system made the skipper and crew more careful of the nets and gear than they might have been did not they suffer for any loss of them. The introduction of steam drifters has made the shares complicated in the extreme. The owners take so much as owners of the boat, so much for the engines, etc., etc., and, in fact, the owners get the share of a very greedy lion. However, the prices rule so high nowadays, and the catches are occasionally so large (the other day a steam drifter brought in over 200 pounds worth of fish to Grimsby as the result of one night's fishing), that the great Martinmas fishing of the east coast has become a gamble in which fortunes may be made and lost. Many a boat earns over 2000 pounds from October to December. A lucky skipper may take 200 pounds for his share of the home fishing alone. But such figures would have sounded fantastic in FitzGerald's day, for I have been assured over and over again by herring fishers that in the sixties and seventies, ay, even in the eighties of last century, 20 pounds was a "good season's share" for a prominent hand of a successful drifter.

Posh, as half owner, would take four-sixteenth shares, and as skipper would probably take another two-sixteenths, so that he would draw more than any one else.

Some time during the spring or summer of 1868 there was great excitement amongst the fishing-boat owners of Lowestoft and other ports on account of an Act just passed regulating the building of vessels, having especial regard to the ventilation of the cuddy, forecastle, or the men's sleeping quarters. Posh tells me that many owners of drifters considered that the Act applied to all craft, including fishing boats, and that great expense was undergone by some over-conscientious owners in fitting ventilating drums and shafts in accordance with the Act. If the statute applied to any drifter it would apply to the Meum and Tuum, and FitzGerald evidently thought that the intention of the Act was that fishing boats should be exempt. He proved to be right, for the regulations were never enforced on fishing boats. He wrote to Posh:—

"WOODBRIDGE, Saturday.


"You must lay out three halfpence on the Eastern Times for last Friday. In that Newspaper there is a good deal written about that Act for altering Vessels: the Writer is quite sure—that the Act does not apply to Fishing craft; and he writes as if he knew what he was writing about. But most likely if he had written just the contrary, it would have seemed as right to me. Do you therefore fork out three halfpennies, as I tell you, and study the matter and talk it over with others. The owners of Vessels should lose no time in meeting, and in passing some Resolution on the Subject.

"I have not seen Newson, but West was down at the Ferry some days back and saw him. For a wonder, he [Newson] was Fishing!—for Codlings—for there really was nothing else to do: no Woodbridge Vessels coming in and out the Harbour, nor any work for the Salvage Smacks. He spoke of his Wife as much the same: Smith, the Pilot, thought her much altered when last he saw her.

"You will buy such things as you spoke of wanting at the Lowestoft Sales if they go at a reasonable price. As to the claim made by your Yawl, I suppose it will come down to half. The builders are coming to my house again next week, I believe, having left their work undone.

"Now, here is a Letter for your Mantelpiece to-morrow—Sunday—I don't think I have more to say.

"Yours E. FG.

"Mr. Durrant has never sent me the hamper of Flowers he promised.

"P.S. I post this letter before Noon so as you will receive it this evening: and can get the Newspaper I tell you of:

"Eastern Times for Friday last sold at Chapman's."

Posh does not remember whether he laid out the three halfpence or not. But he doubts it. "I knowed as that couldn't ha' nothin' ta dew along o' us," says he. And he stuck to his guns and proved to be right.

"West" has been mentioned before as being an old fellow with whom FitzGerald used to navigate the river Deben in a small boat before the building of the Scandal. Newson's wife, like Posh's, was often ailing. Kind "Fitz" had written previously (July 25th, 1868; Letters, Eversley Edition, p. 106) to Professor Cowell:—

". . . I only left Lowestoft partly to avoid a Volunteer Camp there which filled the Town and People with Bustle: and partly that my Captain might see his Wife: who cannot last very much longer I think: scarcely through the Autumn, surely. She goes about, nurses her children, etc., but grows visibly thinner, weaker and more ailing."

{The "Happy New Year" yawl, belonging to Posh's beach company: p107.jpg}

The "claim made by your yawl" refers to a claim for salvage made by the company of beach men (of which Posh was a member) owning a yawl. FitzGerald (as has been seen before) always took a humorous interest in the doings of the "sea pirates," yclept beach men or "salwagers," and he doubtless enjoyed his little chuckle at Posh's expense.

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