Arthur Mason

Commentary

Life
1876-1955; brought up in Kilclief on Strangford Lough, Co. Down; went to sea at 1893 [aetat. 17]; spent time in Scotland, USA and Canada, the Andes and Australia; became an America citizen, c.1899; author of Wide Seas and Many Lands (1924; rev. edn. 1926), and Ocean’s Echoes (1922 & 1924), both autobiographical fictions in the form of picaresque tales of maritime life in a romantic-realist style; also Come Easy, Go Easy (1933), an account of the Nevada gold rush; settled in America, where his books had good sales, and became an American citizen.

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Works
Fiction
  • The Flying Bo’sun: A Mystery of the Sea (London: Jonathan Cape [1921]), 241pp. [printed in USA];
  • The Cook and the Captain Bold (London: William Heinemann 1925), 182pp.;
  • Salt Horse (London: Jonathan Cape 1928), 256pp.;
  • The Ship that Waited (London: T. Fisher Unwin 1926), 283pp.;
  • Swansea Dan (London: Ernest Benn 1929), 256pp.
 
Autobiography
  • Wide Seas and Many Lands [rev. edn.; Travellers’ Library] (London: Jonathan Cape 1926), 223pp.; Come Easy, Go Easy (NY: John Day Co. [1933]), x, 272pp.;
  • An Ocean Boyhood, ... &c. (NY: J. H. Sears & Co. [1927]), vi, 297pp., ill. [by Harry H. A. Burne].

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Criticism
John Boyd, ‘Ulster Prose’, in Sam Hanna Bell [etc al.], eds., The Arts in Ulster (London: Harrap 1951), contains brief comments on Mason, citing his birthdate as 1871.

See also John Wilson Foster, ‘Strangford Lough and its Writers’, in Between Shadows: Modern Irish Writing and Culture (Dublin: IAP 2009), espec. p.137f. [extract].

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Commentary
John Wilson Foster, ‘Strangford Lough and its Writers’, in Between Shadows: Modern Irish Writing and Culture (Dublin: IAP 2009): ‘More time has passed since the death of Arthur Mason in 1955 to allow this lively writer to fall into neglect. Born in 1876, he was immensely popular in his time, especially in the United States where he seems to have lived much of his life, and I have tracked down thirteen books by him. He became a US citizen at the age of 23 but this ought not by itself to explain our neglect of him since he was published in Britain by distinguished publishing houses. / His most popular books were episodic, picaresque tales of adventure. Mason was a sailor and his stories border on being tall tales of the kind we associate with seafarers. He funnelled his taste for whimsy and hyperbole into children’s writing, including the 1931 brace of stories, The Wee Men of Ballywooden (inspired by a Strangford area townland whose Otherworld he recreated), which with its delightful fairy characters and lively idiom and dialogue, bears comparison with the famous tales of the Dublin genius, James Stephens, author of The Crock of Gold (1912). / Mason’s popular autobiography, Wide Seas and Many Lands (1924), sports characters such as Liverpool Jack, Smith the Carpenter and the Old Man of Violet Rock. Mason was a romantic realist and can be classed with his equally popular contemporaries, Jack London, W.H. Davies and Patrick MacGill from Donegal. From this autobiography we learn that Mason was born and reared in Kilclief, near Strangford, went to sea at the age of 17, in 1893, and visited Scotland, the United States, Canada, Alaska, the Andes and Australia. As well as a sailor, he was a fisherman in British Columbia, a hobo in California and a prospector in Nevada.’ (p.137.) [Cont.]

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John Wilson Foster (Between Shadows: Modern Irish Writing and Culture. 2009) - cont.: ‘One idea recurs in the autobiography, namely that we are all equipped with a “clutch”, a mechanism that allows us in tight spots to access our unconscious mind and thereby achieve safety and wholeness untrammelled by fear and anxiety. Interestingly, just as the shipwreck in Tomelty occurs at the bar mouth, the narrows between lough and sea, so Mason likens the connection between conscious and unconscious minds as a narrow channel. Mason grew up as a boy beside the Narrows and may have been encouraged to adopt the notion of the clutch by his memories of that crucial body of moving water connecting, we might say, the “conscious” of the familiar lough and the ’unconscious’ of the distant and mysterious sea beyond. After his wanderings “over wide seas and many lands”, Mason returns to Kilclief in 1925 and, in defiance of his disapproving conscious mind, seeks the fairies, banshees and ghosts he once saw there. (The ghosts [137] are understandable, but the fairies are an unfortunate touch.) [...]’ (pp.137-38.)

J. W. Foster, Irish Novels 1890-1940: New Bearings in Culture and Fiction (Oxford UP 2008), Intro., pp.11-12: ‘HIs most popular books [..] were autbiograhical fictions - episodic, picaresque tales of adventure which include the entertaining Wide Seas and Many Lands (1923), the characters and incidents of which border on tall tales of the kind we associate with seafarers. Mason was a romantic realist and can be classed with Jack London, W. H. Davies [Supertramp], and Patrick MacGill from Donegal. One idea recurs in the autobiography, namely that we are all equippped with a “clutch”, a mechanism that allows us in tight spots to access our unconscious mind and thereby enjoy safety and achieve wholness untramelled by fear and anxiety. [11] Mason likens the connections between conscious and unconscious minds to a narrow channel and it is interesting to note that Mason grew up beside the Narrows, that turbulent flow between Strangford Lough and the Irish Sea.’ (p.11.) Further: “In a second and revised version of Wide Seas Mason returns to Kilclief and in defiance of his conscious mind seeks the fries, bansees, and ghosts he once saw there. The fairies are an unfortunate expatriate touch [...] but the search for ghosts is understandable enough. Back in sight of the Narrows, he tries to take soundings between two realities: otherwordly experience and wordly experience, but stands forever between them, as in their own way do Kilclief and Strangford.” (pp.11-12.

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Notes
Source: information on this author supplied by John Wilson Foster (Acad. of Irish Cultural Heritages/UU) and the COPAC catalogue. A copy of Ocean’s Echoes is held in Univ. of British Columbia Library.

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