Thursday, September 18, 2003


Tomorrow is Talk Like a Pirate Day, a fact I wasn’t aware of myself, despite my years-long love of pirates and pirating, until alerted recently by my friend Jennifer Johnson. What with Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” being -- incredibly -- one of the more celebrated films of the summer, it’s already been a good year for pirates, and perhaps the best for quite some time. (Unless there’s a “Pirates” sequel? A television series? A fashion craze?)

But the chickenhearted disclaimers posted at threaten to kill my buzz. Avast:

“Before we go any further, there's something we need to be clear about. Pirates were and are bad people. Really reprehensible. Even the most casual exploration of the history of pirates (and believe us, casual is an accurate description of our research) leaves you hip deep in blood and barbarity. We recognize this, all right? We aren't for one minute suggesting that real, honest-to-God pirates were in any way, shape or form worth emulating.”

Perhaps the site creators’ research should have extended to the work of Don Carlos Seitz, whose “Under the Black Flag” apparently includes the following admiring passage:

“Captain Mission was one of the forebears of the French Revolution. He was one hundred years in advance of his time, for his career was based upon an initial desire to better adjust the affairs of mankind, which ended as is quite usual in the more liberal adjustment of his own fortunes. It is related how Captain Mission, having led his ship to victory against an English man-of-war, called a meeting of the crew. Those who wished to follow him he would welcome and treat as brothers; those who did not would be safely set ashore. One and all embraced the New Freedom. Some were for hoisting the Black Flag at once but Mission demurred, saying that they were not pirates but liberty lovers, fighting for equal rights against all nations subject to the tyranny of government, and bespoke a white flag as the more fitting emblem. The ship’s money was put in a chest to be used as common property. Clothes were now distributed to all in need and the republic of the sea was in full operation.

“Mission bespoke them to live in strict harmony among themselves; that a misplaced society would ajudge them still as pirates. Self-preservation, therefore, and not a cruel disposition, compelled them to declare war on all nations who would close their ports to them. ‘I declare such war and at the same time recommend to you a humane and generous behavior towards your prisoners, which will appear by so much more the effects of a noble soul as we are satisfied we should not meet the same treatment should our ill fortune or want of courage give us up to their mercy ....’ The Nieustadt of Amsterdam was made prize, giving up two thousand pounds and gold dust and seventeen slaves. The slaves were added to the crew and clothed in the Dutchman’s spare garments; Mission made an address denouncing slavery. holding that men who sold others like beasts proved their religion to be no more than a grimace as no man had power of liberty over another ....”

William S. Burroughs uses Seitz’s information as a launching point for his “Cities of the Red Night” (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981), which is populated by pirates as well as his usual cowboys, cops and Clem Snide. The pirates come off better than most.

Anyway: Arr!

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