C. S. Forester’s Hornblower One More Time

The book, C S Forester’s Hornblower One More Time, was specially produced and published in the USA in 1976 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Horatio Hornblower on 4th July 1776. The first edition run was limited to 350 numbered copies. (I possess number 67).

The core parts of the book are three short stories about Hornblower. However, in addition to these tales there is a Publisher’s Forward and a Preface by Alexander Kent. This is followed by a short chapter entitled “Hornblower and I”, written by CSF in 1956 and another chapter, “Hornblower’s London”, published in 1955, wherein he “reminisces about his boyhood” and of course about Hornblower. The book also contains “A Forester Checklist” showing the books written by him between 1924 and 1971 (some published after his death in 1967). There is “A Hornblower Chronology” going from his birth on 4th July 1776 up until his death, said to be on 12th January 1857 at the age of 80. Finally, at the end of the book there is a very amusing “Ballade to an Old Friend”, written in 1956. Here, CSF writes about “horrid Horry mawkish matelot”. By then he had written eight Hornblower books with Hornblower and the Atropos being the latest.

To get back to the three short stories, Hornblower enthusiasts will be very familiar with the eleven books that cover most of his career. They will also be users of The Hornblower Companion with its thirty maps showing where most of his naval action took place. However, not all his followers will know of these so-called “missing” short stories:

The Hand of Destiny (1940)
Hornblower’s Charitable Offering (1941)
Hornblower and His Majesty (1940)


They were published as magazine articles in 1940 and 1941. By then, CSF had only published three full Hornblower novels, The Happy Return in 1937, A Ship of the Line in 1938 and Flying Colours, also in 1938. His fourth Hornblower novel, The Commodore, did not appear until 1945. In print form, the three stories were not published again until 1976 in Hornblower One More Time.

In The Hand of Destiny, set between October and December 1796, Hornblower is seconded from HMS Indefatigable to fill one of the vacancies for lieutenants on the frigate, HMS Marguerite, caused by “the courts-martial upon two lieutenants driven frantic” by the bullying of the ship’s bloody tyrant of a commander, Captain Courtney. I will not say any more here about what happened next and how Hornblower was eventually able to return to the Indefatigable and her captain, “the just and humane Sir Edward Pellew”.

The second story, Hornblower’s Charitable Offering, is set in June 1810 when he is in the Mediterranean and captain of a “74”, HMS Sutherland. This episode could have been slotted in between chapters 8 and 9 of the novel, A Ship of the Line, as she sailed from Gibraltar to rendezvous with HMS Pluto and HMS Caligula off the coast of Spain. During her voyage, the ship picked up two French seamen from a raft after their escape as prisoners of war of the Spanish from the Balearic island of Cabrera. I shall again not say here how this had occurred and what happened next. As an aside, however, the Pluto was the flagship of Rear Admiral Sir Percy Leighton who was at the time married to Lady Barbara, much to the jealous anguish of Hornblower.

The third story, Hornblower and His Majesty, is set in 1813, the period after Hornblower’s return as a sick man from the Baltic in the previous year, as related in The Commodore, and before his return to active service via HMS Porta Coeli in October 1813, as described in Lord Hornblower. He is in command of the Royal Yacht, HMS Augusta, with orders to take the mentally ailing King George III on a short sea cruise as an experiment to see if such an experience would be beneficial to the King’s health. Sailing along the south coast of England at night and in thick fog, the Augusta loses contact with her escort, the twenty-gun corvette, HMS Cormorant. At the time, there were relatively well-armed and fast American commerce raiders operating in the English Channel. Once more, I shall leave it to you to find out what happened next.

CSF chose not to merge any of these three stories into the eleven Hornblower novels. They had various inconsistencies, mainly of dates, which would not have fitted in with the main books. The “Publisher’s Afterword” in Hornblower One More Time addresses these various inconsistencies and offers persuasive arguments for their omission from the Hornblower canon. They were written for magazines, probably against a deadline and, in 1940/41, long before CSF had settled down to foresee how Hornblower’s entire life and career would develop. By that stage, only three full Hornblower novels existed. These short stories are enjoyable to read but they lack the polish and richness of CSF’s later ones. By comparison, the chapters in “Midshipman” and “West Indies”, each one a story on its own, and The Widow McCool and The Last Encounter in “The Crisis” are, in my opinion, classic quality Forester.

C S Forester’s Hornblower One More Time is well worth reading to complete the “whole Hornblower experience”. Better still, if you acquire one of the 350 copies, they can also be a good investment. I bought mine about four years ago for about £200. At the time of writing, Abe Books are asking from about £320 and upwards for similar issues.

John Maunder.
June 2020.

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