The dog fiend, or Snarleyyow is the earliest of the three novels, The Phantom Ship and The Privateersman being the other two, in which Marryat made use of historical events and attempted to project his characters into the past. The research involved is not profound, but the machinations of Jacobite conspirators provide appropriate material for the construction of an adventure plot and for the exhibition of a singularly despicable villain. Mr Vanslyperken and his acquaintances, male and female, at home and abroad, are all—except perhaps his witch-like mother—thoroughly life-like and convincing: their conduct is sufficiently probable to retain the reader’s attention for a rapid and exciting narrative.
The numerous escapes of the vile cur, after whom the novel is christened, and of his natural enemy Peter Smallbones are not all equally well contrived, and they become a little wearisome by repetition; but a general atmosphere of diablerie is very effectively produced by their means. Some such element of unreality is absolutely demanded to relieve the sordid and brutal details by which the main plot is worked out; and it must be admitted that in certain passages—the death-struggle between Smallbones and the lieutenant’s mother, the discovery of the woman’s body, and the descriptions of kisses between Corporal Van Spitter and the Frau Vandersloosh—Marryat’s habitual literalness becomes unpleasantly coarse. The offensive touches, however, are incidental, and the execution of the two villains, Vanslyperken and Snarleyyow, with its dash of genuine pathos, is dramatic and impressive:—“They were damnable in their lives, and in their deaths they were not divided.”
As usual the interest of the novel depends almost entirely upon men, but on the character of Mrs Corbett, nee Nancy Dawson, Marryat has expended considerable care with satisfactory results. Barring the indecorous habit of regretting her past in public, which is not perhaps untrue to nature, she is made attractive by her wit and sincere repentance, without becoming unnaturally refined. The song in her honour referred to on p. 107 is not suitable for reproduction in this place. She was an historic character in the reign of William III., but must not be confounded with her more celebrated namesake (1730-1767) of Sadler’s Wells, Covent Garden, and Drury Lane, who danced a horn-pipe in The Beggar’s Opera to the air of “Nancy Dawson,” which is mentioned in the epilogue of She Stoops to Conquer, and survives in our nurseries as “Here we go round the Mulberry Bush.”
The greater part of Snarleyyow was first printed in The Metropolitan Magazine, 1836 and 1837; but on reaching Chapter xl., just as the novel had appeared in book form, the editor—not then Marryat himself—told his readers that it was not his intention to give an extended review of this work, as they had already “ample means of forming their own opinion of its varied merits:”—“We shall therefore content ourselves with a few remarks, in announcing its publication and giving a brief outline of the termination of the story from our last number.” At the close of the said extracts he writes:—