Francis A. Durivage’s Mike Martin: Or, The Last of the Highwaymen. A Romance of Reality

Francis A. Durivage (1814-1881) was an American author and editor, best known for his light stories and feature articles for magazines, though he did produce several novels. Mike Martin: Or, The Last of the Highwaymen. A Romance of Reality was published in 1845, twenty-four years after Martin;s death. In his preface, Durivage comments on reading Martin’s confession when he was young:

“My first definite notions of the knight errantry of the road, were formed from hearing and reading of the exploits of Michael Martin, the highwayman. His career was brought to an ignominious close, just as I had reached an age to take an interest in robber stories,real and fictitious. Martin’s ghost haunted me for a long time afterwards, and I could not help fancying that Rob Roy, Gil Blas, Abellino, and other characters of that stamp,had many traits in common with my early hero. Lately, when looking about for a subject, a souvenir of Michael flashed upon my mind, and I forth with determined to make him the hero of a little romance, based upon the slight biographical sketch of him, written in 1821, by Mr. Waldo, from details furnished by the subject, and believed to be in the main correct.”

Durivage’s short novel stays fairly close to the source material, but adds the figure of a one-time suitor of Martin’s mother, whose disappointment in not winning her hand in marriage turned him toward priesthood. As an older man, he watches over Michael Martin and attempts to steer him away from crime. Martin’s father is portrayed as cruel and uncaring.

For those interested, the full text is online at Hathi Trust, Google Books, and perhaps elsewhere.

Mike Martin: Or, The Last of the Highwaymen. A Romance of Reality

Durivage’s heavy-handed moralizing makes for a plodding read, but the text is relieved by several original poems, some of which are charming. An example:

The cloud’s on the moon, and the mist on the river;
So hushed is the night, that the leaves hardly quiver;
‘Tis the hour for us, and we must not be idle ; —
Come, rouse up the horses, and saddle and bridle.

Come, smooth down the fetlock, and comb out the mane;
To curb and to snaffle, quick, fasten the rein!
One pull at the girth, and no longer delay;
Once more in the saddle! hurrah! hark away!

Hark away! hark away! over hill, over plain,
We sweep like the wind o’er the desolate main!
Contempi for pursuit the bold highwayman feels –
Good horseflesh beneath him, and spurs on his heels.

But hush! here’s a prize! in the shade of a tree
We’ll wait for the convoy, whatever it be.
Four horses ! postilions! a lumbering coach!
Some lord and his lady – we ‘ll let them approach.

Hark! forward! Like wolves on our booty we dash.
Aside from the pathway their horses we lash-
The reins and the traces are cut with a knife –
‘Good evening, my lord. Quick, your money or life.’

His lordship turns red and his lordship turns blue,
For he likes not the looks of a pistol or two.
‘Your watch! now your money and wallet! – all right!
We’ve the pleasure, your lordship, to wish you good night.’

His lady, half fainting with fright, and in tears,
Strips the rings from her fingers, the drops from her ears;
‘Nay, lady, retain them–though robbing our trade is,
We haven’t the heart to be rude to the ladies.’

Our lives are made up of stern hardships and revels,
The women adore us — the men think us devils:
And the loveliest eyes that ‘ere languished shall weep
Where the vanquished highwayman shall take his last leap.

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