One month after the publication of his poem on merchant seafaring, The Shipwreck (1762), William Falconer left merchant sailing to become a junior officer in the Royal Navy. In the midcentury, many commentators believed that the Royal Navy's sailors were superior to merchant sailors. Falconer's response can be traced by contrasting his first edition of The Shipwreck with the revisions he made to the poem after joining the Royal Navy. The revisions address directly the notion that merchant sailors value only financial reward, but then focus on the notion that sailors who fight for king and country are braver than those who move cargo. In the revised narrative of the sailors’ battle with the elements, Falconer emphasizes the physical limits to their bravery, and thus suggests that merchant sailors are like Royal Navy sailors because all sailors are equally vulnerable to storms at sea.

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