Monday, January 9, 2012

"the delight of a well-found, well-handled man-of-war"

I shall soon finish Blue at the Mizzen, the 20th novel in Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series, which I have been reading again, straight through. Here's a sample of the kind of writing that keeps bringing me back. I've done this a few times before.

In this passage, ship's surgeon Stephen Maturin is describing life aboard the Surprise, captained by his "particular friend" Jack Aubrey, in a letter to his intended:
I wish I could convey the delight of a well-found, well-handled man-of-war, sailing with all reasonable sail abroad, a steady, urgent wind coming in over her larboard quarter, her prow (or I think I should say cut-water) throwing a fine sheet of spray to leeward with each even, measured pitch: there is a generally-diffused happiness aboard; and since this is a make-and-mend day, the front part of the vessel is littered with hands busy, some with shears, many more with needles, cutting out their length of duck and sewing the pieces together, making their hot-weather clothes with wonderful dexterity. And each time the log is heaved they pause, ears cocked for the midshipman's report to the officer of the watch. "Nine knots and two fathoms, sir, if you please," croaks little Mr. Wells, whose voice is breaking at last; and a discrete wave of mirth and satisfaction ripples over the forecastle, while ten knots is greeted with such thumping on the deck, such enthusiasm, that the officer of the watch desires the mate of the watch to attend to "that God-damned bellowing and trampling, like a herd of drunken heifers mad for the bull."
Interestingly, I was just looking back at a post from October of 2006, when I last finished reading the series straight through. Here's what I wrote then:
In the end, it took almost exactly 5 months to read all 20 novels. It was great fun. In another 5 years or so, I think I'll do it again. 
I started this trip through the series in late August of 2011, almost exactly five years later. And I swear I did not realize it until just now.

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