I was enjoying some jocular O’Brian references, for I was listening to part of a book as I worked over some tech updates. I must share a passage. We are close to the beginning of Treason’s Harbor (book 9 of the series) enter in media res. Stephen Maturin, you must know, is the Napoleon detesting ship’s surgeon of Irish/Catalan extraction, a Papist and intelligence agent for the Royal Navy, and not just a surgeon but an actual doctor and naturalist and member of the Royal Academy.
He is also one of literature’s great masters of invective:
But Dr Maturin had been baulked of his John Dory. This was Friday; he had been promised a John Dory and he had looked forward to it; but on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday the gregale had blown with such force that no fishing-boats had put out, and since Searle, unused to Catholic officers (rare birds in the Navy, where every lieutenant, on receiving his first commission, was required to renounce the Pope), had not even laid in any salt stock-fish, Maturin was obliged to dine on vegetables cooked in the English manner, waterlogged, tasteless, depressing. He was not ordinarily a greedy man, nor very ill-natured, but this disappointment had come on top of a series of vexations and some very grave anxieties, and on the second day of his giving up tobacco.
‘You might say that Duns Scotus stands in much the same relationship to Aquinas as Kant to Leibnitz,’ said Graham, carrying on their earlier conversation.
‘Sure, I have often heard the remark in Ballinasloe,’ said Maturin. ‘But I have no patience with Emmanuel Kant. Ever since I found him take such notice of that thief Rousseau, I have had no patience with him at all -for a philosopher to countenance that false ranting dog of a Swiss raparee shows either a criminal levity or a no less criminal gullibility. Gushing, carefully-calculated tears, false confidences, untrue confessions, enthusiasm -romantic vistas.’ His hand moved of itself to his cigar-case and came away disappointed. ‘How I hate enthusiasm and romantic vistas,” he said.
‘Davy Hume was of your opinion,’ said Graham. ‘I mean with regard to Monsieur Rousseau. He found him to be little more than a crackit gaberlunzie.’
‘But at least Rousseau did not make a noise,’ said Maturin, looking angrily at his friends in the farther bower. ‘Jean-Jacques Rousseau may have been an apostate, a cold-hearted prevaricating fornicator, but he did not behave like a Bashan bull when he was merry. Will you look how they call out to those young women now, for shame?’
The young women, who nightly capered on the stage or lent their voices to the chorus, and who often accompanied the younger officers on their boating picnics to Gozo or Camino or their expeditions to what meagre groves the island had to offer, did not seem outraged: they called back and laughed and waved, and one of them, coming up the steps, poised herself for a moment on the arm of Captain Pellew’s chair, drank off his glass of wine, and told them they must all come to the opera on Saturday; she was to sing the part of the fifth gardener. At this Captain Aubrey made some amazingly witty remark: it was lost to Maturin, but the roar of laughter that followed must certainly have been heard in St Angelo.
‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph,’ said Maturin. ‘In Ireland I have known many a numerous gathering rejoice at little more than a genteel murmur; and it is to be supposed that the same applies to Scotland.’
Graham could suppose no such thing, but he was benevolently inclined towards Maturin and he said no more than ‘Heuch: ablins.’
Okay. From now on I shall use “crackit gaberlunzie” far more often than I, heuch, ablins, have hitherto.
If you want to listen to the unabridged audio books, seek out the recordings on Blackstone by Simon Vance. He hits his stride in the second book and to the end he gets better and better.