In port, a voyage well-completed

I just picked this up from The Inn At The End Of The World, and I find it ironic, for reasons I shall explain forthwith.

Saturday, August 30, 2008
How To Tell When You’ve Read Too Much Patrick O’Brian

Instead of answering the wife with a perfectly sensible 21st century American "no, thanks", you say "Never in life, my dear".

First, I must object to his premise.  You cannot read too much O’Brian.

That said, shall tell you something?  

It is ironic that he should raise this question just a day after I finished my listen through of the Aubrey/Maturin books on audio. 


As I was swooping down into St. Paul in my hurtling car, I concluded my hearing of Simon Vance reading Blue At The Mizzen on Blackstone Audiobooks.  

You must give yourself the pleasure, before death, of listening to the whole series read by this estimable gentleman.

Also, I know what "gralloch" means and I say things like "progidious great mew", "belay there!", and occasionally even write things like "Shall I tell you something?", which and it’s a common phrase in the book, ain’t it?  I have also slid into thinking of some less than pleasing people less as … well… some of the things you might hear from the foremast jacks as, indeed "reptiles".  A fitting description for some people I know. 

But I digress…

The dear knows that I also have recently been the recipient of gifts from the wishlist sent by generous readers.  Kind souls sent me a cookbook based on recipes from the series, done with regard both for historical accuracy and modern feasibility, which and it’s called Lobscouse and Spotted Dog: Which It’s a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels. 

Sometime this winter, I shall have to attempt Spotted Dog, or a Sea Pie.

I also received A Sea of Words, Third Edition: A Lexicon and Companion to the Complete Seafaring Tales of Patrick O’Brian (and I attest that it included "gralloch") and also Harbors and High Seas, 3rd Edition: An Atlas and Georgraphical Guide to the Complete Aubrey-Maturin Novels of Patrick O’Brian, Third Edition.

You could start your seafaring and societal adventures by listening, if you wish, to Master and Commander [UNABRIDGED – Audio CD). 

You’ll clap on, mind you, so have a care.

I worked through the whole series by checking them out through the public library by interlibrary loan: I use that service so much in a month that they have put me on a library diet for interlibrary items: I must now start tapping a friend’s card!  As well as that may be, howeverso much I should give you joy to have the series on disks, it would be dear, to be sure.

If you think that movie based on episodes in the books was good, wait’ll hear them read by a master with true command of the language and of differentiating voices according to class, character and regional accent.

If you do decide to get the disks, however… how I would hope you do, for I shall soon hear of you kicking up Bob’s a dying once you’ve started, let me know and I will put up direct links to help you… and me.

I’m thinking of starting over again!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Mac McLernon says:

    “Master & Commander” was made into a brilliant film… I think it was starring Russell Crowe (of Gladiator fame)

  2. o.h. says:

    The U.Penn. linguists at Language Log have many posts on O’Brien. See Mark Liberman’s post on “which” here:

  3. Dove says:

    Father Z, you can download them from They are one credit each. Read by Simon Vance. If you don\’t have an ipod yet, this is the reason to get one. But you don\’t have to use an ipod. You can download them from audible and listen to them with itunes on your computer.

  4. Yes, three times through and counting. Still the greatest historical novels ever written. –A PhD in History, UC Berkeley 1985

  5. RBrown says:

    Yes, three times through and counting. Still the greatest historical novels ever written. —A PhD in History, UC Berkeley 1985
    Comment by Fr. Augustine Thompson O.P.

    Better than the Bounty Trilogy?

  6. Nancy says:

    Dear Father and folks-

    What fun to see that you love O’Brian’s books, too. One of my favorite moments is when Stephen is caught by Professor Graham, having made game of him by informing him that sailors “trice puddings athwart the starboard gumbrils” or some such nonsense and then sitting by whilst the unsuspecting Professor embarrasses himself by displaying his “knowledge” to a tableful of sea officers. Stephen stares innocently into space, humming, and Jack realizes he’s the culprit. Perfect.

    Have you read any modern author with such an effortless and total command of the English language, or such a subtle grasp of human nature? These books cannot be dismissed as mere sea fiction. They are “desert island” list-makers for my money.

    I am a homeschooling mother of 8 and initially I thought the attraction of these books was their total departure from my daily life, an escapist thrill in the midst of February laundry and sickness. As I reread the series for the nth time it finally dawned upon me that being cooped up aboard a ship with a guy who relentlessly plays the German flute bears a striking resemblance to my homeschooling command. The kids know not to speak to me as I pace to windward on my holy quarterdeck…

    Incidentally I am saving the final two books for when I turn forty, and I don’t think I know anyone who’s been as anxious to reach that milestone as I am.

    Well, the dog-watches approach– and you all know why they are called dog-watches…

  7. Aelric says:

    Because they are “curtailed” of course!

  8. Karen Russell says:

    I read the series through a few years ago (also courtesy of the public library) with much pleasure.

    I really must read it again before too long.

  9. Cliftonian says:

    Lobscouse was a seafarers’ dish, I think originally from Holland. It was adopted by mariners from the great seaport of Liverpool, and then by their families, and eventually by all the city. It is generally shortened to “scouse” and is the origin of Liverpudlians being called “Scousers” and being said to have “a Scouse accent”.
    I think it was first made from bully beef, but families have their own versions of it. My Mother used the leftovers from the Sunday joint of lamb, with sliced onion, sliced carrots and small chunks of potato; this was more like Irish stew, but we still called it scouse. It was wonderful. My husband and I live in another part of England now, but we still make scouse; we use corned beef and it works well; very comforting on a cold wet dreary day. Like today in fact; I think we may have scouse tonight …

  10. Will says:

    Interesting timing indeed, father. Last night, I finished reading (for the third time) The Thirteen Gun Salute, and immediately embarked on The Nutmeg of Consolation. The characters are old friends now, and I delight in visiting them again and again.

    Which it’s the best series of novels in the world, for all love.

  11. Christabel says:

    I don’t know that the language is so remarkable; where I come from people still talk that way! Seriously, we do; it’s a very old fashioned part of England. When I first moved to the metropolis in my tender years, people regularly laughed at me.

    So am I now in fashion? Never in this world – you’re bamming me for certain!

  12. patrick says:


    Having made a number of boiled puddings, and sea pie, I assure you of wonders and portents. From humble plum dugg to the most complicated Christmas Plum Pudding, there is nothing so comforting as vats of boiling water, cheesecloth, and Mother tending the water levels and ordering one to lift that pudding and carefully! Of course, you will need to find proper kidney suet for some of these, good luck to you.

    Sea pie, best cooked over coals in the hearth in a dutch oven. Its cheating if you use a modern oven. We do a good deal of 18th and 19th century cookery at the historic sites I volunteer at, and it never ceases to amaze me how much of it was still produced by my mother and grandmother as regular offerings. No wonder I am a Traditionalist.

  13. patrick says:

    The anti spam word was Think then post, it should have been “type correctly then post” I meant “plum duff” not plum “dugg in the earlier post.

    I would never be a surgeon like Maturin.

  14. Lobscouse and Spotted Dog is a fun read, with many great recipes. We tried Spotted Dog, which I liked, but my kids didn’t much care for; but they’re not big on raisins.
    The complete set of the Aubrey/Maturin series came on the market a few years back. It was my gift to my dad on his 70th birthday.

  15. Scott Powell says:

    Dear Fr. Z,

    Simon Vance? Simon Vance for all love!

    The late Patrick Tull read the entire Canon (as it’s known in The Gunroom) for Recorded Books, which they’re awhaleable at Borders.

    The great reader of the world was our Patrick.

  16. Scott: I did try the Tull readings as well, but I did prefer Vance.

  17. Hey there, fans!  Here is a great entry at Semper eadem on… JACKDAWS!

    Avid readers will know why this is fun… and doubly fun!


    Well here’s a little jackdaw poem sent to me by a parishioner (it’s by Richard Harris Barham 1788-1845). Enjoy.

    Jackdaw sat on the Cardinal’s chair!
    Bishop & abbot & prior were there,
    Many a monk and many a friar,
    Many a Knight & many a squire,

    With a great many more of lesser degree,
    In sooth a good company;
    And they served the Lord Primate on bended knee.
    Never, Qween, Was a prouder seen,
    Read of in books, or dreamt of in dreams,
    Than the Cardinal Lord Archbishop of Rheims!

    In and Out Through the motley rout,
    That little Jackdaw kept hopping about;
    Here and there Like a gog in a fair,
    Over comfits and cakes
    And Dishes and plates,
    Cowl & cope & rochet & pall,
    Mitre & crosier! he hopp’d upon all!
    With saucy air,
    He perch’d on the chair
    Where in state, the great Lord Cardinal sat
    In the great Lord Cardinal’s great red hat.

    He peer’d in the face
    Of his Lordship’s Grace,
    With a satisfied look, as if he would say,
    We two are the greatest folks here to-day!
    And the priest, with awe,
    As such freak’s they saw,
    Said, “The Devil must be in that little Jackdaw!!”

    The feast was over, the board was clear’d,
    The flowrs & the custards had all disappear’d,
    And six little Singing boys- Dear little souls!
    Nice clean faces, & nice white stoles,
    Came in order due,
    Two by two,
    Marching that grand refectory through!
    A nice little boy held a golden ewer,
    Emboss’d and fill’d with water, as pure
    As any that flows between Rheims and Damur.
    Which a nice little boy stood ready to catch
    In a fine golden hound-tolsin made to match.
    Two nice little boys, rather more grown,
    Carried lavender-water, and
    And a nice little boy Eau de Cologne;
    Had a nice cake of soap,
    Worthy of washing the hands of the Pope.
    One little boy more
    A napkin bore,
    Of the best white diaper, fringed with pink,
    And a Cardinal’s Hat mark’d in permanent ink.

    The great Lord Cardinal turns at the sight,
    Of these nice little boys dress’d all in white:
    From his finger he draws
    His costly turquoise (ring);
    And not thinking at all about little Jackdaw,
    Deposits it straight
    By the side of his plate
    While the nice little boys on his Eminence wait;
    Till, when nobody’s dreaming of any such thing
    That little Jackdaw hops off with the ring!

    There’s a cry and shout,
    And a deuce of a rout,
    And nobody seems to know what they’re about,
    But the monk’s have their pockets all turn’d inside out;
    The friars are kneeling,
    And hunting & feeling
    The carpet, the floor & walls & the ceiling.

    The Cardinal drew
    Off each plum-colour’d shoe,
    And left his Red stockings exposed to the view;
    He peeps and he feels
    In the toes and the heels;
    They turn up the dishes. They turn up
    The plates,
    They turn up the poker & poke out the grates –
    They turn up the rugs,
    They examine the mugs;
    But no! No such thing
    They can’t find The Ring!
    And the Abbot declaired that, when nobody twigg’d it,
    Some rascal or other had popp’in and prigg’d it!
    The Cardinal rose with a dignified look.
    He call’d for his candle, his bell, and his book!
    Holly anger, and pious grief,
    He solemnly cursed that rascally thief!
    He cursed him at board, he cursed him in bed,
    From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head;
    He cursed him in sleeping, that every night
    He should dream of the Devil, & wake in a fright;
    He cursed him in eating, he cursed him in drinking.
    He cursed him in coughin, in sneezing, in winking;
    He cursed him in sitting, in standing in lying;
    He cursed him i walking, in riding, in flying,
    He cursed him in living, he cursed him dying-
    Never was heard such a terrible curse!!
    But what gave rise
    To no little surprise,
    Nobody seem’d one penny the worse!

    The day was gone,
    The night came on,
    The monks & the Friars they search’d till dawn.
    When the Sacristan saw,
    On crumpled claw,
    Come limping a pore ittle lame Jackdaw!
    No longer gay,
    As on yesterday;
    His feathers all seem’d to be turn’d the wrong way;
    His pinions droop’d he could hardly stand,-
    His head was as bald as the palm of your hand;
    His evy so dim, So wasted each limb,
    That heedless of grammar, they, all cried, “That’s him!-
    That’s the scamp that has done this scandalous thing!
    That’s the thief that has got my Lord Cardinal’s Ring!”
    The poor little Jackdaw, When the monks he saw,
    Feebly gavevent to the ghost of a caw;
    And turn’d his bald head, as much as to say,
    Pray, be so good as to walk this way!
    Slower and slower
    He limp’d on before,
    Till they came to the back of the belfry door,
    Where the first thing they saw,
    Midst the sticks and the straw,
    Was the Ring in the nest of that little Jackdaw!
    Then the great Lord Cardinal call’d for his book,
    And off that terrible curse he took
    The mute expression
    Served in lieu of confession,
    And being thus coupled with full restitution
    The Jackdaw got planary absolution!
    When those words were heard
    That poor little bird
    Was so changed in a moment, ’twas really absurd,
    He grew sleek, and fat;
    In addition to that,
    A fresh crop of feathers came thick as a mat!
    His tail waggled more
    Even than before;
    But no longer it wagg’d with an impudent air.
    No longer he perch’d on the Cardinal’s chair.
    He hopp’d now about
    With a gait devout;
    At Matins, at Vespers, he never was out;
    And, so far from any more pilfering deeds.
    He always see’d telling the Confessor’s beads.
    If any one lied,-or if anyone swore, –
    Or slumber’d in pray’r-time & happen’d to snore,
    That good Jackdaw
    Would give a great “Caw”.
    As much as to say,”Don’t do so any more!”
    While many remark’d as his manners they saw,
    That they “never had known such a pious Jackdaw!”>
    He long lived the pride
    Of that country side.
    And at last in the odoun of sancity died;
    When as words were to faint
    His merits to paint,
    The Conclave determined to make him a Saint;
    And on newly made Saints & Popes, as you know,
    It’s the custom, at Rome, new names to bestow,
    So they canonized him by the name Jim Crow!

    (Note: Jim Crow has a completely different meaning in England than it does in the United States. Winston Churchill used the term to describe plane spotters who were perched on rooftops during the Second World War. It in no way refers to the racial segregation system in the Southern States of the USA in operation in times past.)

  18. RobertB: Oh! Much better, soul!

    As a matter of fact, in couple of the books, I think one is The Far Side Of The World, the whole BOUNTY event is discussed at length, according to the real history of the thing.

    Try these books!

  19. Ponto says:

    There’s a nice video on Youtube (that I confess I posted) of Patrick Tull doing a reading of the pillory scene from “The Reverse of the Medal” – he was quite splendid:

    By the way, the blonde lady at the left of the screen is Lisa Grossman, co-author of “Lobscouse and Spotted Dog”.

    Finally, a chap I met at a meeting told me the interesting story of how he was introduced to the Aubrey-Maturin novels:

  20. Scott Powell says:

    Dear Fr. Z,

    I shall then have to give this Vance chappy a listen to.

  21. Christabel says:

    Father, I think you should podcast a reading of “The Jackdaw of Rheims”. It would be fun to do and fun to listen to!

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