The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Notes on 'HMS Surprise' and 'The Mauritius Command'

Sequel to this post about my favorite moments from Post Captain:


26: Stephen: "He is, as you know, a paederast. Not that I have anything against paederasty myself - each man must decide for himself where beauty lies and surely the more affection in this world the better."

28-9: Jack profited by them: in the evenings, after the watch was set, he would work lunars or read Grimble on Conic Sections with real pleasure,in the intervals between writing to Sophie and playing his fiddle. 'How amazed Stephen will be,' he reflected. 'How I shall come it the philosopher over him: and how I wish the old soul were here.'

52: Jack, wrapped in a boat-cloak...sat in the stern-sheets, filled with a pleasurable anticipation. He had not seen Stephen Maturin for a vast stretch of lonely he had been for the want of that harsh, unpleasant voice!

63: Jack unable to eat for worry about Stephen. "Up and down the water-line of the half-moon beach, with his hands behind his back, turning over various private marks that might make Stephen smile if he missed this first rendezvous: some degrees of tension, to be sure, but none of the devouring anxiety of that first night long ago,sout of Palamós, when he had had no idea of his friend's capabilities...In the beam of the lantern the paper showed a straggle of disconnected lines: Dear J -- some words, lines of figures -- the signature S, trailing away off the corner, a wavering curve. 'This is not his writing,' whispering still in the darkness, caution rising still over this certainty of complete disaster. 'This is not his hand.' 'He has been tortured.'

"Then, after a slight pause and in a diffident tone he said, 'My dear Simmons, here are some personal papers and letters I will trouble you with, if I may, to be sent home from Gibraltar in the event of things going amiss.' The first lieutenant looked down, and then up again into Jack's face; he was profoundly troubled, and he was obviously seeking for words. Jack did not wish to hear them: this was his own affair...and at this pitch of cold tension he wanted no gestures of any kind, either. He had no emotion to spare for anyone else...Stephen saw them walk into his timeless dream: they had been there before, but never together. And never in these dull colours. He smiled to see Jack, although poor Jack's face was so shockingly concerned, white, distraught. But when Jack's hands grappled with the straps his smile changed to an almost frightened rigour: the furious jet of pain brought the two remote realities together. 'Jack, handsomely, my dear,' he whispered as they eased him tenderly into a padded chair. 'Will you give me something to drink, now, for the love of God?'"

87: Sir Joseph discusses Stephen's illegitimacy, born on the wrong side of the blanket, and being "so chaste...that at one time we were uneasy...there was one liaison, however, and that set our minds at rest. A young woman of very good family: it ended unhappily, of course."

91: "'What is it?' asked Stephen at last, with a bestial snarl... 'Sunday morning, surely to God, and you would be at your holystoning?' The bag, worn against the moon-pall, stifled his words but not the whining tone of a man jerked from total relaxation and an erotic dream."

92: "To the infinite distress of the afterguard a huge shadow fell across the deck - the captain, stark naked and carrying a towel. 'Good morning, Doctor,' he said. 'What are you about?' 'Good morning my dear,' said Stephen."

111: Young Conroy with his smooth girl's face so beautiful, Jack totally unmoved but this could not be said for all his shipmates.

140: Stephen begging to disembark to find fruit for the crew: " notoriously supplied with all these commodities." "So it is," said Jack. "And with vampires."

153: "'I cannot imagine,' said Jack, recovering the chaplain and guiding him along the gangway, 'what that sloth has against me. I have always been civil to it, more than civil; but nothing answers. I cannot think why you speak of its discrimination.' Jack was of a sanguine temperament; he liked most people and he was surprised when they did not like him. This readiness to be pleased had been damaged of recent years, but it remained intact as far as horses, dogs and sloths were concerned; it wounded him to see tears come into the creature's eyes when he walked into the cabin, and he laid himself out to be agreeable. As they ran down to Rio he sat with it at odd moments, addressing it in Portuguese, more or less, and feeding it with offerings that it sometimes ate, sometimes allowed to drool slowly from its mouth; but it was not until they were approaching Capricorn, with Rio no great distance on the starboard bow, that he found it respond. The weather had freshened almost to coldness, for the wind was coming more easterly, from the chilly currents between Tristan and the Cape; the sloth was amazed by the change; it shunned the deck and spent its time below. Jack was in his cabin, pricking the chart with less satisfaction than he could have wished: progress slow, serious trouble with the mainmast - unaccountable headwinds by night - and sipping a glass of grog... The sloth sneezed, and looking up, Jack caught its gaze fixed upon him; its inverted face had an expression of anxiety and concern. 'Try a piece of this, old cock,' he said, dipping his cake in the grog and proferring the sop. 'It might put a little heart into you.' The sloth sighed, closed its eyes, but gently absorbed the piece and sighed again. Some minutes later he felt a touch on his knee: the sloth had silently climbed down and it was standing there, its beady eyes looking up into his face, bright with expectation. More cake, more grog: growing confidence and esteem. After this, as soon as the drum had beat the retreat, the sloth would meet him, hurrying towards the door on its uneven legs: it was given its own bol, and it would grip it with its claws, lowering its round face into it and pursing its lips to drink (its tongue was too short to lap). Sometimes it went to sleep in this position, bowed over the emptiness. 'In this bucket,' said Stephen, walking into the cabin, 'in this small half-bucket, now, I have the population of Dublin, London and Paris combined: these animalculae - what is the matter with the sloth?' It was curled on Jack's knee, breathing heavily: its bowl and Jack's glass stood empty on the table. Stephen picked it up, peered into its affable, bleary face, shook it, and hung it upon its rope. It seized hold with one fore and one hind foot, letting the others dangle limp, and went to sleep.Stephen looked sharply round, saw the decanter, smelt to the sloth, and cried, 'Jack, you have debauched my sloth.'" Later when they argue he calls him "salope."

179: Stephen picks on Jack over the ship's butt-ends and hanging knees and how he whines: "God set a flower upon you, my dear, with your ten-inch spike." Stephen also complains that Jack has been prattling in his sleep about it.

186: Stephen thinking about Diana and his unreasoning attachment: 'He was surely lost in a cloud of unknowing; but at least it was a peaceful cloud at present and sailing through a milky sea towards a possible though unlikely ecstasy at an indefinite remove was, if not the fulness of life, then something like its shadow.'

191: "They have chosen their cake, and must lie on it." "You mean, they cannot have their bed and eat it." "No, no, it is not quite that, neither. I mean -- I wish you would not confuse my mind, Stephen."

197: "Why, there you are, Stephen," cried Jack. "You are come home, I find." "That is true," said Stephen with an affectionate look: he prized statements of this kind in Jack."So are you, joy; and earlier than usual. You look perturbed. Do you find the heat affects you? Take off some of these splendid garments." Then Jack tells Stephen that Diana is in India, learns that Stephen already knew, and looks at him sideways about being "a close one."

206: Jack tearing up telling Stephen how much he loves Sophie and how he wants a neat cottage, Stephen tells Jack to write to her, Jack accidentally insults Irishmen and then says, "Autre pays, autre merde." Stephen tells Jack to hurry as Sophie is a beauty "whereas although you are tolerably well-looking in your honest tarpaulin way, you are rather old and likely to grow older; too fat, and likely to grow even fatter -- nay, obese...horribly knocked about, earless, scarred: brother, you are no Adonis. Do not be wounded," he said, laying his hand on Aubrey's knee, "when I say you are no Adonis." Then he insults his wit, too.

243: Jack writes to Sophie about Stephen's attachment to Diana. "'He is a deep old file, and I do not pretend to any great penetration; but I love him more than anyone but you, and strong affection supplies what intellect don't -- he lit up like a boy when we reached the soundings.'"

246-52: Jack takes Stephen up into the top. "'I have rarely been more moved -- delighted; and am most sensible of your kindness in carrying me up.'" Jack talks about his history on the ship: "On the broad rim of the square hole that sat on the topmast head there were the initials JA cut deep and clear, supported on either side by blowsy forms that might have been manatees, though mermaids were more likely -- beer-drinking mermaids. 'Does that not raise your heart?' he asked. 'Why,' said Stephen, 'I am obliged to you for the sight of it, sure.' 'But it does raise your heart, you know, whatever you may say,' said Jack. 'It raises it a hundred feet above the deck. Ha, ha -- I can get out a good thing now and then, given time -- oh ha, ha, ha! You never smoked it -- you was not aware of my motions.' When Jack was as amused as this, so intensely amused throughout his whole massive being, belly and all, with his scarlet face glorious and shining and his blue eyes darting mirth from their narrowed slits, it was impossible to resist. Stephen felt his mouth widen involuntarily, his diaphragm contract, and his breath beginning to come in short thick pants. 'But I am truly grateful to you, my dear,' he said, 'for having brought me to this proud perilous eminency, this quasi-apex, this apogee; you have indeed lifted my heart, in the spirit and in the flesh; and I am now resolved to mount up daily...what an ape, or even I may say an obese post-captain can accomplish, that also I can do.'"

259: "Stephen said, 'Have you ever contemplated upon sex, my dear?' 'Never,' said Jack. 'Sex has never entered my mind, at any time.'" Then Stephen goes on about the burden of sex upon the male bird with the pretty feathers.

273: Mr Stanhope dies, Jack says they came on a fool's errand, Stephen recites, "'And all of a piece throughout/Thy chase had a beast in view/Thy wars brought nothing about/Thy lovers were all untrue.'"

309: After being on the Indiamen to prepare to meet Linois, Jack returns to the Surprise. 'The lively pleasure of being aboard his own ship again -- her quick life and response after the heavy deliberation of the Indiaman -- her uncluttered decks, a clean sweep fore and aft -- the perfect familiarity of everything about her, including the remote sound of Stephen's 'cello somewhere below, improvising on a theme Jack knew well but could not name.'

326: Etherege, Stephen's second: "'Oh dear me. No apology in that case I presume? But did you say Canning? Ain't he a Jew? You don't have to fight a Jew, Doctor. You must not put your life at risk for a Jew. Let a file of Marines tan his unbelieving hide and ram a piece of bacon down his throat, and leave it at that.' 'We see things differently,' said Stephen, 'I have a particular devotion to Our Lady, who was a Jewess, and I cannot feel my race superior to her; besides, I feel for the man; I will fight him with the best will in the world.'"

342: Just before the duel with Canning, Stephen goes to ask Jack to play with him. "'Have you come aboard, my plum?' cried Jack, looking up from the bosun's accounts with a beaming face." Then Jack tells him they are to carry treasure for the Company to clear his debt and Stephen says, "'That is news indeed. Ha, ha, I give you joy, with all my heart. I am delighted -- amazed." Jack is humming the Boccherini adagio even though he is not in the least melancholy and tells Stephen that Canning will send his letter overland to Sophie asking her to come to Madeira. And after they play Stephen gives Jack his papers and explains that he fights Canning in the morning.

350: Jack looks at Diana and blames her for Stephen's wounding and the death of Canning and yet knows he attacked her virtue himself. "That meeting under the trees could have taken place over the most virtuous of women, the world being what it was...the common cant *it is different for men* was no comfort... Virtue: the one he esteemed above all was courage; and surely it included all the rest? ...She possessed it -- never a doubt of that. She was standing there perfectly straight, so slim and frail he could break her with one hand: a tenderness and admiration he had thought quite dead moved in him." Still, he refuses to give her passage.

358: Jack cares for the wounded, delirious Stephen and overhears both official secrets and Stephen's secrets. "For a man as proud as Stephen (and Lucifer could not hold a candle to him) it would be death to know that even the closest friend had heard his naked statements of desire and all his weaknesses laid as bare as Judgment Day." He sits sponging Stephen, embarrassed, ashamed and confused. "He had looked upon Stephen as the type of philosopher, strong, hardly touched upon by common feelings, sure of himself and rightly so; he had respected no landsman more. This Stephen, so passionate, so wholly subjugated by Diana, and so filled with doubt of every kind, left him aghast; he would not have been more at a loss if he had found the Surprise deprived of her anchors, ballast and compass."

362: Stephen hugs the carapace of Testudo Aubreii.


22: Stephen on a cow refusing the bull: "'From a philosophical point if view, her behaviour is logical enough. Reflect upon the continual, wearisome pregnancies, the price of a momentary and I may say aleatory pleasure. Reflect upon the physical discomfort of a full udder, to say nothing of the necessary parturition, with its attendant perils...were I a female of any kind, I should beg to decline these general cares.'"

32: Jack: "'. . . The trouble is that I had somehow got the wrong notion of marriage. I had thought there was more friendship and confidence and unreserve in it than the case allows. I am not criticizing Sophie in the least degree, you understand --' 'Certainly not.' '-- but in the nature of things . . . The fault is entirely on my side, I am sure. When you are in command, you get so sick of the loneliness, of playing the great man and so on, that you long to break out of it; but in the nature of things it don't seem possible.'" The Stephen says, oh, so you wouldn't mind being called to sea? And Jack says he should kiss the messenger.

44: Stephen sees Jack glowing with the discovery that he will be given a ship: "'You are as transparent as a bride.'"

72: "Mr. Farquhar often used Latin expressions that made Jack uneasy, and referred to authors Jack had never read: Stephen had always done the same (indeed, it would have been difficult to refer to any author with whom Jack was acquainted apart from those who wrote on fox-hunting, naval tactics, or astronomy) but with Stephen it was entirely different. Jack loved him, and had not the least objection to granting him all the erudition in the world, while remaining inwardly convinced that in all practical matters other than physic and surgery Stephen should never be allowed out alone."

141: Stephen asks whether Clonfert is a bugger and McAdam says "'It is the wise man that can always separate male and female.'"

142: Stephen to Jack: "'I beg you will take notice, Commodore...that I am come aboard seven minutes before my time, and I desire it may be made up, whenever the requirements of the service next permit.'"

166-7: Stephen makes excuses for not discussing the Druids by claiming he has an appointment, which turns out to be with an aardvark he wants to sketch. "'There, honey, it is done,'" Stephen says when he is finished, "showing the aardvark its likeness."

180: Jack asks Stephen whether he'll climb into the maintop with him. "'Certainly,' said Stephen. 'To the ultimate crosstrees, if you choose: I too am as nimble as an ape.' Jack was moved to ask whether there were earthbound apes, as compact as lead, afflicted with vertigo, possessed of two left hands and no sense of balance; but he had seen the startling effect of a challenge upon his friend, and apart from grunting as he thrust Stephen up through the lubber's hole, he remained silent until they were comfortably installed among the studding-sails."

302: Stephen rolls his eyes at Jack's seamanlike superstitions even as he tells Farquhar how much he respects Jack's judgment in naval matters and his conviction and military intuition.

309: Stephen is injured. "'There, there, take it easy,' said Jack, looking anxiously into his face and speaking in that compassionate protective voice which has vexed so many invalids into the tomb." Meanwhile Stephen is urgently trying to tell him to get to sea.

327: "' do you spell chimaera?' 'Many people start with ch, I believe. Have you told her about my stink-pot petrol?' 'Is not stink-pot a hellish low expression for a letter, Stephen?' 'Bless you, my dear, a mother that tends her own babies will not boggle at stink-pot.'"

332: Jack tells Stephen that he has a son and heir.

342: Stephen admits his depression to McAdam who says, "'Occasionally [a man] may be pulled out by his prick.' 'You mean he may remain capable of love?' 'As between men and women I use the word lust: but call it what you like...he may tide himself over with opium, for awhile.'"

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