The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review
littlereview

Notes on 'The Ionian Mission'

I know I keep saying this but I have loved each of O'Brian's novels more than the last. I've swiped the transcription of the dialogue about Bach from esteven.

Sequel to this post about my favorite moments from The Surgeon's Mate:

THE IONIAN MISSION

10: As they went down towards the hall Diana said, 'You know all about ships and the sea, Stephen.' Stephen bowed: he certainly should have known a fair amount about both, having sailed with Captain Aubrey since the turn of the century, and in fact he could now almost always discriminate between larboard and starboard: he prided himself extremely on his acquaintance with fore and aft and some even more recondite nautical terms. 'Tell me,' she said, 'What is this barge-pole they are always talking about?' 'Ho, as for that, mate,' said Stephen,'You must understand that a barge is the captain's particular boat, or pinnace as we say; and the pole is a kind of unarticulated mast.'

16: "Dr Maturin's sea-chest had come aboard, and his well-remembered 'cello-case, brought in good time from the Portsmouth mail; but no Doctor had come with them. It was in vain that Bonden, the Captain's coxswain, badgered the coachman and the guard: no, they had not seen a little ill-looking sallow cove in a full-bottomed wig; no, they had not left him by accident at Guildford, Godalming or Petersfield, because why? Because he was never on the bleeding coach to begin with, cully. Bonden might put that in his pipe and smoke it, or stuff it up his arse, whichever he preferred." Then Jack complains to Sophie about Stephen's lateness. "'A fellow of Stephen's parts, a prodigious natural philosopher, could be brought to understand the nature of the tide. Here is the moon at her perigee, in syzygy, and the equator, as I showed you last night, and you smoked it directly, did you not?' 'Oh, perfectly, my dear,' said Sophie, looking wild: at least she had a clear recollection of the pale crescent over Porchester Castle."

29-30: Stephen is so late that the Worcester nearly misses the tide. "'Well, Doctor,' said Jack,looking even taller than usual and far more intimidating.'Good morning to you, or rather good afternoon. This is a strange hour to come aboard – this is cutting it pretty fine – this is coming it tolerably high, I believe... Why, you are all wet. Surely you did not fall in, like a mere lubber?' 'I did not,' said Stephen, goaded out of his humility. 'The sea it was that rose.' 'Well you must not stand there, dripping all over the deck; it ain't a pretty sight, and you may take cold. Come and shift yourself. Your sea-chest is in my cabin: at least it had some notion of punctuality.' 'Jack,' said Stephen, shedding his breeches in the cabin. 'I beg your pardon. I am very sorry for my lateness. I regret it extremely.' 'Punctuality,' said Captain Aubrey, but then...he shook Stephen's free hand and went on, 'damn my eyes, I was like a cat on hot tiles all through this vile morning and afternoon; so I spoke a little hasty. Join me on deck when you are shifted, Stephen.'"

35: "Stephen had a great reputation as a raiser of the dead and as the invariable companion of one of the most successful frigate-captains in the service."

47-8: Jack on having to carry a ship full of chaplains to their destinations: "'Besides,' he said after a pause, 'you cannot talk bawdy with parsons. It ain't fitting.' 'But you never do talk bawdy,' said Stephen. It was true, or at least almost true: although no kind of a prude, Jack Aubrey was a man who preferred action to talk, fact to phantasm, and although he did possess a small stock of lewd stories for the end of dinners when imaginations grew warm and often lubricious he usually forgot them, or left out the point. 'Oh well,' said Jack: and then, 'Did you ever meet Bach?' 'Which Bach?' 'London Bach.' 'Not I.' 'I did. He wrote some pieces for my uncle Fisher, and his young man copied them out fair. But they were lost years and years ago, so last time I was in town I went to see whether I could find the originals: the young man has set up on his own, having inherited his master's music-library. We searched through the papers -- such a disorder you would hardly credit, and I had always supposed publishers were as neat as bees -- we searched for hours, and no uncle's pieces did we find. But the whole point is this: Bach had a father.' 'Heavens, Jack, what things you tell me. Yet upon recollection I seem to have known other men in much the same case.' 'And this father, this old Bach, you understand me, had written piles and piles of musical scores in the pantry.' 'A whimsical place to compose in, perhaps; but then birds sing in trees, do they not? Why not antediluvian Germans in a pantry?'" Jack explains that no, the music was kept in the pantry, not the composer, and they make a weak attempt on one of the pieces: "'I brought away several pieces, 'cello for you, fiddle for me, and some for both together. It is strange stuff, fugues and suites of the last age, crabbed and knotted sometimes and not at all in the modern taste, but I do assure you, Stephen, there is meat in it. I tried this partita in C a good many times, and the argument goes so deep, so close and deep, that I scarcely follow it yet, let alone make it sing...' Stephen studied the 'cello suite in his hand, booming and humming soto voce. 'Tweedly-tweedly, tweedly tweedly, deedly deedly pom pom pom -Oh, this would call for the delicate hand of the world,' he said. 'Otherwise it would sound like boors dancing. Oh, the double-stopping...and how to bow it?' 'Shall we make an attempt upon the D minor double sonata?' said Jack,'and knit up the ravelled sleeve with care with sore labour's bath?' 'By all means,' said Stephen,'A better way of dealing with a sleeve cannot be imagined.'" They do, and Killick accuses them of "'belly-aching the whole bleeding night.'"

53: Jack explains that he knew a professor of moral philosophy and asks how that differs from natural philosophy, and Stephen goes on at length about how natural philosophy "is not concerned with ethics, virtues and vices, or metaphysics" and how the moral philosopher may be in search of wisdom, but the natural philosopher such as Sir Humphrey Davy wants to know how a bird's breastbone is constructed, "but a great while before he stopped it was apparent to him that Captain Aubrey was meditating a joke. 'So I suppose,' he said, smiling so broadly that his blue eyes were not more than twinkling slits in his red face, 'that you and Sir Humphrey could be described as immoral philosophers?' 'Sure there may be some poor thin barren minds that would catch at such a paltry clench,' said Stephen. 'Pothouse wits that might, if their beery genius soared so high, also call Professor Graham an unnatural philosopher.' Captain Aubrey heaved silently for a while -- few men relished their own wit more than Jack -- and then, smiling still, he said, 'Well, at all events, I hope he is good company. I can imagine an unnatural and an immoral philosopher arguing the toss for hours, to the admiration of all hands, ha, ha, ha.'"

74: Stephen explaining to Graham that while it is perfectly acceptable for a ship to fly false colours, it would be an utter violation of nautical ethics to raise a signal of distress unless one's ship has actually struck a rock, whereas Graham says he "'should certainly hoist all the colours in the spectrum, were it to advance the fall of that wicked man by five minutes'": "'It is illogical, I admit,' said Stephen, 'but this is the moral law, as perceived by the nautical mind...the nautical mind has its own logic, and although it may disobey many of the Articles of War with a clear conscience -- swearing is forbidden, for example, and yet we daily hear warm, intemperate language, even blasphemous and obscene; so is the sudden spontaneous beating of men who are thought to move too slowly, or starting, as we call it. But you may see a certain amount of it even in this ship, which is more humane than most. Yet all these transgressions and many more, such as that stealing of stores which we term capperbar, or the neglect of religious feasts, are carried only to certain clearly-understood traditional limits, beyond which it is mortal to go. The seamen's moral law may seem strange to landsmen, even whimsical at times; but as we all know, pure reason is not enough, and illogical as their system may be, it does enable them to conduct these enormously complex machines from point to point, in spite of the elements, often boisterous, often adverse, always damp and capricious.'"

101: Dundas comes aboard and says that on blockade his evenings are friendless and melancholy. The men in his wardroom "'are people with whom you have to pose as a demi-god from one noon-observation to the next. I get very tired of it, and I doubt I play the part convincingly. You are most uncommon lucky to have Maturin.'"

110: Stephen tells the admiral that Jack is perfect for an intelligence mission. "'Captain Aubrey is used to expeditions of this kind: we have nearly always sailed together. He is also a very discreet man, which is a point of great importance for any future undertaking of a similar character'" The admiral replies, "'I know he is a fine seaman, and no one can possibly question his courage,' said the admiral, with something like a smile lighting his grey face, 'but I do not believe that I have heard him called discreet before.' 'Perhaps I should have added the qualification at sea. Captain Aubrey is very discreet at sea.'"

120-25: "'Have you weighed yourself lately?' asked Stephen. 'No,' said Jack.'I have not.'He spoke rather curtly, being sensitive about his bulk: his more intimate friends would exercise their wit upon it at times, and Stephen looked as if he might be on the edge of a bon mot. But on this occasion the question was not the prelude at any satirical fling. 'I must look into you,' said Stephen. 'We may all of us entertain an unknown guest, and I should not be surprised if you had lost two stone.' 'So much the better,' said Jack. 'I dine with Admiral Mitchell today: I have two pair of old stockings on, as you see.'" Stephen is confused. "'What is the connection between the loss of two stone and the wearing of two pair of old stockings?' he asked the hammock-netting." Jack is meeting Admiral Mitchell who has the tendency to ask his captains to race him to the crosstrees. "As they both shot past the maintop it was clear to Jack that unless he braked he must win. He tightened his grip above and below, felt the fierce burning in his hands, heard his stockings going to ruin, gauged his fall exactly, and as the deck swept close he dropped from the stay, landing at the same instant as his opponent." Then at the dinner Jack is merry and goes back via the gallery-ladder, "a humane device discreetly let down so that captains who did not choose to face the ceremony of piping the side might come aboard unseen, giving no evil example to those they might have to flog for drunkenness tomorrow; and it was by the gallery-ladder that Captain Aubrey regained his cabin, sometimes smiling, sometimes looking stern, rigid and official...after a nap he woke in time for quarters, perfectly sober. Sober, but grave, rather melancholy; his head ached; his hearing seemed unnaturally acute." He is peevish and insists on gun practice despite a headache, but "at the first discharge Jack clapped his hands tight behind his back to prevent himself from putting them to his head; and long before the last of the additional rounds he regretted his petulance with all his heart. He also regretted clasping his hands so tight, since his childish sliding on the flagship's backstay had scorched them cruelly, and in his sleep the right-hand palm had swelled in a red and angry weal." As soon as his cabin is put back together he goes to nurse his wounds. "The first thing that met his cross-grained nose was the smell of coffee, his favourite drink. 'What is that pot doing here?' he asked in a harsh, suspicious voice.' You do not imagine that I am in need of coffee at this time of day, do you?' 'Which the Doctor is coming to look at your hand,' said Killick with the surly, aggressive, brazen look that always accompanied his lies. 'We got to give him something to whet his whistle, ain't we? Sir,' he added, as an afterthought. 'How did you make it? The galley fire has been out this half hour and more.' 'Spirit-stove, in course. Here he is, sir.' Stephen's ointment soothed Jack's hand, the coffee soothed his jangling soul, and presently the normal sweetness of his nature made a veiled appearance."

131-2: "They most delighted in the Halleluiah Chorus, and often, when Jack walked forward to lend his powerful bass, they would go through it twice, so that the deck vibrated again and he sang away in the midst of that great volume of true ordered sound, his heart lifted high. But most of his musical pleasure was on a less heroic scale, and he took it much farther aft, in his great cabin with Stephen, the 'cello singing deep in its conversation with the violin, sometimes plain and direct, sometimes immensely intricate, but always profoundly satisfying in the Scarlatti, Hummel and Cherubini that they knew well, more tentative and still exploratory as they felt their way far into the manuscript pieces that Jack had bought from London Bach's young man. 'I beg pardon,' said Stephen, as a lee-lurch made him slur his C sharp into a quarter-tone lower than a lugubrious B. They played on to the end of the coda, and after the moment's triumphant silence, the tension dying, he laid his bow on the table, his 'cello on a locker, and observed, 'I am afraid I played worse than usual, with the floor bounding about in this irregular, uneasy fashion. It is my belief we have turned round, and are now facing the billows.' 'Perhaps we have,' said Jack….'Shall we finish the port?' 'Gule, or gluttony, is a beastish sin,' said Stephen. 'But without sin there can be no forgiveness. Would there be any of the Gibraltar walnuts left, at all?' 'If Killick has not blown out his kite with them, there should be plenty in this locker. Yes. Half a sack. Forgiveness,' he said thoughtfully, cracking six together in his massive hand."

132-3: Jack worries about Captain Bennet and his lady friend. "'In all sober earnest, Stephen, I do hate to see a good officer-like man such as Bennet jeopardize his career, hanging about in port for a woman. When he rejoins I shall ask him to dinner: perhaps I could drop a few tactful hints. Perhaps you could say something in the classical line, about that fellow who contrived to hear the Sirens, listening to them while seized to the mainmast, the rest of the ship's company having their ears blocked with wax: it happened in these waters, I believe. Could you not bring it in by some reference to Messina, the Straits of Messina?' 'I could not,' said Stephen. 'No. I suppose not,' said Jack. 'It is a most infernally delicate thing to take notice of, even to a man you know very well.' He thought of the time when he and Stephen had competed for Diana's quite unpredictable favours; he had behaved much as Harry Bennet was behaving now, and he had savagely resented anything in the way of tactful hints on the part of his friends."

135: Quails have landed all over the ship after being exhausted trying to migrate through the wind. "Jack took a quail from his epaulette, set it on the starboard binnacle with an abstracted air."

143: "Now...all they had to look forward to, to break the unvarying monotony of their days, was the coming performance of 'Hamlet'; though the play was said to be as good as bear-baiting at Hockley-in-the-Hole, with a very satisfactory ending, lit with Bengal lights regardless of the cost. Parties of volunteers under the captain of the hold were getting up gravel from the Worcester's ballast. Far,far below – an arduous and a very smelly task – for the grave-diggers' scene, and the ship's butcher was already setting his tubs aside, it being understood that whenever a tragedy was performed in one of His Majesty's ships an appropriate amount of blood should be supplied."

144: The signal midshipman comes below with the Captain's compliments to Dr Maturin, "'and if he were at leisure, would like to show him a surprise on deck.' It was a gloomy day with a low grey sky, spitting rain from the south-south-east...yet there was an extraordinary cheerfulness on the quarterdeck. Pullings, Mowett and Bonden on the leeward side were beaming all over their faces and talking away as though they were in a tavern: to windward Jack stood with his hands behind his back, his eyes fixed upon the ship some five miles away. 'Here is my surprise,' he said, 'Come and see what you make of her.' For many years Jack, Pullings and Mowett had made game of Dr Maturin in the nautical line...He had grown weary, and now, staring long, he said, 'I should not like to commit myself, but at a casual glance I should take it to be a ship. Conceivably a man-of-war.' 'I am altogether of your opinion, Doctor,' said Jack, 'But will you not look through this glass, to see whether you can make out even more?' 'A man-of-war, with little doubt. But you need not be afraid, with all this powerful fleet around you; and in any case I perceive only one row of guns – a frigate.' Yet even as he spoke there seemed something familiar about that distant ship, racing towards them with a broad white bow-wave on either side, and she growing larger every minute. 'Stephen,' said Jack in a low, happy tone, 'she is our dear Surprise.' 'So she is too,' cried Stephen. 'I recognize that complexity of rails in front -– I recognize the very place I slept on summer nights. God love her, the worthy boat.' 'It does my heart good to see her,' said Jack. She was the ship he loved best."

150: Babbington talking about Harte not wanting him to court his daughter: "'Said, if I was looking for a fortune I might go and try my luck with French prizes, and that I might kiss his breech too -- she was meat for my master. Surely, sir, that was a pretty illiberal expression?' 'Kissing his breech, do you mean, or meat for your master?' 'Oh, kiss my breech is in his mouth every day, perfectly usual: no, I meant meat for my master. In my opinion that was low.' 'Only a scrub would say it,' said Stephen. 'Meat -- pah! Suff on him.' 'Precious low,' said Jack. 'Like an ostler.'" Then Babbington explains that Fanny Harte is engaged to Wray.

153: "The familiar tedium of the blockade made these spacious, lonely evenings lonelier and more spacious by far, but in one form or another they were the lot common to all captains who respected tradition and who wished to maintain their authority. Some dealt with the situation by having their wives aboard, in spite of the regulations, particularly on the longer, quieter passages, and some took mistresses...others sailed with friends, and although Jack had known this answer fairly well, generally speaking it seemed that few friendships could stand such close, enforced proximity for many weeks, let alone months or even years. ...So far Jack had been unusually lucky in this respect. From his first command he had nearly always sailed with Stephen Maturin, and it had proved the happiest arrangement. As her surgeon, Dr Maturin was very much part of the ship, having his own independent function and being, one no more than nominally subject to the captain; but since he was not an executive officer their intimacy caused no jealousy or ill-feeling in the wardroom: and although he and Jack Aubrey were almost as unlike as men could be, unlike in nationality, religion, education, size, shape, profession, habit of mind, they were united in a deep love of music, and many and many an evening had they played together, violin answering 'cello or both singing together far into the night. Now when the fiddle sang at all it sang alone: but since Stephen's departure he had rarely been in a mood for music."

166-7: Jack is watching the rhinocerous, a gift for the Pasha of Barka, being exercised on the Polyphemus, then being blindfolded because "it fears the darkness, or perhaps the depth." The man caring for it rides with it beneath the hatchway "and vanished downwards, the seaman with one hand on the rope, the other over the animal's withers, the rhinocerous with its four legs held out, stiff, its ears drooping, the image of grey anxiety. 'Lord, how I wish the Doctor were here,' said Jack to Pullings.

176: Jack has a horrible cold and is very unhappy not to have Stephen aboard as they head into probable battle. "This was the first time that the prospect of action had not moved him like the sound of a trumpet...he did not look forward to it with his usual eagerness. His heart did beat higher, but not very much higher." As they sail, "at one point an undulating cloud of flamingoes wafted over the sea, showing scarlet as they all wheeled together, ten or twenty thousand strong. 'How I wish the Doctor were here,' said Jack once more, but Pullings only returned a formal 'Yes, Sir.'"

196-7: Jack, still afraid that he might have behaved cowardly by not managing to pick a fight with the French, but "'there was no point in putting the case to any other person on earth. Sophie for example would certainly tell him that he had behaved correctly, but that, though agreeable, would be no real comfort to him since even she could not get inside his head or heart or vitals to inspect his intentions -- his intentions as they had been at that moment. Nor could Stephen, for that matter; stil, Jack looked forward extremely to their meeting, and in something less than two days' time, when the Worcester rounded to under Cape Mola." He takes the barge in to Mahon and walks around nostalgically to Joselito's and the Crown while waiting for Stephen to return from Ciudadela, where Jack is "deeply disappointed" to learn that he has gone.

203-9: Stephen, having ridden to the Crown in great haste with intelligence orders, finds Jack about to make love with Mercedes and asks him whether his business, his amiable communications, "'even...spouse-breach for all love'" could possibly be more important than his mission. Jack is grouchy and angry, and later tells Stephen that "'if it means what I think it means, allow me to tell you that I resent the imputation extremely.'" As he falls asleep Stephen reflects that he should not have said "spouse-breach." "The imputation was certainly true: it was also certainly impertinent, unwarranted, ill-bred, an unpardonable freedom. Was it impatience and fatigue on his own part, or a lurking jealousy at the sight of that fine, melting, amorous wench?"

213: Stephen is heading for his intelligence rendezvous. "'I wish to God you were not going,' said Jack in a low voice. 'There is no option,' said Stephen. Jack nodded: to be sure, Stephen's landing in some remote creek had as little free choice about it as Jack's carrying his ship into action; yet there was something so horribly cold-blooded about the creek -- cold-blooded, dark and solitary. He hated the idea: yet he drove the Worcester towards the place where the idea should become reality with all the skill he had acquired in a lifetime at sea.

228-9: Stephen explains to Graham that the mumps can cause swelling of the testicles, "'a more humane way of providing castrati for our choirs and operas.' 'Does it indeed emasculate?' cried Graham. Stephen talks about how this is hardly a frightening disease compared with others, as very little time is actually spent in coition, and 'spoke of the eunuch's tranquillity and peace of mind, his unimpaired intellectual powers...a marriage of minds was far more significant than mere carnal copulation.' Stephen makes jokes about "'fugging'" and the apparent obsession with "'the deed of darkness'" but both Graham and Jack avoid him for days in case of contagion.

238: Jack reminds Stephen that they must be sailing westwards, not towards the east: "'If you will forgive me... It appears that the sun is usually found to set westerly, in the Mediterranean.'"

277-9: Stephen jumps into the sea to go swimming, mistakenly thinking that the ship on the horizon must be Babbington's and not a prize, then almost drowns as Surprise turns around to attack, making sail. He is hauled out of the water by very indignant seamen and begs Jack's pardon for causing the disturbance and delay: "'I was a-swimming.' 'Good morning, Doctor,' said Jack with a cold glance. 'I was not aware that you were in the sea until the boat was beside you, thanks to Mr Calamy's presence of mind. But I must remind you that no one is allowed to leave the ship without permission: furthermore, this is not a proper dress in which to appear on deck.'" Stephen is glared at by everyone on his way down and thinks of the prize as vile and the crew as greedy, until he sleeps it off and Calamy wakes him to see the prize and Jack in good spirits and the crew with "smiling, benevolent faces."

284-7: Jack is horrified to discover that Babbington has many women on his ship. "'Mr Rowan, report to the Commander-in-Chief, with my duty, that the transports are in Cephalonia, and that all is well. You need not mention the fact that you saw one of the squadron crammed with women from head to stern; you need not report this open and I may say shameless violation of the Articles of War, for that disagreeable task falls to your superiors; nor need you make any observations about floating brothels or the relaxation of discipline in the warmer eastern waters, for these observations will naturally occur to the Commander-in-Chief without your help. Now pray go aboard our prize and proceed to Malta without the loss of a minute: not all of us can spare the time to dally with the sex.' 'Oh sir,' cried Babbington, as Rowan darted over the side, 'I really must be allowed to protest -- to deny -- ' 'You will not deny that they are women, surely? I can tell the difference between Adam and Eve as quick as the next man, even if you cannot; just as I can tell the difference between an active zealous officer and a lubber that lies in port indulging his whims. It is of no use trying to impose upon me.' 'No, sir. But these are all respectable women.' 'Then why are they leering over the side like that, and making gestures?' 'It is only their way, sir. They are all Lesbians -- ' 'And no doubt they are all parsons' daughters, your cousins in the third degree, like that wench in Ceylon.' ' -- and Lesbians always join their hands like that, to show respect.' 'You are becoming an authority on the motions of Greek women, it appears.' 'Oh sir,' cried Babbington, his voice growing shriller still. 'I know you do not like women aboard -- ' 'I believe I have had occasion to mention it to you some fifty or sixty times in the last ten years.' 'But if you will allow me to explain -- ' 'It would be interesting to hear how the presence of thirty-seven, no, thirty-eight young women in one of His Majesty's sloops can be explained; but since I like some decency to be preserved on my quarterdeck, perhaps the explanation had better take place in the cabin.' And in the cabin he said, 'Upon my word, William, this is coming it pretty high. Thirty-eight wenches at a time is coming it pretty high.' 'So it would be, sir, if there were any guilty or even shall I say cheerful intent; but upon my honour, I am blameless in thought, word, and deed. Well, in word and deed, anyhow.'" Finally Jack lets Babbington explain that the women were rescued from a Tunis corsair in distress, where they had been held prisoner, and Jack says, 'Well, damme, William, I am sorry: I am very sorry, indeed I am. But injustice is a rule of the service, as you know very well; and since you have to have a good deal of undeserved abuse, you might just as well have it from your friends.'" Then Jack gives him madeira and tells him to take his virgoes intactoes to Cephalonia.

291-2: Stephen explains to Jack Graham's belief that the Navy is a school for cowardice, teaching young midshipmen to punish older, wiser seamen and allowing admirals to throw inkwells at post-captains, just because the hierarchy lets them get away with this.

354: "'You are all very arch and jocose this morning,' said Graham discontentedly [the morning of the final battle]. Then, nodding towards the other side, where Jack and Pullings were discussing some point of their approach and laughing heartily as they did so, he said, 'Do you know the word fey, that we use in the north?' 'I do not,' said Stephen. He was perfectly well acquainted with the word, but he did not wish to discuss his friend's dangerous high spirits with Graham. 'I am not a superstitious man; but if those gentlemen are married and if their wives...' 'All hands aft,' said Jack, and the howling of the calls and the sound of hundreds of feet drowned Graham's words."
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