The following extract is an obscure but great example of Patrick O'Brian's wonderful writing. The joy of reading O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series of novels is, for me, unsurpassed by any other collection of modern literature. The grasp of period detail is phenomenal, as is the reader's total immersion within the wooden world of Nelsonic navy life, with the sporadic adrenalin of sea battles just dazzling punctuation to the great man's faultless prose. Nor are the books just about life on the ocean wave, as Stephen Maturin's complex character as surgeon, spy and naturalist demonstrates. This passage is from Post Captain, set in 1802, with Dr. Ramis addressing his friend (and fellow spy) Stephen, physician to physician:
'You speak of loss of weight. But I find that you yourself are thin. Nay, cadaverous, if I may speak as one physician to another. You have a very ill breath; your hair, already meagre two years ago, is now extremely sparse; you belch frequently; your eyes are hollow and dim. This is not merely your ill-considered use of tobacco - a noxious substance that should be prohibited by government - and of laudanum. I should very much like to see your excrement.'
The great author himself.
Patrick O'Brian: 1914-2000.
Post Captain, the source of the above extract, is the second of the series. It has been described as "Austen-sur-Mer", because of the time its protagonists spend "on the beach" within Georgian society (frequently as fish out of water), which is a clear homage by O'Brian to Jane Austen. The novel is sometimes also referred to as the best of the entire series, coming after the equally compelling but very different Mediterranean seafaring adventure of Master and Commander.