58 pages • 1 hour readPatrick O'Brian
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“If you really must beat the measure, sir, let me entreat you to do so in time, and not half a beat ahead.”
Stephen Maturin’s first words to Jack Aubrey use a polite and elevated diction, yet they convey an insulting tone. Maturin calls Aubrey “sir” and uses the sophisticated term “entreat,” but his actual meaning is critical, informing Aubrey that his sense of rhythm is off. Maturin’s request is sarcastic, asking Aubrey to correct his timing when he really intends to shame Aubrey into sitting still during the concert.
“His chief impression was of old-fashionedness: the Sophie had something archaic about her, as though she would rather have her bottom hobnailed than coppered, and would rather pay her sides than paint them.”
Aubrey’s first impression of his ship emphasizes how he is personifying the vessel, ascribing it with desires and human characteristics. He references forms of older naval technology to explain why he sees the ship as archaic. In the late 18th century, British ships began to use copper to protect the sides of a wooden ship from damage. Similarly, the narration plays upon the alliteration of “pay” and “paint,” with pay referring to having the cracks between boards caulked with pitch rather than covered in paint. This emphasizes the idea that the Sophie is not the sort of vessel awarded to a prestigious captain, but rather an old hand-me-down.