bab bat gdf js pgb-w sdw srz
Recently, an American PhD student turned up a previously unopened chest of papers in the Aubrey Bequest, currently lodged in the Records Office of Hampshire County Council. They appear to have been written sometime in the summer of 1848 by a seventy-ish former naval personage.
In Perpignan, France, a German post-doctoral student, working on land title variants in post-Revolutionary France, unearthed several oil-skin wrapped packages of uncatalogued plain-text material, apparently the work of Stephen Maturin in his 76th year.
"We spend our years as a tale that is told. The days of our years
are threescore and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore
years, Yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off
and we fly away."
I dreamt last night that I happened upon Jack, tall as he once was, at the opera, a Jack who did not recognise the present Stephen and he half-decayed and leaning on a stick. Then, directly, the straight young man aged into my dear old friend and we entertained ourselves most comfortably by speculating on what our sly Mozart would have invented for the scene where the new wife runs mad with a little dagger and stabs herself, the creature.
Music was different once and I must admit that I brought to it higher hopes and a more passionate desire for what? for a perfect enslavement of the senses and the mind perhaps. Well, well, I find that I can listen with tolerable equanimity to my grandchildren if they will but play with spirit and dedication it pleases me to catch in them at times a what would be the English word for that now? of their grandmother's dash and their grandfather's dogged devotion.
I had spent my last small coin on the barber that day in the year '01, for I had become obsessed with the notion that music would divert me and there was the cheerful prospect of being invited to swallow some nourishing soup afterwards along with a quantity of little biscuits and wine. Refreshments there were to be in abundance they assured me as they took my hat and some music by Signor Locatelli so, hunched on my little chair I ignored as well as I might the smug parade and noisy settling of the English yet ' What will become of me', I found myself inwardly keening, 'obliged for the while to be a stranger to both my lands, my occupation gone, nights spent alone, fleshless bones aching from the chill oh, Mother of God, what will become of me'?
To see a clearer image of my younger self, I must allow that I was not
completely unmanned by hunger but was also rejoicing somewhat in the entirely
customary, hardly suppressed rage of the conquered . Oh, oh, my poor,
high-coloured, beef-fed young Lieutenant! I remember how I misrepresented
you to myself long, long before your unfortunate hand delivered you up
to me it was in the where the music takes that clear turn into the
major, I think where the violins answer the cello with such a dancing
motion, very like a jig, but not can I lay my hand on it at all, I wonder?
Will it be in the big, tall cupboard? No. I must ask Diana, fool of a
child, what she has done with it...
"Alas, how right the ancient saying is:
Of Dr Stephen Maturin, age has certainly not dampened his spirits as far as natural philosophising goes. Although he presently resides in Lerida, carefully husbanding his bee hives and numerous grandchildren, I can still picture him botanising amidst the remote rural splendour of his mountain estates in that familiar well darned blackcoat, (I'll swear by Old Jarvie that it's the very same coat that he wore in Mahon!) while his charges bring endless varieties of beetles and insects for his close inspection and approval. Whether he be in the miasmatic swamps of Sierra Leone, or climbing the high peaks of the Andes in an Inca's chair watching the condor circle and wheel by in the azure blue skies and shores of Lake Titicaca, Stephen's curiosity in the natural world still remains unbowed to this day.
When Lord Keith and others wished him to take up the exalted position of Physician to the Fleet, they sent some high and odious official from Haslar along with a veritable posse navitum from the Sick and Hurt to plead their case in person. Stephen would have no truck with the proposal. He remonstrated with them in a most agitated manner, creating much noise, fuss and glaring at the deputation with that cold and fierce look of his disapproval. He cited the endless paperwork, that he had no head for figures, that it was no job for a natural philosopher, that they needed an able administrator, not a mere frigate's naval surgeon. I suspect that it was the prospect of continually visiting every ship in a fleet at sea that dished it, as the good doctor could never find his sea legs and his prickly pride would have baulked at a perpetual use of a bosun's chair.
As a loyal friend and companion on many a long commission, his presence
was always a reassuring one. The memories of evenings of music, toasted
cheese and wine as we sailed through the balmy tropical seas of the far
side of the world are irreplaceable, as was the sight of the ship's white
wake spreading out into a moonlit Pacific Ocean, or watching a cork or
cigar butt float away amid the swirling wake whilst listening to the gentle
creaking rhythm of the ship's rigging, as she pitches and rolls along
her course. I find it sad to say that we have become mere phantoms and
shapes of yesteryear, our nostalgia becomes only fit for temporarily amusing
and diverting the young, or entertaining and refighting old battles with
old comrades above the cheeseboard and bottles of Port. The grace and
skills of our wooden sailing world are beginning to pass away as the Navy
demands its officers become Engineers. How glad I am that George has transferred
into the modernised Amphion. Perhaps I'll raise it in the House or write
to the Gazette.
"The catte is a beaste of uncertain heare and colour, for
In scratching out these notes, these journals... no, how should I describe them? these clarifications and explications of experience I have been drawn more often towards unhappy times. Is joy a thing of the moment intensely felt but soon past which does not afterwards dwell readily in the recesses of the mind? Recesses instead filled with episodes of pain and self-reproach and the ghosts of insults; insults long forgotten by those who spoke them... Or is it only in my tenebrous soul that memory is concomitant with misery; to be sure, dear Jack's recollections probably linger on pleasurable events.
It was the day I heard Wray's damnable, damnable calumny: Diana had left for Sweden without waiting for an explanation of my seemingly boorish conduct in Malta. I could not sleep, and instead sat on an old chair by the fire, drinking cold cocoa from a villainous cracked mug my mind endlessly reviewing events; my emotions strangely torpid through some blessed, self-preserving inanition.
My thoughts were interrupted when I saw that one of the kitchen cat's kittens had bought in a mouse. The wretched rodent was trying to hide under the pages of a communication on catadromous eels a communication which proved to be sadly in error. As I watched the young cat toying with its prey, I experienced a degree of fellow feeling with the victim: did not Diana follow her natural instincts and cause suffering to her fellow creatures and yet act without deliberate, personal malice? Was I too doomed to be the deuteragonist in my own life-drama?
Deliberately, I turned my mind away from these reflections ... and considered the kit's fur. It was black; a glossy, trumpery ebony a common colour indeed. Yet was it not strange that the mother cat had white fur, the cat that frequented the stables being equally pallid and the cook swearing that her Tibby had looked at no other? How could two white cats produce a black? I wondered whether this did not imply some hidden inheritance from each parent... Ginger cats are always toms; could there not be some particulate transmission of information down the generations; the instructions for a ginger coat and for masculinity somehow linked and the cryptogram for a black cat hidden in a white?
I must have found these musings restful, for I started awake in the chair
the next morning. I had urgent business at the Admiralty, and soon set
off having quite forgot my ruminations on feline fur. Quite forgot
until my recent cacoëthes scribendi led me to reflect on the past. Perhaps
a controlled experiment, with a simpler and faster-breeding organism
a domestic plant? would be the thing? A careful breeding of various
strains and a monitoring of different characteristics? But no; I do not
choose to exposure my rheumatic joints to all weathers and would not
trust young Diana's rabbit with any new greenery... Where is that
granddaughter of mine? I shall ask her to bring me a cup of cocoa to drink
by the fire. A cup of hot cocoa.
"These Seniors of the people sate, who, when they saw the powre
Perhaps I am coming late to Literature, as I once came late to Mathematics. I remember Stephen and young Mowett speaking with great keenness of the old Greek Homer, and but a few days past I discovered in the library a volume belonging to one of the ancient Aubreys, a translation of Homer into a sort of English by a fellow named Chapman. Homer was no seaman by what I have read and surely Chapman's spelling is odd but there is an undeniable power to the tale. More power perhaps than I had reckoned.
Last night I dreamt of Helen of the Greeks. I am sure that's who she was, although this Helen of my dream had the face of Diana, gone all these years. I thought it best not to mention this to Sophie, but the dream had an unsettling effect upon me, so much so that I rose from my bed and walked the grounds till dawn, restless and filled with an uneasy void.
Even now, I am not sure that I could put a true name to my emotions. Were it not so foolish a thought, I think that jealousy might form a part, but jealousy of what? Diana treated Stephen appallingly on too many occasions, and I do not flatter myself that I would have faired any better. She again and again brought him deep sorrow, and I do not trust that my feelings for her could have borne those blows without failing. I near wrecked my career and friendship with Stephen and might have forfeited life itself for the sake of Diana and the captivity of her blue eyes, the unthinking and careless young fool that I was.
Yet, I cannot wholly remove myself from those old bonds of affection.
Her unspoken name has been close to my lips many, many times, even during
these late, quiet years; and sometimes I unexpectedly find the memory
of Diana, preserved ever young, rushing past and stirring my senses like
a fresh, cleansing breeze. Perhaps that is the source of her power: she
is forever beyond the ability of time itself to challenge and change,
while Stephen and I and, yes, Sophie must always plod downwards through
the years and their decay. What a woman she remains!
"Then everything includes itself in power,
Feast of Saint Jude, 1847
Folly, folly piles on folly. My stomach grows more sour with the passing years as I wonder at the British. At least at the proud men strutting the world now, with their "Go there Come here". Roman Gods indeed!
Pax Britannica, says Palmerston Civis Romanus Sum. Indeed! Do they not teach history in the Schools of England now? And what advisors murmur now in St James and the Admiralty? So Don Pacifico had his house burned by a drunken mob this six-month past. They have been burning Judas the Iscariot in that Attic square for an hundred year or more: and sacking houses to boot. So a Fleet is sent to the Piraeus Cannons are Fired! shows, brass and sounding drums. And the Greeks run to France and Russia and whine their eternal grievances into even more stupid ears. Why do we teeter on great ruptures among the powers of the world? Because Palmerston has his Pride and Palmerston cannot tell his Pride from the interests of the Nation.
I paced the vineyard rows in the dawn light this morning. The earth grows colder. Things wither. And I fret in petty fury, impotent and old and empty of influence.
"I shall write Jack and he'll press the case of sense in the House," I resolve: but Jack is gouty and fat and idle in his estates.
"Sir Joseph!" But still he lies in the ground. The world, our world: Jack's and Blaine's and Dundas's and Cochrane's and Nelson's; we knew what we fought, and why. Yes, I manoeuvred and schemed and dissembled, but the hard force of Right drove us forward we were honourable, and we thought the world would be changed. Where has it gone? Now it's all scheming and theatricals and posing. Napoleonisme rises again in France, and Louise Phillipe sinks daily in the esteem of all. I fear the peasants of the Piedmont will not long be satisfied with their lot, nor those of benighted Sicily, nor (as certain letters to me have it) the men of Killarney. Kings will fall. So the bloody wheel creaks on.
What value shall a man put on his own story, and who shall listen to his tales as the days draw in? Of late I think that maybe past days glow with an unnatural light were we so noble as we in our memories now believe? Haven't the sages (even the Greek ones) told us to be wary of our own reflections? So may Don Pacifico and the Greek Mob indeed be glorious players in a great drama some day. Some old man will sit in his tower ruminating and scribbling Lays of Ancient Times and of his own glories.
I must tend to the accounts. I cannot reconcile fivepence three farthings in Coutts's statement of transactions on the London funds. At least one thing is true, now and always: robbers all! Should not the Scripture read: "Now Barabbas was a Banker"?
"Discern of the coming on of years,
"Rail not at grinding poverty, nor curse
What with Sophie and the children gone to Ashgrove for the week in order to welcome George back, I have taken full advantage of this fleeting freedom to catch up with my accounts before our winter expedition to Spain. I am obliged to rest my gammy leg on a stool in front of the blazing Oak log fire and a bottle of best Port beside me for sustenance. Yesterday's long walk through the deep furze of Simmon's Lea quite exhausted me. Lord, it does me good to get out and feel the sun upon my back and take in the smells of the fresh pasture amidst the solitude of countryside. I even saw a Sparrow-Hawk loftily hovering above his intended prey until the dog scared it away. It almost made envious of Stephen's endless botanizing. I am heartily glad we saved the common and refused all successive attempts to obliterate it into modernity. The country needs more sensible fellows like Cuthbert Collingwood, he knew the merits of a well run estate. All these enclosures, then allowing cut price corn imports Lord knows where it will end! Low wages and those damned enclosures are at the very root of it! Those wicked scoundrels from Brook's will be the ruin of the country with all this Whiggery and cant of economic speculation. And they have the nerve to call it progress! God alone knows what the poor would have done without the game from Simmon's Lea to tide them over! Poach a rabbit and you'll be transported. Thank God the colonies have seen the sense to stop it, even if we wouldn't! And they have the nerve to call it progress!
Still it was good to see the wildlife returning as in the last ten years anything larger than a Partridge was bagged for the pot by some lean hungry poachers. All this talk of cheaper corn has quite knocked the bottom out of land prices. Even 'Old Black Whiskers' Griffith's estate is up again for sale in lots, as the creditors fight each other like Vultures for their pound of flesh. Young Adams the accountant reckons that we dare not risk enlarging the Woolcombe estate by taking on debt in these uncertain times, especially after settling Phillip's inheritance. I would have so liked to restore Woolcombe to its former glory, but it's a trying business. Once the land is flogged off wholesale, it the very devil to wait an age, then finance and win it back again, often at an inflated price. I dare say that I'll settle for minding my own garden like that Mr Candide that Stephen was talking about.
I was surprised that Sophie acceded so readily to my suggestion that we visit Stephen in Spain and avoid the worst of the winter here. Himself recommends the waters at Lerida for curing my leg. It'll be worth it if it only half cures me, although I should miss my evening bottle claret. When we lasted visited, we traced our escape route into Spain. Sophie had so desired to see Stephen's mighty castle and the cracked marble bath therein. With Stephen being as rich as Crocus, she asked him why he didn't take better care of his patrimony.
"Sophie my dear, the age of chivalry and Cervantes are long past; were I to repair it the great cost of money, time and worry would age me ten years, besides putting the long eared bats in the Keep out of sorts and their home of many a year!" said Stephen, "And the government would only take it off me for a pittance and ruin the place again!"
When one is young, one don't see the merits of a contemplative life.
Yet now, I couldn't have agreed more with the wise sentiments expressed
by Stephen. And I dare say that had I the wisdom in the past to have followed
Stephen's tact with investments, I would certainly have less grey hairs
than I have today!
"..soles occidere et redire possunt;
The grape harvest has passed and with it the bacchanalian festival where girls are wooed and won and still young Carlos, the Sea Catalan, lingers on at the Bishop's palace giving no sign, no sign at all of ever meaning to return to Minorca. This afternoon he once again excused himself to his cousin, Don Rafaello, and made himself free of my library and so it was there, at the lectern, that I came upon him, puzzling over the vast, great dictionary, seemingly in the act of construing those lines.
He has, he explained gesturing to the Catullus and listing perilously to starboard to conceal from my view a copy of the Satyricon, generously interleaved with small pieces of paper, quite read out his cousin's library, full of wonders as it is; has been sufficiently edified by the works of the Early Church Fathers and is now studying Latin verse with a view to the proper deployment of the trochee and the spondee. It is his intention, he added, to follow the trade of poet-sailor just as soon as he is old enough , and could I, with all my experience of naval battles, provide him with a subject suitable for setting to an heroic metre?
I allowed the boy to steer me, poor aged creature, solicitously away to the hearty, warming blaze, transfer the cat from my armchair to his lap and, when we were comfortably settled with the decanter open before us, continue to require of me an account of my rei gestae.
I, it was, I told him , who was at the helm of the dwarvish Sophie when she overwhelmed that great xebec-frigate, the shockingly dangerous Cacafuego a victory whose fame resounds along the coast of Catalonia to this day. It was my way of laying alongside which so enchanted the other mariners by its ingenuity and my subsequent propelling of myself from the Sophie's quarterdeck up to the middle part or flinge of the Cacafuego to defend the gallant James Dillon, may his soul rest in peace, that gave birth to the naval legend of 'The Maturin Leap'.
And so he continued with his note-taking, quill only occasionally hesitating, eyes only occasionally narrowing "Prawling?" he enquired, "Strangles", I elaborated and hastened my narrative along, adding yet more technical detail and blood till he cried "G-L-U-P-P- ?! Oh, you are making mock of me, Don Estaban! My honour will not suffer it! You, you... ", startling the cat in his wrath, "are no true naval hero at all!"
"And you, sir, are no true heroic poet sure, you are no more an heroic poet than my poor Tibby here. Lyric and epigram, I have observed from your scribblings, that is where your true genius lies, lyric and epigram; and, as you leave, you will do well to put the Satyricon back under 'P' convenient to the poet Propertius whose works I recommend you investigate tomorrow as more completely in your line. And, my proud young friend, have a care; Shelley perished before he was thirty Sappho and Catullus too - lyric poets every one. I will ask Stephen the Protomartyr to protect you, Carlos Carrillo Otilio Atalanto Muñoz y van Stoutenburgh for I fear , I fear very much, that that you will never make old bones. "
Sun Go Down
But once our own
Carlos Carrillo Otilio Atalanto Muñoz y van Stoutenburgh
"The sixth age shifts
My Dearest Diana
How happy we were to receive your last letter. Your cousins skipped about like lambchops. Aunt Sophie will reply presently, and I will just slip in this note to entreat you not to worry about your dear granpapa. It is all stuff certainly Will'm Shakespeare wrote some prodigious fine things I recall his Hamlet well "Is this a dirk I see before me?" very fine but you must recall that his words about age were written in his youth a mere whelp he knew not of what he wrote, and it don't signify.
What you tell me of your granpapa should be of absolutely no cause for alarm. Collections Lord, Di I have seen these crammed into his cabin, even filling a substantial portion of a ship's hold. Linen? Why, that's just because he busy, my dear, altogether too busy. Eccentric costumes? Perhaps, but they are doubtless of enormous, though perhaps somewhat disguised, practicality. Music in the morning? What better way to greet the day? I look forward to joining him at it, almost as much as I look forward to bussing you, my dear. Believe me ever
Yr loving nunc,
write clear new sheet leave out Linen
"He that goeth about to persuade a multitude,
It is curious that the events which fill the newspapers from nearly all of Europe these past months* Sicily and Tuscany, Poland and Germany, Austria and Rome, even England (although not Ireland, not more than usual) and France of course and her old hunger for her new Napoleon both bring me near and yet separate me utterly from that person I was five decades and more ago. I call to mind easily the form of that young man's thoughts and hopes, although their substance has become but pale specters which moan mournfully to me upon a dark night. The same faces and same voices call for justice and blood and rally the crowds in city squares to overthrow tyrants for eternity. Follow me. Kill him. Embrace my plan. Exhalt my philosophy. Believe in me. Believe in me. Revolt is their physician prescription, more perfect than any pill or draught to cure all ills. "Fools," I want to say, "don't you see that your path of revolution leads beneath the guillotine's blade to war and war and war?" And then I realize that they, like he who I once was, must learn their own truths, in their own time. Oh, if I were young again ... I would be that same fool.
*[Editor's note: Maturin here refers to the political turmoil which enveloped
much of Europe in 1848.]
"God be merciful to me a sinner"
All these years. She turns up without a by-your-leave. Just like that. On my very own doorstep. Admires the roses the hypocrite! Says "How-d'ye-Do, Ma'am?", the creature, as Maturin would have it and in the name of Christ where is he when I need him? He'd have silky answer and a smart story, always did, always will.
And when dear, dear Sophie says:"Have you had tea, Madame?" she says, like butter would not melt in her G---D--m mouth: "Why, kind of you, Mrs Aubrey!"
It has been far too many years for me to forgive Sally appearing like this. Hasn't Sam done well, and provided for her, and kept all quiet, and explained, explained as clear as day, to her?
What in the name of all that's holy is she doing here, in England, in Hampshire? Didn't the pension I settled on her do her grand, at least for Trinidad? She would be, and must have been, a Fine Lady there on my allowance! God take her for a doxy alright, alright, though she weren't, ever and a day, she weren't but did she have to come here now hasn't it been nigh on fifty years?
S'truth what am I to say? Oh Sophie! I know, I know "Thy sins shall find thee out" Holy Hell, I've tried to put it all behind me: Sophie may well have wondered at the reception I once gave a big black priest and didn't Mrs W. give me the strongest, strangest, venomous looks? but either Sophie accepted or simply didn't know though, Jack my Lad, if you think Sophie was blind all these years ye'se a bigger fool than all that 'ere wore the King's braid!
What to say? What to say? Tacit, my lad, tacit. Else she'll throw you out with a candle end if you're lucky.
"It is never so difficult to speak as
"But Trafalgar is over now,
London, August 21
I know not why the image haunts me so; the great ship, so lately burnished with glory rendered ghost-like, an ephemeris even before it reaches the breaker's yard. The painter's garish colors do not exaggerate the emotions of the day was it in '38? Jack insisted we travel down from London, where we had both found ourselves on errands that could all too easily be put aside the make-work errands of retired gentlemen of means. Posting down, he described deep-felt notions of superannuation and inconsequence, as the Navy discarded the powerful symbols of one age in favor of the untested inventions of another. I imagined myself a disinterested spectator, no more; but standing on the river-bank as the steamer passed our station with its immense, lifeless burden under tow, to my astonishment discovered that I was...enraged. But why? After so many years of sea-going I held no illusion of the romance of the sea, nor of the ships that carried men and goods over its surface. Cold, disinterested, violent, arbitrary these are words that an impartial observer might choose to describe the vast oceanic expanses of the world. An empty hull, its tall masts bare, is nothing; without its people it cannot bear the weight of remembrance cast down upon it by the silent observers on shore.
At tonight's reception I cannot say which is more ridiculous at an affair of this kind, the self-important honorees in all their finery, or the lines of simpering, bored matriarchs and their cowed, uncomfortable husbands, just containing their impatience to be done with the formalities and scuttle off to the next room to stuff themselves with Lord P___'s bad food and execrable drink I beheld Turner's painterly account of that day, and the rage returned, followed soon after by an abiding sorrow. I do not hold with mawkish notions of sentimentality and lost youth there can be but one end to this play but the emotion cannot be denied. Temeraire: the word has no full translation. "Action" and "enterprise" go part way but then the dictionary allows the words "rash", "reckless" and, indeed, "fool hardy" to creep in. All words to describe an age before reason, measured expenditure, caution, and even timidity creep into even the stoutest man's heart to displace the fire, the vigor, the passion that once dwelled within.
And yet, I have weathered that banking of youthful fire, that loss of clarity of vision, the slow erosion of powers of body and spirit to what end? A position of some comfort, some small influence, a domesticated household, a garden full of rare flora; and echoes of my own youth on daily display reflected in the beaming face of my dear grand-daughter. I must hurry back to Catalonia; Johnson said that a man tired of London is tired of life, but I am tired and do not want for anything so much as to be enfolded in the bosom of family, surrounded by nature's incalculably rich display.
...The porter must have missed me earlier in the day; he knocked a moment ago and delivered Jack's letter, and such a welcome letter it is. Jack had proposed to uproot his entire household and decamp for Lerida this winter; here is confirmation, and a date named. It is not so far off; my girls will be delighted, and I must away to them on the next tide with the news.
"Old men's prayers for death are lying prayers,
Tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner
(A letter returned "Adressée inconnue"]
Ma tres chere et pour la plupart respectable Mme Le Hideux*,
Monsieur Killick , qui est etant soigné ici dedans Carcasonne by les bonnes Petites Soeurs de Nôtre Dame des Pauvres Bougres Infortunes, m'a demandé a transporter a vous comment extremement il regrette l'incident avec le poisson# et qu'il espere que votre manservant n'a sustainé pas de damage durable. Il veut particulierement vous assurer que son oreille+ est parfaitement mieux maintenant and qu'il sera bientot avoir l'utilisation de lui encore.
Mme Aubrey, qui a partir avec le reste de notre partie pour Espagne, ete estonishé a comprehend que nôtre acquaintance dans Paris beaucoup ans ago été conducté entierement par l'agence de M. Jagiello, maintenant Swedish ambassador to the Court of St James et veut qu'elle est été capable d'avoir exprimer son appreciation de vôtre valable aide a trois malheureux prisonniers dans un ton plus agreeable. La false idee été entierement ma fault, je vous assure. J'avais été strûck tout d'un coup par vôtre maniere de l'eau les plants de pot et should jamais pas avait exclaimé sur la coincidence heureuse de notre rencontre dans une maniere si familiere et inconsideré.
Vous etes a expecter un lettre bien longue de ma femme, qui est un main fine avec le Francais, exprimant ses regrets, son plaisir avec les beaux accommodations de votre auberge, et qu'elle est heureuse pour le recommender a toute notre acquaintance qui sont dans le vicinité de Toulon.
Je suis confidente que vous accepterez ce note horriblement expressif comme une sorte d'explication et excûse.
Votre humble domestique,
Jno Aubrey, Admiral RN (Retd)
*Ed. note: It may be that our author requested of some Frenchman a translation
of 'most respected' and was answered with a deliberately misleading flippancy.
"The world is a lively place enough, in which we
My Dearest Di,
We should be home in a week or so, before the winter snows close the high roads. Pray kindly ensure that that dissolute advance party of a Killick doesn't interfere with the Ice-house, good dissecting cadavers are worth their weight in gold these days. Some of your more unusual specimens from St Barts should have come with us, ( George kindly offered to run us across,) alas I was found out! Jack berated me something cruel for being insensible to the needs of the service. Why the crew wouldn't wear carrying spliced dead men in the hold; I should have known better...did I want to shame the barky? And blast George's prospects of flag rank to Peru and back?? So I reluctantly sent our unwanted precious cargo to Emily's care. Perhaps her husband will be good enough to find a small place in his warehouse until we can make further arrangements.
Jack's spirits have soared since he left England. Once across the Channel, his froward countenance and melancholy nature of late have improved markedly, in spite of the pain of travelling with his gout. His vast corpulance has diminished under my care and with taking the waters at Avila, he has recovered something of the old Jack Foregoing the worries of his estate, his magistracy, the large and unwieldy family and of course the loss of his parliamentary seat, have enabled a much more cheerful Jack to emerge to something like his good nature of old, when he had the dear Surprise and roamed the green foaming oceans at will. This is all to the good, he seems consoled to recent circumstances and his sense of joie de vivre has returned.
Physically, Jack has seemingly benefited from the waters and he swears that his leg no longer plagues him half as much as it did. He rarely asks me to relieve his pain with my blue bottle prescription of the tincture. His effusive protestations concerning the many benefits of a thundering good Physic are mere froth, false signals designed to pull the wool over my eyes. All this for the merest chance to indulge in that most peculiar sinful gluttonous English vice of puddings! How consistent dear Jack is in this respect! However, his leg is doing well and if he would only abstain from gluttony and drink less, I dare say he would have a near complete recovery. Sophie professes herself most pleased with the changes that fresh air and new pastures have made in Jack. Although she was the prime mover in getting Jack to come to Catalonia, curiously she seems content to retreat and bask in Jupiter's resurgent brightness like a orbiting satellite. Both she and I have noted the changes in Jack's music: there is a much lighter, more joyful aspect to it which warms both our hearts as we sail along the stream of charming musical notes.
We cover thee, sweet face.
A foolish, weak, sentimental old man I have become. Foolish to take a loss so, after all the death I have seen in my life. Young men dying before they barely had time to know their own heartbeats. And boys before they could become young men. Yet, so empty and quiet this house seems with her gone. I don't believe I really knew myself the full affection I felt for the dear creature, before it was too late. I would like to think, though, that she knew me better than I did myself, and surely there can be no doubt of her undisguised, unalloyed love. Thank heavens, Stephen was here to ease her passing. I should not like to have had No, I scarcely can bring myself to think of that.
It will be time for breakfast soon, but I have no appetite this morning. Still, I must go down and offer my presence as some consolation for Sophie, for she feels the loss quite much as I, and her tears last night before she slept were most painful to behold. The dark perhaps hid my own. Oh, maybe it is the sensible thing to say that "she was only a bitch" and be done with it, but I cannot. I must ask Stephen if there is anything in his theology which admits of some great common beyond where it is not blasphemy for a dog to chase bird and hares. That would be a comfort, as foolish as the thought surely is.
I hear Sophie now, and must do my best to smile and be hearty for her
Great wisdom is generous.
My Dear Sir
How delighted I was to receive the draft of your book. Reading this synopsis of our conversations on your sand walk so long ago has given me more pleasure than I can express. I think the clarity with which you make the case is admirable. It is certain to wipe their eyes, as dear Admiral Aubrey would have said.
On one point, however, I must beg leave to disagree: my name must not appear with yours on the title page. You are exceedingly generous in this respect; but who can say with any degree of certainty which of us brought forward the various elements of the hypotheses, observations, data, speculations and arguments that led, in the course of our walks, to the theory which you have so elegantly transcribed. Further, it was you, not I, that put pen to paper, and so gave these ideas a written existence.
Lastly, I beg you will consider that a little more fame at my stage of life will confer no benefit or pleasure to me; whereas you, my dear sir, are at that cusp of your career where credit for your book, especially sole credit, will ensure at least a moderate amount of glory.
It is my most earnest wish, and one which I am confident that you will oblige out of the pleasure it will give me, that the only name to be associated with this book will be C. Darwin.
Your most obedient servant,
Remembrance and reflection how allied!
[Editor's note: This final entry is evidently the partial draft of a letter which was never sent, though there is some internal evidence it may have been copied fair and posted, if not received. In any event, the copy, if indeed it ever existed, is not extant. The shed mentioned in the margin notes preserved immediately below does not exist on the grounds of the estate, though a sketch is to be found on the reverse of the first sheet; nor is there any evidence from shopkeepers' records that materials for a shed were ever purchased in the name of J Aubrey, or any of his known retainers.]
dawn: wind light, SE, 1/2 East
finish letter to S.M.
18 May, Ashgrove, Hants
My dearest Stephen,
I thank you again for the most handsome bon voyage gifts; we have hung the skin above the mantel in the front sitting room on their visits the little ones take great satisfaction in pretending not to see it until they are just below the great, gaping mouth with all its hideously curved teeth, then looking up and screaming with terror and delight and the seeds have been planted, or will be shortly, in the new garden behind the stables. The grateful aftereffects of our months with you in Spain linger still in a cheerful approach to new projects, new plans, and I must say the near miracle you wrought in taming my d____d gout has allowed my spirits to lift to an amazing degree.
Springtime in Hampshire is so very agreeable, and the modest warmth of our occasional English sun so much more to my liking than the piercing, naked, blazing orb of Catalonian skies not to dismiss their undoubted [Ed.: the preceding sentence has been struck out, and the author begins anew.] Now that I am old I find the clime of an English spring very like paradise, and excessive heat a mortal trial. On the other hand, surviving cold, damp February at Ashgrove can be tolerably uncomfortable to old bones, and we would wish you to know just how much we, Sophie and I, are in your debt for the hospitality you proffered us these past months. Nothing would please us more than to extinguish the obligation at any time you see fit to make the journey.
Lord, Stephen, it is glorious to be in health and spirits, and among the people, places and things one knows so well. I think that, finally, I may have come withal to a sort of a land-bound peace, not having shipped as commander of any vessel larger than your admirable, most handy coracle for the past what is it? thirteen years. The yearning I felt to be at sea for so much of that time is, I find, entirely gone. Ain't it amazing?
Sophie sends her warmest regards and her wish to be remembered to your dear daughter and grandchildren. The house is awake now, and I have promised George's brood a romp today in the woods, with luncheon out by the old pits that the thief, Kimber God rot his soul in Hell left behind. Still, there is a silver purse in every cloud, as Sophie would be reminding me, and in this case the sow's ear of the workings has provided us with a most agreeable silk lining, as one of the pits has somehow filled with pure spring water from an unknown source, and it makes the most capital swimming hole now the rough edges are smoothed by time, and wild flowers have taken hold around the banks. It may well be warm enough today to take a plunge, the first really warm day since our return. George has brought back several
[Ed.: So ends the last surviving sheet.]
As the thaw spreads, so papers and parcels come up, and once again I feel in the world. Jack and Sophie are safely in Ashgrove Cottage, no doubt taking in the Hampshire spring days and discussing interminable plans for yet more plantings. The English and their tamed vegetation. There is some piece of wisdom in the contrast of those races that garden and those that do not, but it does not yield itself to me today. I shall dig for it another time.
When J. and S. went aboard the boat and when my arm had grown quite tired from waving, and when the masthead had dipped below the horizon off Lisbon I allowed myself the thought that I may not see Jack again in this life. But the riches we've had consoled me all the way back and up the hills. Indulgence in thoughts of the past is the old man's vice.
The new terracing goes apace on the west side of the vineyards. Tho' ruinous costly it will do us well in a few years. I must speak to Cantona about more stabling for the girls' horses. The soft creatures acquire them like other empty-heads gather dresses. A horse has a function. The rest is sentiment. But I can indulge them, so more stables it will be.
The house is stirring beneath me.
NB: Hist. Catalans 3 vol. next wint.? Irish Nat. Hist needed. Notes this mo. Martin to contrib. Paris June? Academy. new coat??
So much to do. I feel a great surge of vigour and good health today. Perhaps I shall ride this afternoon. That new big bay. Spirited. Try the pass to Santa B.?
These many packets should be ordered, catalogued, annotated, a forward and explanatory essays prepared, glossaries of natural history and ship words written, list of persons (with biographies and sources and lists of their literary remains) made, proper illustrations gathered, and all published (8 vols.?). I shall discuss this project with Prof. Dr H. on my return to Hamburg. Now I shall find a beach to spread my towel upon and work upon the sun tanning, though not so deep as to further raise questions concerning dedication to land title variants.
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