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The Patrick O'Brian Newsletter: Volume 2, Issue 2

October 1993

From the Editor's Column

For the many admirers of Patrick O'Brian, autumn 1993 will be a season of celebration, with several new publications (and the prospect of more to come) and a visit to these shores by the author himself—the first in twenty years.

Those of you who have not been to your bookshop lately will be delighted to learn that The Nutmeg of Consolation and The Truelove (#14 and #15 in the Aubrey/Maturin series) were published in paperback in July. In August we shipped out copies of The Patrick O'Brian Calendar 1994 with nine of Geoff Hunt's wonderful paintings (including the cover art for books 1-6), a J. M. W. Turner painting of the battle of Trafalgar, and two fine ornithological prints with captions by O'Brian.

In early November comes the main event: publication of the hardcover edition of The Wine-Dark Sea (#16), for which the author has agreed to do a two week publicity tour, visiting New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C. to give readings and sign books.

Looking ahead to spring of 1994, we expect to issue a paperback reprint of O'Brian's thorough and perceptive biography of Picasso; and in May we have scheduled the first American edition of The Golden Ocean in hardcover. While this novel is not part of the Aubrey/Maturin series, it might be seen as a precursor to those books, being O'Brian's first effort at writing about the sea and the Royal Navy. The tale, about an Irish boy who goes off to sea as a midshipman with Anson in 1740, is wonderfully exciting, with glimpses of life in the far reaches of rural Ireland. Also to appear in the spring is a book about Patrick O'Brian. The title is Patrick O'Brian: Critical Essays and a Bibliography, edited by A. E. Cunningham of the British Library. The volume will contain essays on the nautical, political, and military background to the Aubrey/Maturin series by such experts as Brian Lavery and N. A. M. Rodger, an autobiographical essay by O'Brian, and a complete bibliography of his works.


Patrick O'Brian Answers Your Questions

Q. I am curious as to the exact nature of "the liberty of the Savoy," as you refer to the London district where The Grapes, Stephen Marturin's London lodgings, is to be found. Is this district's freedom from process servers, debt collectors etc. a status that dated from ancient times? What is the exact nature of this status? Does it still exist?

A. The Liberty of the Savoy came into being in 1245, when Henry III gave the area where the hotel and Simpson's now stands, together with many streets of suburban houses, to his wife's uncle, Peter, Earl of Savoy, who built a palace there; and somewhat later Queen Eleanor gave it to her son Edmond of Lancaster. It came down, by descent and marriage, to old John of Gaunt, time-honoured Lancaster, thus becoming part of his palatinate duchy—palatinate in the sense that the duke had virtually sovereign power. This being the case, the King's writ did not run in his dominion, so that obviously the local London and Westminster courts had no jurisdiction in the Liberty (or the liberties) of the Savoy. This continued into the last century, and the Duchy of Lancaster is still very much alive—its Chancellor is one of the great men of the state, a cabinet minister, and of course a privy councillor.

Q. Stephen Maturin is such an interesting, complex, and erudite character. I would be interested to know where he might have been educated: what books, what institutions, etc.

A. Maturin would have been to Benedictine schools in Catalonia, where his education would have grounded him thoroughly in Latin and Greek, rhetoric, and philosophy: his classical studies continued at Trinity College Dublin, where his medical tuition began. The study of medicine carried on in Paris, with visits to other European universities.

Q. In the recent novels Captain Aubrey appears to have inherited the right to nominate the parish priest at an Anglican Church situated on his property. I believe the words "living" and "advowson" are mentioned in this connection. This custom does not exist in the Episcopal Church of America. Would such a post have been a sinecure? or were there real duties involved?

A. In early mediaeval times the parish and the manor were often coterminous; and as the lord of the manor was generally the chief builder of the parish church he had the hereditary right, the advowson, of appointing a priest to the benefice or living, which was made up of the parishioners' tithes and of whatever endowment the lord and his family may have provided. This system continues to our day. The post was in no way a sinecure though the incumbent might hire a curate to do his work for him. The duties varied from full pastoral care with daily Mass and the other offices, to much less in the remoter, sparsely-inhabited and poorly endowed foundations.

Q. Could you explain the role of precise chronometry in advance of exploration and navigation?
A. Very briefly, a chronometer perpetually and accurately tells the mariner when it is noon at Greenwich, so that by comparing local noon (the moment at which the sun crosses the meridian) he can tell how far east or west he is of that interesting town.



Everyone knew that a man-of-war had nearly all her strength, both offensive and defensive, on her sides. Her bows carried few guns, and the structure there was relatively weak, especially in the case of a ship-of-the-line before the round bow was introduced. The stern was even weaker, in both frigates and ships-of-the-line. There was at least one row of glass windows, perhaps even galleries. At best, the structure was very light, with little of the strength and thickness of the timbers which formed the sides. Therefore, the most effective move in any combat between two ships, whether alone or part of a fleet battle, was "raking." To rake a ship was "to cannonade her on the stern, or head, so as that the balls shall scour the whole length of her decks; which is one of the most dangerous incidents that can happen in naval action." Raking shot would pass along the deck, until it met some obstruction. It would kill men, dismount guns and wreak carnage as long as it continued.

One way to rake a ship by the bows was to wear as the chasing ship approached. To rake by the stern, it might be possible to let the enemy pass a little ahead, and then wear under her stern. When passing the bow or stern, it was best to let each gun fire as it bore on the enemy ship. Thus the raking fire was continuous, and devastating. Raking required skilful manoeuvering; if it went wrong, the advantage could go to the other side. "The Caesar was nearly up with their van ship, when she, luffing up too much in the wind to rake us, came about on the other tack, which put them in great confusion, and we peppered them well during this time."

Illustration and text are taken from Nelson's Navy by Brian Lavery (Annapolis, 1989). Reprinted by permission.

Photo of O'Brian by Rex Features.

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