I read the Aubrey-Maturin books for the first time when I moved from San Francisco to New York, in 1995. They weren’t all written then, but I read what there was in just a couple of months. One good thing – and there really aren’t that many – about 20 years’ elapsing is that you can read all the good books again, almost new.
Even if my memory of them were better, it would still be worth every minute to hear Simon Vance’s version. His voices give life to the characters, and round them out in ways my imagination couldn’t have done. I have a fondness for the cadence, the expressions, and the niceties of the English of Victoria and her immediate predecessors – at least, as they’re rendered in literature, which provides my only experience of them – and O’Brian and Vance between them have me working “what joy” and “never in life” into conversation.
There was, apparently, a nautical taboo against discussing any success prematurely and throughout the series, often and often, Jack Aubrey restrains himself. “There’s many a slip twixt cup and lip,” he reminds himself. And so there is. The specter of unfulfilled potential fills me with dread.
I’ve never attempted anything as difficult and dangerous as a naval action, but the maxim applies to all our endeavors, large and small. The injunction against counting your chickens, the agricultural equivalent, would probably be more appropriate here, but I like Aubrey’s version better. I shudder to think what you’d find if you were to excavate that vast chasm between potential and achievement. Just today, I tossed in some broccoli raab seedlings that got eaten by some mysterious insect within 48 hours of my planting them outdoors. Then there’s the five bee colonies, none of which survived even one winter. But you’d find them only if you manage to dig through the 60,000 or so baby oysters that died on us last year.
And yet, when I see new things taking shape, I’m not thinking about the slip. It’s all lip, all the time. It’s figs. And raspberries. Ramps will be a quiche. And that truckload of wood, a shed. What’s that they say about hope and spring?
I’m very much afraid that I’m counting my chickens, even though I know full well that it’s a lee shore.
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