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As I watch Bob Corker and his Keystone Kops allow Obama to enact a treaty with 34 votes and as I try to ignore the death dance between the GOP and Donald Trump, I have one reliable source of escape and solace: Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin books. I forget about our self-imposed wounds as I’m transported to the main deck of a British man o’ war in the Napoleonic era.
Last night I read from The Yellow Admiral and came across a passage of pure sublimity.
Let me set the stage: Captain Jack Aubrey is a good amateur violinist and Doctor Stephen Maturin plays a competent cello. They often make music together, to the utter disdain of Jack’s steward, the choleric Preserved Killick.
Occasionally they’re able to draft shipmates into their music-making. In this scene, their purser plays the viola and they’ve drafted a young midshipman (an Irish boy named Geoghegan) to play the oboe. The dramatic tension comes as we wonder how the young boy will do in the company of the older officers.
These two paragraphs tell the tale:
They spread their scores, and as they did so Stephen remembered with some concern that in the F major quartet the opening notes were played by the oboe alone: but when, after the necessary squeaking and grunting as the stringed instruments tuned themselves, Jack smiled at Geoghegan and nodded, these same critical notes came out clear and pure, with no over-emphasis–a beautiful round tone in which the strings joined almost at once. And almost at once they were a quartet, playing happily along with as nearly perfect an understanding as was possible on so short an acquaintance.
With scarcely a pause they swam through the elegant melancholy of the adagio, Jack Aubrey particularly distinguishing himself and Stephen booming nobly; but it was in the rondo that the oboe came wholly into its own, singing away with an exquisite gay delicacy infinitely enjoyed by all four. And to all four, in spite of the music before them, it seemed to last for an indefinite space before coming to the perfect simplicity of its end.
That, fellow Ricochetti, is great writing. To be able to recreate the sublimity of beautiful music with only the pen is pure genius.
This kind of writing makes me wonder if all of this political stuff really matters much. Then I read some Solzhenitsyn and remember that politics matters a lot.
Even so, I’m grateful of O’Brian for taking me away, even for a few minutes, from our sadly broken republic. Bogie said to Ingrid, “We’ll always have Paris.” Well, I’ll always have Aubrey and Maturin.