Jack Aubrey quotes

I never manage to say anything very sensible about the Aubrey/Maturin books except that I love them to bits. One of the very many reasons I love them is Jack Aubrey’s way with words. Or lack of way with words, more accurately. He can turn any perfectly well known idiom or proverb into something quite delightfully ridiculous.

For example:

It will not do to meddle with him. He is the kind of lamb that lies down with the lion, in wolf’s clothing.

From The Letter of Marque, page 134. And from HMS Surprise, page 157:

‘It is not what you would call handsome,’ said Jack laughing, ‘but a bird in the hand is worth any amount of beating about the bush, don’t you agree?’

And this exchange between Jack and Stephen in The Far Side of the World (Jack being the first speaker), page 106:

‘It was the strangest experience: there he was, telling me things to my face as though he were invisible, while I could see him as plain as…’
‘The ace of spades?’
‘No. Not quite that. As plain as… God damn it. As plain as the palm of my hand? A turnpike?’
‘As Salisbury Sphere? As a red herring?’
‘Perhaps so.’

And later in the same novel, at page 293:

‘That would be locking the horse after the stable door is gone, a very foolish thing to do.’

Indeed. Again at page 306:

‘Only this morning I was thinking how right they were to say it was better to be a dead horse than a live lion.’ He gazed out of the scuttle, obviously going over the words in his mind. ‘No. I mean better to flog a dead horse than a live lion.’
‘I quite agree.’ [Stephen]
‘Yet even that’s not quite right, neither. I know there is a dead horse in it somewhere; but I am afraid I’m brought by the lee this time, though I rather pride myself on proverbs, bringing them in aptly, you know, and to the point.’
‘Never distress yourself, brother; there is no mistake I am sure. It is a valuable saying, and one that admonishes us never to underestimate our enemy, for whereas flogging a dead horse is child’s play, doing the same to a lion is potentially dangerous, even though one may take a long spoon.’

Stephen is quite as bad as Jack when he tries to use nautical expressions, otherwise he spends a bit of time confusing his friend further unless he is in a particularly amiable mood (as he is in that last exchange). Though how you’d bring a long spoon to flogging a live lion, I’m not so sure…

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