Today is the anniversary of the birth, in 1775, of Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, Rear Admiral of the United Kingdom, & c.  As some friends of the decanter no doubt already know, Lord Cochrane’s naval career served as a primary source for several of the adventures of Patrick O’Brian’s “Lucky” Jack Aubrey in the Aubrey/Maturin novels (including the capture of the Cacafuego by the Sophie, the stock-market rigging trial and Jack’s service with South American rebels).  On the other hand, there is virtually nothing in common between Cochrane and Aubrey in terms of personality, as Cochrane was a political radical and manic self-publicist with an ego as wide as the Channel.

I was chatting with somebody the other day about Aubrey and Maturin, specifically about the difference between Maturin as described in the novels and as presented on screen in the Russell Crowe movie about which I will not get started again here since most of you already know what I think about that.

Where was I? Oh, yes.  My fellow chatter remarked that in the books she was uncomfortable with Maturin’s dark side – the spying, the lying, the treachery and what-not.  I said that it was always my belief that O’Brian himself identified with Maturin.  I also said that it was my understanding O’Brian was, in reality, really rayther a nasty piece of work.  Not only did he treat his first wife very shabbily, there are also long-standing rumors of other shifty shenanigans swirling about his life and career.  Now in the books, O’Brian likes to harp on two themes regarding Maturin: the nobility of his causes (the downfall of Bonaparte, Irish and Catalan independence) and the personal anguish he goes through from burdening himself and those nearest and dearest to him with the ugly biznay in which he engages as a means to those ends.   It makes me wonder if, in a delusional way, this wasn’t some sort of exercise in self-justification on O’Brian’s part.

I don’t know, of course, and am just typing off the top of my head.

One thing that I do know is that, for whatever reason, O’Brian cracked up in the end and that crack up is reflected in the later novels in the series, which is why I never read past The Wine Dark Sea anymore.