Monday, October 15, 2012

The right deep swimming in a book

Here the lane grew so narrow that they were obliged to walk in file, Jack, Stephen, Lalla and the goat, and conversation languished. When at length they reached plough on the right hand and open pasture on the left Stephen said, 'One of the advantages of life at sea, for men of our condition, is freedom of speech. In the cabin or on the balcony behind, we can say what we wish, when we wish. And if you come to reflect, this is a very rare state of affairs in ordinary circumstances, by land. There are almost always reasons for discretion -- servants, loved ones, visitors, innocent but receptive ears or the possibility of their presence. In much the same way good sullen reading is rare in a house, unless one is blessed with an impregnable and soundproof room of one's own: interruptions, restless unnecessary movements, doors opening and closing, apologies, even whisperings, god forbid, and meal-times. For the right deep swimming in a book, give me the sea: I read Josephus through between Freetown and the Fastnet rock last voyage: the howling of the mariners, the motion of the sea and the elements (except perhaps in their utmost extremity) are nothing, compared with domestic incursions. Since then, mere newspapers, gazettes, periodical publications, all light frothy fare apart from the Proceedings, have imperceptibly drunk the whole of my time and energy. Now, Jack, pray tell me about this Admiral Lord Stranraer, whom you have mentioned so often.'

--Patrick O'Brian, The Yellow Admiral

I was unaware of that second definition of sullen used by Stephen; I like it. I need more good sullen reading in my own life.


  1. Oh, yes. This is the kind of reading that always earns me the accusation of having my "nose stuck in a book" with its additional connotation of being too stuck up for the company of others.

  2. That is an unusual use of sullen but I like it!

  3. I started reading this quote and thought it was from some great work of literary fiction, and it turns out that it probably is, but that I have always underestimated Patrick O'Brian. so thanks.


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