On Being a Professor01 Sep 2015
An excerpt from Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian.
Captain Jack Aubrey, an 18th century Royal Navy officer, has been given his first ship to command at the start of the novel, and in conversation with him is Stephen Maturin, the ship’s doctor. This conversation occurs on page 271 (of 403) in the HarperCollins paperback.
‘I wonder you should be so concerned about a mere title – a tolerably Byzantine title,’ observed Stephen, ‘After all, you are called Captain Aubrey now, and you would still only be called Captain Aubrey after that eventual elevation; for no man, as I understand it, ever says “Post-captain So-and-so”. Surely it cannot be a peevish desire for symmetry – a longing to wear two epaulettes?’
‘That does occupy a great share of my heart, of course, along with eagerness for an extra eighteenpence a day. But you will allow me to point out, sir, that you are mistaken in everything you advance. At present I am called captain only by courtesy – I am dependent on upon the courtesy of a parcel of damned scrubs, much as surgeons are by courtesy called Doctor. How should you like it if any cross-grained brute should call you Mr the moment he chose to be uncivil? Whereas, was I to be made post some day, I should be captain by right; but even so I should only shift my swab from one shoulder to the other. I should not have the right to wear both until I had three years seniority. No. The reason why every sea-officer in his right wits longs so ardently is this – once you are over that fence, why there you are! My dear sir, you are there! What I mean is, that from then onwards all you have to do is to remain alive to be an admiral in time.’
‘And that is the summit of human felicity?’
‘Of course it is,’ cried Jack, staring. ‘Does it not seem plain to you?’