Title: Lieutenant Hornblower.
Author: C.S. Forester.
Genre: Fiction, literature, war lit, naval fiction, napoleonic wars.
Publication Date: 1952.
Summary: A gripping, rip-roaring tale of turmoil and triumph on the high seas. Lieutenant Hornblower emerges from his apprenticeship as midshipman, to the new responsibility thrust upon him by the fortunes of war between Napoleon and Spain. Enduring near-mutiny, bloody hand-to-hand combat with Spanish seamen, deck-splintering sea battles, and the violence and horrors of life on the fighting ships of the Napoleonic Wars, the young lieutenant distinguishes himself in his first independent command. And, at the end of the book, he faces an adventure unique to his experience: Maria.
My rating: 8.5/10.
♥ "But still, it's the West Indies for us, anyway," said Hornblower philosophically. "Yellow fever. Ague. Hurricanes. Poisonous serpents. Bad water. Tropical heat. Putrid fever. And ten times more chances of action than with the Channel fleet."
"That's so," agreed Bush, appreciatively.
With only three and four years' seniority as lieutenants, respectively, the two young men (and with young men's confidence in their own immortality) could face the dangers of West Indian service with some complacence.
♥ Yet almost from the moment of his first arrival on board he had been harassed by the fantastic moods of the captain, now madly suspicious and again stupidly easygoing. Bush was not a man sensitive to atmosphere—he was a sturdy soul philosophically prepared to do his duty in any of the difficult conditions to be expected at sea—but he could not help but be conscious of the tenseness and fear that pervaded life in the Renown. He knew that he felt dissatisfied and worried, but he did not know that these were his own forms of tenseness and fear.
♥ Bush, who now had leisure to contemplate ruefully the disorganization of the ship's routine and discipline occasioned by this strange whim.
When the spirits had been issued and drunk he could dismiss the watch below and set himself to drive the watch on deck to their duties again, slashing at their sulkiness and indifference with bitter words. And there was no pleasure now in standing on the heaving deck watching the corkscrew roll of the ship and the hurrying Atlantic waves, the trim of the sails and the handling of the wheel—Bush still was unaware that there was any pleasure to be found in these everyday matters, but he was vaguely aware that something had gone out of his life.
♥ He remembered those knots on Booth's cane. He had known injustice often enough. Not only boys but grown men were beaten without cause on occasions, and Bush had nodded sagely when it happened, thinking that contact with injustice in a world that was essentially unjust was part of everyone's education.
♥ The thing was a thing of exquisite beauty in an exquisite setting, and her bluff bows and her rows of guns added something else to the picture. She was a magnificent fighting machine, the mistress of the waves over which she was sailing in solitary grandeur. Her very solitude told the story; with the fleets of her enemies cooped up in port, blockaded by vigilant squadrons eager to come to grips with them, the Renown could sail the seas in utter confidence that she had nothing to fear. No furtive blockade-runner could equal her in strength; nowhere at sea was there a hostile squadron which could face her in battle. She could flout the hostile coasts; with the enemy blockaded and helpless she could bring her ponderous might to bear in a blow struck wherever she might choose. At this moment she was heading to strike such a blow, perhaps, despatched across the ocean at the word of the Lords of the Admiralty.
And drawn up in ranks on her maindeck was the ships' company, the men whose endless task it was to keep this fabric at the highest efficiency, to repair the constant inroads made upon her material by sea and weather and the mere passage of time. The snow-white decks, the bright paintwork, the exact and orderly arrangement of the lines and ropes and spars, were proofs of the diligence of their work; and when the time should come for the Renown to deliver the ultimate argument regarding the sovereignty of the seas, it would be they who would man the guns—the Renown might be a magnificent fighting machine, but she was so only by virtue of the frail humans who handled her. They, like the Renown herself, were only cogs in the greater machine which was the Royal Navy, and most of them, caught up in the time-honoured routine and discipline of service, were content to be cogs, to wash decks and set up rigging, to point guns or to charge with cutlesses over hostile bulwarks, with little thought as to whether the ship's bows were headed north or south, whether it was Frenchman or Spanish or Dutchman who received their charge. Today only the captain knew the mission upon which the Lords of Admiralty—presumably in consultation with the Cabinet—had despatched the Renown. There had been the vague knowledge that she was headed for the West Indies, but whereabouts in that area, and what she was intended to do there was known only to one man in the seven hundred and forty on the Renown's decks.
♥ It was Sunday morning, and every hat was off, every head was bare as the ship's company listened to the words of the captain. But it was no church service; these bare-headed men were not worshipping their Maker. That could happen on three Sundays in every month, but on those Sundays there would not be quite such a strict inquisition throughout the ship to compel the attendance of every hand—and a tolerant Admiralty had lately decreed that Catholics and Jews and even Dissenters might be excused from attending church services. This was the fourth Sunday, when the worship of God was set aside in favour of a ceremonial more strict, more solemn, calling for the same clean shirts and bared heads, but not for the downcast eyes of the men in the ranks. Instead every man was looking to his front as he had his hat before him with the wind ruffling his hair; he was listening to laws as all-embracing as the Ten Commandments, to a code as rigid as Leviticus, because on the fourth Sunday of every month it was the captain's duty to read the Articles of War aloud to the shop's company so that not even the illiterates could plead ignorance of them; a religious captain might squeeze in a brief church service as well, but the Articles of War had to be read.
♥ Hornblower raised an eyebrow for a moment. He was accustomed to taking his own observations each noon and making his own calculations of the ship's position, in order to keep himself in practice. He was aware of the mechanical difficulty of taking an accurate observation in a moving ship, but—although he knew of plenty of other instances—he still could not believe that any man could really find the subsequent mathematics difficult. They were so simple to him that when Bush had asked him if he could join him in their noontime exercise for the sake of improving himself he had taken it for granted that it was only the mechanics of using a sextant that troubled Bush. But he politely concealed his surprise.
♥ To Bush it was as strange that a man should read up beforehand and be prepared for conditions hitherto unknown as it was strange to Hornblower that a man should find trouble in mathematics.
♥ "What'd you do?" Bush was curious about this junior lieutenant who had shown himself ready of resources and so guarded in speech.
"I'd read those orders," said Hornblower instantly. "I'd rather be in trouble for having done something than for not having done anything."
♥ The eagerness in Hornblower's expression was obvious. If ever a man yearned for an independent command and the consequent opportunity to distinguish himself it was Hornblower. Bush wondered faintly if he himself was as anxious to have the responsibility of the command of a ship of the line in troubled waters. He looked at Hornblower with an interest which he knew to be constantly increasing. Hornblower was a man always ready to adopt the bold course, a man who infinitely preferred action to inaction; widely read in his profession and yet a practical seaman, as Bush had already had plenty of opportunity to observe. A student yet a man of action; a fiery spirit and yet discreet—Bush remembered how tactfully he had acted during the crisis following the captain's injury and how dexterously he had handled Buckland.
And—and—what was the truth about the injury to the captain? Bush darted a more searching glance than ever at Hornblower as he followed up that train of thought. Bush's mind did not consciously frame the words "motive" and "opportunity" to itself—it was not that type of mind—but it felt its way along an obscure path of reasoning which might well have been signposted with those words. He wanted to ask again the question he had asked once before, but to do so would not merely invite but would merit a rebuff. Hornblower was established in a strong position and Bush could be sure that he would never abandon it through indiscretion or impatience. Bush looked at the lean eager face, at the long fingers drumming on the chair. It was not right or fit or proper that he should feel any admiration or even respect for Hornblower, who was not merely his junior in age by a couple of years—that did not matter—but was his junior as a lieutenant. The dates on their respective commissions really did matter; a junior was someone for whom it should be impossible to feel respect by the traditions of the service. Anything else would be unnatural, might even savour of the equalitarian. French ideas which they were engaged in fighting. The thought of himself as infected with Red Revolutionary notions made Bush actually uneasy, and yet as he stirred uncomfortably in his chair he could not wholly discard those notions.
♥ The guns' crews wiped their steaming foreheads and flung jests—jagged and unpolished like the flints in the soil from which they had sprung—back at their tormentors. It was exhilarating to an officer to see the high spirits of the men and to be aware of the good temper that prevailed; in the three days that had elapsed since the change in command the whole atmosphere of the ship had improved. Suspicion and fear had vanished; after a brief sulkiness the hands had found that exercise and regular work were stimulating and satisfactory.
♥ Bush looked at the pair of them, the elderly, worried first lieutenant and the young fifth lieutenant, the older man pathetically envying the youngster's youth. Bush was learning something about personalities. He would never be able to reduce the results of his observations to a tabular system, and it would never occur to him to do so, but he could learn without doing so; his experience and observations would blend with his native wit to govern his judgements, even if he were too self-conscious to philosophize over them. He was aware that naval officers (he knew almost nothing of mankind on land) could be divided into active individuals and passive individuals, into those eager for responsibility and action and into those content to wait until action was forced on them. Before that he had learned the simpler lesson that officers could be divided into efficient and the blunderers, and also into the intelligent and the stupid—this last division was nearly the same as the one immediately preceding. And there were officers with discretion and officers with none, patient officers and impatient ones, officers with strong nerves and officers with weak nerves. In certain cases Bush's estimates had to contend with his prejudices—he was liable to be suspicious of brains and of originality of thought and of eagerness for activity, especially because in the absence of some of the other desirable qualities these things might be actual nuisances. The final and most striking difference Bush had observed during ten years of continuous warfare was that between the leaders and the led, but that again was a difference of which Bush was conscious without being able to express it in words, and especially not in words as succinct or as definite as these; but he was actually aware of the difference even though he was not able to bring himself to define it.
♥ In the easy the sky was turning dark, and the sun was setting over the starboard quarter in a magnificent display or red and gold; from the ship towards the sun the surface of the sea was gilded and glittering, but close overside it was the richest purple. A flying fish broke the surface and went skimming along, leaving a transient, momentary furrow behind it like a groove in enamel.
♥ "And now, I suppose," said Clive, conscious of the anti-climax, "I suppose he's reading them."
"And we're none the wiser."
There was a disappointed pause.
"Bless my soul!" said Carberry. "We've been at war since '93. Nearly ten years of it. D'ye still expect to know what lies in store for you? The Went Indies today—Halifax tomorrow. We obey orders. Helm-a-lee—let go and haul. A bellyful of grape of champagne in a captured flagship. Who cares? We draw our four shillings a day, rain or shine."
♥ Was it possible that this energetic young officer was lacking in physical courage? That phrase was not Bush's own—he had heard it used maliciously somewhere or other years ago. It was better to use it now than to tell himself outright that he suspected Hornblower might be a coward. Bush was not a man of large tolerance; if a man were a coward he wanted no more to do with him.
♥ "Fire buckets here!"
Ten pounds of red-hot glowing metal lodged in the dry timbers of the ship could start a blaze in a few seconds. At the same time there was a rush of feet overhead, the sound of gear being moved about, and then the clank-clank of pumps. So on the maindeck they were fighting fires too. Hornblower's guns were thundering on the port side, the gun-trucks roaring over the planking. Hell was unchained, and the smoke of hell was eddying about him.
♥ Despite the breeze, the little cabin was like an oven; the two lanterns which hung from the deck beams to illuminate the chart on the table seemed to heat the room unbearably. Bush felt the perspiration prickling under his uniform, and his stock constricted his thick neck so that every now and again he put two fingers into it and tugged, without relief. It would have been the simplest matter in the world to take off his heavy uniform coat and unhook his stock, but it never crossed his mind that he should do so. Bodily discomfort was something that one bore without complaint in a hard world; habit and pride both helped.
♥ But if they had failed once they might as well fail twice; as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb.
♥ And as he spoke he received a glance in return from Hornblower that stifled at birth any regrets he may have felt at allowing his sentiments to influence his judgement. There was so much of relief, so much of gratitude, in the way Hornblower looked at him that Bush experienced a kindly glow of magnanimity; he felt a bigger and better man for what he had done. Naturally he did not for a moment see anything incongruous about Hornblower's being grateful for a decision that would put him in peril of his life.
♥ Buckland drummed with his fingers on the table. The recent alteration of course had not been the decisive move; it did not commit him to anything. But the next order would. If the hands were roused out, arms issued to them, instructions given for a landing, he could hardly draw back. Another attempt; maybe another failure; maybe a disaster. It was not in his power to command success, while it was certainly in his power to obviate failure by simply not risking it. He looked up and met the gaze of his subordinates turned on him remorselessly. No, it was too late now—he had been mistaken when he thought he could draw back. He could not.
♥ With a hundred and eighty seamen and marines under his command one man at least was likely to be drunk. The ability of the British sailor to get hold of liquor and his readiness to overindulge in it were part of his physical make-up, like his ears or his eyes.
♥ "A nasty sight," said Hornblower, but Bush could see nothing unpleasant about the sight of an enemy burning. He was exulting.
♥ "Remember, Mr. Bush, if ever you use a knife, to give an upward inclination to the point. The human ribs lie open to welcome an upward thrust; before a downward thrust they overlap and forbid all entrance, and the descending knife, as in this case, bounds in vain from one rib to the next, knocking for admission at each in turn and being refused."
♥ Bush felt the illogicality of it all, although he would have been hard pressed if he had to put it into words. And in any case logical thinking on the subject of reputation and promotion was not easy, because during all these years Bush had become more and more imbued with the knowledge that the service was a hard and ungrateful one, in which fortune was even more capricious than in other walks of life. Good luck came and went in the navy as unpredictably as death chose its victims when a broadside swept a crowded deck. Bush was fatalistic and resigned about that, and it was not a state of mind conductive to penetrating thought.
♥ "The admiral's compliments, sir, and he'd like Mr. Hornblower's presence on board the flagship as soon as is convenient."
"And dinner not half-way finished," commented Cogshill, looking at Hornblower. But an admiral's request for something as soon as convenient meant immediately, convenient or not. Very likely it was a matter of no importance, either.
♥ Bush had learned something during the past few weeks which his service during the years had not called to his attention. Those years had been passed at sea, among the perils of the sea, amid the ever-changing conditions of wind and weather, deep water and shoal. In the ships of the line in which he had served there had only been minutes of battle for every week at sea, and he had gradually become fixed in the idea that seamanship was the one requisite for a naval officer. To be master of the countless details of managing a wooden sailing ship; not only to be able to handle her under sail, but to be conversant with all the petty but important trifles regarding cordage and cables, pumps and salt pork, dry rot and the Articles of War; that what was what was necessary. But he knew now of other qualities equally necessary; and bold and yet thoughtful initiative, moral as well as physical courage, tactful handling both of superiors and of subordinates, ingenuity and quickness of thought. A fighting navy needed to fight, and needed fighting men to lead it.
♥ Bush watched her go; life in the service meant many partings. Meanwhile there was war to be waged against bedbugs.
♥ "The life is not entirely one of beer and skittles, naturally," went on Hornblower; with the dam once broken he could not restrain his loquacity. "After the fourth hour or so it becomes irksome to play with bad players. When I go to Hell I don't doubt that my punishment will be always to partner players who pay no attention to my discards. But then on the other hand I frequently play a rubber or two with the good players. There are moments when I feel I would rather lose to a good player than win from a bad one."
♥ "It'll save money," said Bush, putting the paper in his pocket; his grin as he spoke masked the sentiment in his next words. "And I'll see more of you."
"By George, yes," said Hornblower. Words were not adequate.
♥ ...Hornblower looked half-ruefully at Bush.
"There's a strange pleasure," he said, "in knowing that there's a human being who cares whether I'm alive or dead. Why that should give pleasure is a question to be debated by the philosophic mind."
♥ Hornblower cut the cards and the next deal began in the same mystic silence. Bush could not see the fascination of it. He would prefer a game in which he could roar at his losses and exult over his winnings; and preferably one in which the turn of a single card, and not of the whole fifty two, would decide who had won and who had lost. No, he was wrong. There was undoubtedly a fascination about it, a poisonous fascination. Opium? No. This silent game was like the quiet interplay of duelling swords as compared with the crash of cutlass blades, and it was as deadly. A small-sword through the lungs killed as effectively as—more effectively than—the sweep of a cutlass.
♥ This time the coincidence startled Hornblower into being human.
♥ "A likely-looking lot of prime seamen," said Bush, running a professional eye over them.
"Hard luck on them, all the same," said Hornblower.
"Hard luck?" said Bush in surprise.
Was the ox unlucky when it was turned into beef? Or for that matter was the guinea unlucky when it changed hands? This was life; for a merchant seaman to find himself a sailor of the King was as natural a thing as for his hair to turn grey if he should live so long. And the only way to secure him was to surprise him in the night, rouse him out of bed, snatch him from the grog shop and the brothel, converting him in a single second from a free man earning his livelihood in his own way into a pressed man who could not take a step on shore of his own free will without risking being flogged round the fleet. Bush could no more sympathise with the pressed man than he could sympathise with the night being replaced by day.
♥ If ever there was a man completely at a loss it was Hornblower. After a glance at him Bush found it hard not to grin. The man who could keep a cool head when playing for high stakes with admirals—the man who fired the broadside that shook the Renown off the mud when under the fire of red-hot shot—was helpless when confronted by a couple of women. It would be a picturesque gesture to pay his reckoning—if necessary to pay an extra week's rent in lieu of warning—and to shake the dust of the place from his feet. But on the other hand he had been allowed credit here, and it would be a poor return for that consideration to leave the moment he could pay. But to stay on in a house that knew his secrets was an irksome prospect too. The dignified Hornblower who was ashamed of ever appearing human would hardly feel at home among people who knew that he had been human enough to be in debt. Bush was aware of all these problems as they confronted Hornblower, of the kindly feelings and the embittered ones. And Bush could be fond of him even while he laughed at him, and could respect him even while he knew of his weakness.
♥ "Oh!" said Maria; she stumbled forward and supported herself with her hands upon the table with its cooling coffee-pot and its congealing half-consumed chops. She lifted her head and wailed again.
"Oh, for God's sake—" said Bush in disgust. He turned to Hornblower. "Come along."
By the time Bush was on the staircase he realised that Hornblower had not followed him, would not follow him. And Bush did not go back to fetch him. Even though Bush was not the man to desert a comrade in peril; even though he would gladly take his place in a boat launching out through the most dreadful surf to rescue men in danger; even though he would stand shoulder to shoulder with Hornblower. If Hornblower was going to be foolish Bush felt he could not stop him. And he salved his conscience by telling himself that perhaps Hornblower would not be foolish.