I’ve been thinking about first and last lines from books. Some last lines are famous (The Lord of the Rings) and some first lines are famous (Moby Dick and Pride and Prejudice). But often times books are famous without their first and last lines being famous. So, maybe we’ll have some first/last lines posts. Or maybe I’ll be lazy and just do this one. We’ll see. Below the jump are the first and last lines to every book in the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian. Despite having read them all several times, I was surprised by how long some of the first lines are. The first line from The Far Side of the World is particularly long. If you haven’t read any of these books, I can scarcely recommend them highly enough.
The president cleared his throat again in the dead silence, and speaking in a clear, seamanlike voice that combined gravity, formality and cheerfulness, he said ‘Captain Aubrey: it is no small pleasure to me to receive the commands of the court I have the honour to preside at, that in delivering to you your sword, I should congratulate you upon its being restored by both friend and foe alike; hoping ere long you will be called upon to draw it once more in the honourable defence of your country.’
~ Master and Commander
At first dawn the swathes of rain drifting eastward across the Channel parted long enough to show that the chase had altered course.
‘God bless her.’
~ Post Captain
‘But I put it to you, my lord, that prize-money is of essential importance to the Navy.’
‘Now I have but to run Sophie and my treasure home, and the future is pure Paradise.’
~ H.M.S. Surprise
Captain Aubrey of the Royal Navy lived in a part of Hampshire well supplied with sea-officers, some of whom had reached flag-rank in Rodney’s day while others will still waiting for their first command.
‘And to this, gentlemen’ – raising his glass – ‘I will append a toast: let us all fill up to the brim, gunwales under, and drink to England, home and beauty, and may Lucky Jack Aubrey reach ’em with fair winds and flowing sheets every mile of the way.’
~ The Mauritius Command
The breakfast-parlour was the most cheerful room in Ashgrove Cottage, and although the builders had ruined the garden with heaps of sand and unslaked lime and bricks, and although the damp walls of the new wing in which this parlour stood still smelt of plaster, the sun poured in, blazing on the covered silver dishes and lighting the face of Sophie Aubrey as she sat there waiting for her husband.
Some low cries from the La Fayette – ‘Get a good hold on the lines, ma’am, and mind your petticoats – easy, all, as she rises’ – and then, as the brig swung to the breeze and gathered way, Mrs Wogan’s laugh, floating clear across the water, very cheerful and amused, more amused than ever, so amused that both Stephen and Bonden chuckled aloud; and now, for the first time, it had a fine triumphant ring.
~ Desolation Island
The warm monsoon blew gently from the east, wafting HMS Leopard into the bay of Pulo Batang.
He looked hard at the white ensign against the pure blue sky, the proof of his victory; he focused his dazed eyes; a sweet smile showed on his bloody face, and he said very quietly, ‘Thank you, Jack.’
~ The Fortune of War
The long harbour of Halifax in Nova Scotia on a long, long summer’s day, and two frigates gliding in on the tide of the flood under topsails alone: the first, since she had belonged to the United States navy until a few days before, wore the Stars and Stripes under a white ensign; the second showed no more than her own shabby colours, for she was HMS Shannon, the winner in that short and bloody action with the Chesapeake.
‘I now pronounce you man and wife,’ said Babbington, closing the book; and still with the same gravity, but with great happiness showing through it, ‘Mrs Maturin, dear Doctor, I give you all the joy in the world.’
~ The Surgeon’s Mate
Marriage was once represented as a field of battle rather than a bed of roses, and perhaps there are some who may still support this view; but just as Dr Maturin had made a far more unsuitable match than most, so he set about dealing with the situation in a far more compendious, peaceable and efficacious way than the great majority of husbands.
‘This here is going to Kingdom Come.’
~ The Ionian Mission
A gentle breeze from the north-east after a night of rain, and the washed sky over Malta had a particular quality in its light that sharpened the lines of the noble buildings, bringing out all the virtue of the stone; the air too was a delight to breathe, and the city of Valletta was as cheerful as though it were fortunate in love or as though it had suddenly heard good news.
‘Not more than eight or perhaps nine men knew the contents of Jack’s orders; and if that does not enable Wray to lay his hands upon the prime chief Judas, then there is the very Devil in it.’
~ Treason’s Harbour
‘Pass the word for Captain Aubrey, pass the word for Captain Aubrey,’ cried a sequence of voices, at first dim and muffled far aft on the flagship’s maindeck, then growing louder and more distinct as teh call wafted up to the quarterdeck and so along the gangway to the forecastle, where Captain Aubrey stood by the starboard thirty-two pounder carronade contemplating the Emperor of Morocco’s purple galley as it lay off Jumper’s Bastion with the vast grey and tawny Rock of Gibraltar soaring behind it, while Mr Blake, once a puny member of his midshipman’s berth but now a tall, stout lieutenant almost as massive as his former captain, explained the new carriage he had invented, a carriage that should enable carronades to fire twice as fast, with no fear of oversetting, twice as far, and with perfect accuracy, thus virtually putting an end to war.
‘She is the Surprise,’ said Stephen, and he whispered, ‘The joyful Surprise, God and Mary be with her.’
~ The Far Side of the World
The West Indies squadron lay off Bridgetown, sheltered from the north-east trade-wind and basking in the brilliant sun.
‘Why, sir,’ said the hall-porter, smiling at him, ‘never fret yourself about haste post-haste: here is Sir Joseph himself, coming upon the steps, a-leaning on Colonel Warren’s arm.’
~ The Reverse of the Medal
Ever since Jack Aubrey had been dismissed from the service, ever since his name, with its now meaningless seniority, had been struck off the list of post-captains, it had seemed to him that he was living in a radically different world; everything was perfectly familiar, from the smell of seawater and tarred rigging to the gentle heave of the deck under his feet, but the essence was gone and he was a stranger.
She urged West out of the cabin and on deck, and there he and the amazed foremast-hands saw a blue and gold coach and four, escorted by a troop of cavalry in mauve coats with silver facings, driving slowly along the quay with their captain and a Swedish officer on the box, their surgeon and his mate leaning out of the windows, and all of them, now joined by the lady on deck, singing Ah tutti contenti saremo cosí, ah tutti contenti saremo, saremo cosí with surprisingly melodious full-throated happiness.
~ The Letter of Marque
In spite of the hurry, many wives and sweethearts had come to see the ship off, and those members of her company who were not taken up with sailing her on her difficult course close-hauled to the brisk south-east breeze, watched the flutter of their handkerchiefs far across the water until Black Point hid them entirely, shut them right out.
‘Then shipmates,’ said Jack, smiling at his people, ‘let us build one as quick as we can.’
~ The Thirteen-Gun Salute
A hundred and fifty-seven castaways on a desert island in the South China Sea, the survivors of the wreck of the HMS Diane, which had struck upon an uncharted rock and had there been shattered by a great typhoon some days later: a hundred and fifty-seven, but as they sat there round the edge of a flat bare piece of ground between high-water mark and the beginning of the forest they sounded like a full complement of a ship of a line for this was Sunday afternoon, and the starboard watch, headed by Captain Aubrey, was engaged in a cricket match against the Marines, under their commanding, Mr Welby.
‘Jack, I cannot tell you how ardently, how very ardently, I look forward to going home.’
~ The Nutmeg of Consolation
Standing at the frigate’s taffrail, and indeed leaning upon it, Jack Aubrey considered her wake, stretching away neither very far nor emphatically over the smooth pure green-blue sea: a creditable furrow, however in these light airs.
Stephen stood there while behind him the capstan turned and clicked to the usual cries; each anchor rose in turn to the invariable orders and responses; and all at once he realized that the frigate too was under way, rapidly making sail and moving faster and faster eastwards after her flying quarry, so that the distance between the ships was increasing with dreadful speed; before he was prepared for it, the Truelove was no more than a remote ship upon the sea; and there was no longer any human contact at all.
~ The Truelove (or Clarissa Oakes)
A purple ocean, vast under the sky and devoid of all visible life apart from two minute ships racing across its immensity.
‘Harking back to this voyage, I think it was a failure upon the whole, and a costly failure; but,’ he said laughing with joy at the thought, ‘I am so happy to be homeward-bound, and I am so happy, so very happy, to be alive.’
~ The Wine-Dark Sea
Thick weather in the chops of the Channel and a dirty night, with the strong north-east wind bringing rain from the low sky and racing cloud: Ushant somewhere away on the starboard bow, the Scillies to larboard, but never a light, never a star to be seen; and no observation for the last four days.
‘Stephen, you must never go to sea any more.’
~ The Commodore
Sir Joseph Blaine, a heavy, yellow-faced man in a suit of grey clothes and a flannel waistcoat, walked down St James’s Street, across the park, and so to the Admiralty, which he entered from behind, opening the private door with a key and making his way to the large, shabby room in which he had his official being.
At the bottom a familiar hand had written Dearest Jack – I am so happy for you – love – Queenie.
~ The Yellow Admiral
The sudden rearmament that followed Napoleon’s escape from Elba had done little to thin the ranks of unemployed sea-officers by the early spring of 1815.
And at the very end of the mole, when the frigate turned westward along the Strait with a following breeze, stood an elegant young woman with a maidservant, and she too waving, waving, waving…
~ The Hundred Days
The Surprise, lying well out in the channel with Gibraltar half a mile away on her starboard quarter, lying at a single anchor with her head to the freshening north-west breeze, piped all hands at four bells in the afternoon watch; and a the cheerful sound her tender Ringle, detached once more on a private errand by Lord Keith, cheered with the utmost good will, while the Surprises turned out with a wonderful readiness, laughing, beaming and thumping one another on the back in spite of the strong promise of rain and a heavy sea running already.
After a last salute Jack glanced aloft – still the sweet west wind – and then he looked fore and aft: a fine clear deck, hands all at their stations and all beaming with pleasure; and turning to the master he said, ‘Mr Hanson, pray lay me a course for Cape Pilar and Magellan’s Strait.’
~ Blue at the Mizzen