Thursday, July 20, 2006

A typhoon rosary

Yikes! I just realized that I'm on my thirteenth Patrick O'Brian novel today (The Nutmeg of Consolation), having started the series only a few weeks ago. This has turned into a serious addiction. It's going to be hard when I get to that unfinished 21st volume.

I remarked a few posts back about the passage in which Stephen Maturin, the Irish-Catalan ship's doctor, seeks out a Mass in Boston in 1812. In the novel I just finished, The Thirteen Gun Salute, there's another fine Catholic moment. He and his friend Captain Aubrey are sitting in the dark on a desolate island as a spectacular typhoon batters their ship to matchwood just offshore. In one of the enormous lightning flashes, Aubrey looks over -- and sees Stephen praying the Rosary.

It's very interesting, the way Maturin's character has been developed to this point in the series. He's the consummate scientist and man of reason, but he's also clearly a passionate Catholic, one who can take consolation in a moment of crisis from the Rosary that is so much out of vogue in many Catholic parishes today.

I guess I have another reason to note this episode: in announcing the approach of the typhoon, with its unearthly seas and weird copper-violet skies, Stephen quotes lines from one of my favorite bits of verse, Dryden's Ode for St. Cecelia's Day:

So when the last and dreadful hour
This crumbling pageant shall devour,
The trumpet shall be heard on high,
The dead shall live, the living die,
And music shall untune the sky.