It’s been almost half a year since my last report on my nightly reading, so I thought I’d update you all with a particularly fine quote from our current volume of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, The Commodore (the seventeenth of twenty!—we’re trying to avoid thinking about the abyss that awaits us in a few months, when we’ve finished the lot). The context is the case of a little girl named Brigid, who at first seemed speechless and virtually inhuman but thanks to the care and attention of the almost monoglot Irishman Padeen (i.e., Páidín), the loutish but lovable servant of the Irish/Catalan doctor Stephen Maturin, has blossomed and become reasonably talkative (though mainly in Irish) and outgoing. Maturin is talking:
‘In any case I should like to have Brigid under the care of Dr Llers, who has had more success with children of her kind than any man in Europe. Not, the dear God be thanked beyond measure, that she seems to need the care of any medical man at all. The change is of the nature one usually associated with miracles alone.’
‘It is utterly beyond my comprehension,’ said Clarissa. ‘Nothing I have ever known has given me such happiness – day after day, like a flower opening. She prattled for quite a while with Padeen and the animals, and now she does so with me and the maids: a little shy of English at first. To begin with she spoke it only to the cats and the sow.’
Stephen laughed with pleasure, an odd grating sound; and after a while he said, ‘She will learn Spanish too, Castellano. I am sorry it will not be Catalan, a much finer, older, purer, more mellifluous language, with far greater writers – think of En Ramón Llull – but as Captain Aubrey often says, “You cannot both have a stitch in time and eat it.”‘
Llull is real; I don’t know about Llers.