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An After Dinner Conversation

"Thank You Mrs. Barlow", said Sir Joseph," please bring the port into my study and serve the coffee there. Dr. Maturin and I will be some time over my collections. You may retire when you are finished."

"You are very good," Said the Doctor as he settled into a chair at the worktable.

No, no, the goodness is all on your side," replied Sir Joseph. I know how hard your labors are at present, and to spare the time to go over my fanniae. I was impressed with your paper on Phanerogams, and have been told by the Physician of the Fleet that your work on tar-water is really valuable. In addition, I hear that you have a work on the diseases of seamen ready for press."

"Even though I do not have as much experience at sea as many medical men, I believe that some of my observations, coming from a fresh viewpoint, as it were, will prove of interest."

"I was in communication with a mutual acquaintance by whose offices it is clear that your observations are of value on many subjects."

"Indeed, Sir Joseph, I am at a loss as to who that could have been."

"Among your fellow passengers from Gibraltar on the Chartwell was M. Bartolomeu, a correspondent of mine. He wrote that you shared an interest in Catalan affairs and showed a keen appreciation of the men and forces at work there. I think I may say that the Admiralty, that is to say a certain branch of the Admiralty, is constantly looking for men of intelligence that can be put to use. Facts are of themselves useful, but are even better weapons when men of broad understanding and experience as well as firm principles wield them. I believe that you will agree with me, that we will need every weapon to defeat Bonaparte."

"But, Sir Joseph, the Peace of Amiens was concluded not four months ago. We are not now at war with Napoleon."

"I hope you will allow me to be candid, Doctor, and say that Bonaparte's word is worth nothing. This is a temporary respite only. He will break this peace; he believes only in war."

"Those are strong words, but I must equal your candor and state that written or spoken Napoleon's word is of equal value with other effluents produced by that despot. Napoleon is the natural product of the Revolution in France; he is the agent of the death and destruction of science, religion, and even civilization. From every additional fact I hear of him, I am more convinced that he must be destroyed."

"I agree with you completely, Doctor, and am prepared to offer you a position in which you could materially bring about that destruction. I have the honor to head a branch of the Admiralty that collects, evaluates, and forwards information to the government. There would be the reward of a regular stipend, as well as the satisfaction of working towards our common goals."

"Sir Joseph, I would not willing take offence, but any offer of money in connection with any political effort of mine would be an affront. My honor and my convictions are not for sale."

"Pray, consider any such reference unsaid. We have much to talk about, and I would hope us to always be in agreement."

"I also believe there is much to discuss, but let us not forget the fannia scalaris."

© 2001 Steven Ross