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A higher value than safety

Several days ago we promised to describe to you that fellowship of men and women who gathered at the end of the 18th century to abolish slavery. We intended to start with Charles Middleton, who rose from servant to the Captain of the Sandwich to Admiral of the Red. However, we are taking a little longer than planned to grasp the hair-raising experience of going to sea in the Royal Navy in 1741. The astonishing details have been provided by British author Patrick O’Brian in The Golden Ocean, a book that describes Commodore George Anson’s circumnavigation of the globe. Anson fought disaster on his voyage round the world – weeks of icy gales, scurvy, hurricanes, shipwreck. He was troubled, sometimes perturbed, but he never lost his temper, and was, according to O'Brian, never afraid. . .

When I was younger, and had suffered a little, I became convinced that the man I wanted to love would be tender, intelligent, and courageous. The last quality seemed important to me because without it the other two were useless. I have not changed my mind since then, but I have examined my courage, and wishing for more I have wondered whether courage can be nurtured.

English philosopher Roger Scruton also describes courage as essential, and suggests why. He says that for men such as Anson and Middleton:

Courage is a higher value than safety, and a life without risk diminishes the gift of freedom. And part of the value of courage over hesitation lies in the fact that it moves more decisively, more economically, and with less catastrophic destruction, to its goal. Courage is not just intrinsically admirable; it is also the most efficient means to achieve what we want.

Charles Middleton responded bravely to danger on the high seas, and was able to take daunting risks on land in the fellowship launched against the slave trade. Look for a post on him tomorrow.

For some of the inventions that made the adventures of men such as Anson and Middleton possible, scroll down the Ingenious Timeline here and here.

For a description of Anson's voyage and life in the Royal Navy, here is O'Brian's novel.

Notes: Patrick O’Brian claimed he was born in Ireland, and the fictional hero of this, his first nautical novel, is an Irish boy, but O’Brian’s step-son, Nikolai Tolstoi, who wrote his biography, reported that the enigmatic writer was born in Britain to an English mother.

Maggie's Farm suggested the Scruton quote, from an essay published here.