My latest hero, C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower, makes an interesting observation in the 9th book, (the one I am reading tonight), Commodore Hornblower.
Facing difficult decisions in the Baltic in the period immediately before and after hostilities open between Sweden, Russia and France (led by England’s arch nemesis, Napoleon Bonaparte), Hornblower is suddenly, deeply, homesick. He finds his command and the many duties and expectations heaped upon his slighting stooping shoulders suddenly overwhelming (those who spend the life in the cramped quarters of ships almost always slouch a bit); he misses his wife, child, and the trivial chores of the land-based life in England that he found almost stultifying at the beginning of the book.
Then he calls himself back to the realities both of who he is and of human nature generally: “And here he was complaining to himself about the burden of responsibility, when responsibility was the inevitable price one had to pay for independence: irresponsibility was something which, in the very nature of things, could not co-exist with independence.”
Responsibility/independence. I’ve never heard the words rigged quite so cleverly.
What a wonderful thing it is to call one’s own shots. Yes, it’s nice to get help; it’s very nice to feel taken care of; to have some prop holding up the idea of self-reliance. But to be able to say “screw you”has a special satisfaction, which, of course, comes with a price. If you say, “screw you”, to someone, it’s helpful to be able to live without that person’s financial or emotional support.
Perhaps this is all very obvious. Perhaps I’m just blinded by my current affection for all things Hornblower. (He really is a very charming character.) But I find his direct correlation between responsibility and independence remarkably thoughtful. The odd thing is that when one is burdened with responsibility, it is hard to actually feel independent; often, especially in today’s society, independence is equated with freedom–freedom from ties, freedom from responsibilities. But that freedom, or carefreedom, is different from the strength, the possibility for discretion, that Hornblower sees as independence. (Hornblower catches this irony too as he describes the envy he feels for the able-bodied seamen, who have the carefree nonchalance of those whose only job is to competently carry out orders.)
Hornblower’s understanding all this doesn’t negate his sharp longing for his wife’s hand, son’s smile. But, ever the stoic Brit, the Naval officer, he (silently) goes down to his cabin to study the chart of Riga Bay.