To the Editors:

Robert Messenger’s article on Patrick O’Brian’s naval novels (“Patrick O’Brian’s naval mastery,” May 2005) contains five errors in the first three sentences.

Three British warships are referred to as “the HMS” so-and-so. HMS stands for “His (or Her) Majesty's Ship” and to refer to a British warship as “the HMS” is as gross a solecism as referring to “the Hoi Polloi.”

Frigates are not capital ships.

The actions referred to were not equal fights. Britain had, apart from a brief truce, been at war with France for more than twenty years. The British ships involved were worn-out, as were the men. They were all under-crewed. The American ships were new, better designed, larger, more strongly built and had large, well-motivated volunteer crews.

This is not said to denigrate the American achievement, which was truly magnificent,...


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