(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Captain Horatio Hornblower, the commander of the thirty-six-gun frigate HMS Lydia, is sailing under sealed orders from England around the Horn to the Gulf of Fonseca on the western shores of Spanish America. He was ordered to form an alliance with Don Julian Alvarado, a large landowner, and assist in raising a rebellion against Spain. The Lydia carries the necessary munitions with which to start the revolution. In addition, Hornblower has fifty thousand guineas in gold, which he is to give for the support of the rebellion only if the revolt threatens to fail without English gold to back it. If he does otherwise, he will be court-martialed. His orders also casually mention the presence in Pacific waters of a fifty-gun Spanish ship called the Natividad, which he is ordered to take, sink, burn, or destroy at the first opportunity.

After the Lydia anchors in the Gulf of Fonseca, a small boat appears with emissaries from Don Julian, who now calls himself El Supremo. They tell Hornblower that El Supremo requires the captain’s attendance. Hornblower is not pleased with the evidence of El Supremo’s tyranny. What he observes makes him all the more cautious. He refuses to hand over to El Supremo the arms and ammunition until his ship takes on food and water. The ship is loaded with stores as rapidly as possible, and the operation is going forward when a lookout on the mountain announces the approach of the Natividad.

Deciding to try to capture the ship in the bay, Hornblower hides the Lydia behind an island as the Natividad approaches. At the moment of greatest advantage, Hornblower orders the ship to sail alongside the Natividad and rake its decks with grapeshot. The British sailors lash the two ships together and board the Natividad. El Supremo demands the captured ship as his own. Hornblower hesitates to turn over his prize to El Supremo, but if he is to fulfill his orders he dares not antagonize the dictator.

Hornblower sails away and shortly afterward learns that upon Napoleon’s deposition of King Ferdinand, England is now an ally of Spain. He also receives further orders, one from his admiral and one from an Englishwoman in Panama, Lady Barbara Wellesley, the duke of Wellington’s sister, who requests transportation to England. During this period, the Lydia meets and defeats the Natividad, now commanded by El Supremo. The long period together on board ship leads to a deep love between Lady Barbara and Hornblower, but the captain cannot bring himself to act on that love because of his wife, Maria, at home. Lady Barbara is carried safely to England.

Hornblower is next ordered to command HMS Sutherland, a seventy-four-gun battleship. He sails with the Pluto and the...

(The entire section is 1159 words.)