"Six Of One And Half-a-dozen Of The Other"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Captain Marryat of the British navy served afloat for twenty-three years, beginning in 1806 as a midshipman aboard the frigate Impérieuse under Lord Cochrane, and ending as a Commander. Then he fell from favor through his articles against the impressment of sailors, and he retired to write exciting sea stories about young men corrupted by the navy where advance came only through cruelty and where the most responsible had the least ability. As editor of the Metropolitan Magazine from 1832 to 1835, he wrote some of his best novels, with delightful humor and genuine pathos. That he is not entirely out of date a century later is proved by a twenty-six-volume set of his works that appeared in 1930. The Pirate is one of four novels that he published in 1836. In the publication of his complete works it appears in Volume X, with Olla Podrida. The story begins in the Bay of Biscay in 179-, where the schooner Circassian, with cotton out of New Orleans for Liverpool, has been driven by a storm, following the crash of its mast. Aboard are a Negress, her companion, and "Massa Edward," one of the twin grandsons of an English trader. The baby's mother and other twin were rescued, but waves prevented the return of the boat for the rest. Now a pirate ship is bearing down on the wreck. Then comes a flashback; not until much later is the thread resumed. The baby has been saved and brought up as Francisco, a pirate. Years later, when he is captured and is about to be hanged, his identity is discovered, and he and his twin brother are reunited. In Chapter IV, part of the flashback, details of the trip from America are described. Oswald, the chief mate, overhears the sailors discussing their hope of a long layover and shore leave at Liverpool. One of them, Bill, says he will make use of the time to get married. The expression "six of one and half-a-dozen of the other" indicating a supposed difference where none really exists, is now very common.

"Why, how often do you mean to get spliced, Bill? You've a wife in every State, to my sartain knowledge."
"I arn't got one at Liverpool, Jack."
"Well, you may take one there, Bill; for you've been sweet upon that nigger girl for these last three weeks."
"Any port in a storm, but she won't do for harbour duty. But the fact is, you're all wrong there, Jack: it's the babies I likes–I likes to see them both together, hanging at the nigger's breasts. I always think of two spider-monkeys nursing two kittens."
"I knows the women, but I never knows the children. It's just six of one and half-a-dozen of the other; an't it, Bill?"
"Yes, like two bright bullets out of the same mould. I say, Bill, did any of your wives ever have twins?"
"No; nor I don't intend, until the owners give us double pay."