There's something remarkable about this passage. Here it is:
Though unconscionably long, it was a most companionable voyage, particularly as the Surprise was able to do away with much of the invidious difference between deliverer and delivered by providing the sickly and under-manned Berenice with a surgeon, her own having been lost, together with his only mate, when their boat overturned not ten yards from the ship—neither could swim, and each seized the other with fatal energy—so that her people, sadly reduced by Sydney pox and Cape Horn scurvy, were left to the care of an illiterate but fearless loblolly-boy; and to provide her not merely with an ordinary naval surgeon, equipped with little more than a certificate from the Sick and Hurt Board, but with a full-blown physician in the person of Stephen Maturin, the author of a standard work on the diseases of seamen, a Fellow of the Royal Society with doctorates from Dublin and Paris, a gentleman fluent in both Latin and Greek (such a comfort to his patients), a particular friend of Captain Aubrey's and, though this was known to very few, one of the Admiralty's—indeed of the Ministry's—most valued advisors on Spanish and Spanish-American affairs: in short an intelligence-agent, though on a wholly independent and voluntary basis.How many sentences in that passage? How many different types of punctuation?
I find that just incredible. 207 words, and I bet most people wouldn't even spot it if they were reading the book. He gets away with it because his rhythm is absolutely perfect.
O'Brian would be the greatest living writer of the English language, if he weren't dead.