THERE IS A PASSAGE in Master and Commander, the first of Patrick O'Brian's acclaimed series of historical sea novels, in which Stephen Maturin casually refers to the wealth of James Dillon, one of his shipmates.
"Surely to God you would never call me rich?" Dillon asks with some asperity.
Maturin: "I have ridden over your land."
Dillon: "It's three-quarters of it mountain, and one quarter bog; and even if they were to pay their rent for the rest it would only be a few hundred a year -- barely a thousand."
Maturin: "My heart bleeds for you. I have never...