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(From The Wrecker by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne, Chapter XIII, published 1892)

Passage 210

Thence we turned our attention to the table, which stood spread, as if for a meal, with stout ship's crockery and the remains of food—a pot of marmalade, dregs of coffee in the mugs, unrecognisable remains of foods, bread, some toast, and a tin of condensed milk. The table-cloth, originally of a red colour, was stained a dark brown at the captain's end, apparently with coffee; at the other end, it had been folded back, and a pen and ink-pot stood on the bare table. Stools were here and there about the table, irregularly placed, as though the meal had been finished and the men smoking and chatting; and one of the stools lay on the floor, broken.

“See! they were writing up the log,” said Nares, pointing to the ink-bottle. “Caught napping, as usual. I wonder if there ever was a captain yet, that lost a ship with his log-book up to date? He generally has about a month to fill up on a clean break, like Charles Dickens and his serial novels. What a regular, lime-juicer spread!” he added contemptuously. “Marmalade—and toast for the old man! Nasty, slovenly pigs!”

I read the sentence in question as follows: He...has about a month to fill up___on a clean break ( = on a clean breakdown???, or, maybe, on a clean brake (the ship ran aground :)???). What does on a clean break mean there? Thank you for helping.

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    I think the OP is misparsing the sentence; it's "he has a month to fill up", modified by "on a clear break", rather than "fill up on a clean break" being an idiomatic expression.
    – Stuart F
    Oct 23, 2023 at 8:28
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    I think we would now say "catch up".
    – Barmar
    Oct 23, 2023 at 15:06
  • You have cross-posted this question: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/343032/…
    – Lambie
    Oct 23, 2023 at 15:12
  • @ Lambie: Not cross-posted - 'post'-posted on recommendation of our member TimR. Please have a look at your link once again.
    – philphil
    Oct 23, 2023 at 20:04

1 Answer 1

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My guess:
the Captain is likely to be about a month behind writing the log, so that when he has a block of free time (a clean break) he can write the missing parts of (fill up) the log.

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  • Yes, well, it is all a guessing game.
    – Lambie
    Oct 23, 2023 at 15:13

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