The Comfortable Courtesan: Allusions & References
Writing for herself, Clorinda had no need to explain many of the passing allusions and references she made in writing her memoirs. As they may sometimes be a little opaque to the present reader, they are decoded – as far as possible – here.
Harriette Wilson: Regency courtesan and author of The Memoirs of Harriette Wilson: Written by Herself (1825). Became the mistress of William, Lord Craven at the age of 15. Later in her career, she went on to have business arrangements with Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, and other significant politicians. She offered to leave names out of her memoirs for pay, leading the Duke of Wellington allegedly to say ‘publish and be damned’.
Hon Company: The Honourable East India Company, originally set up to establish trade with the East Indies; during the 18th century it began to acquire and rule substantial territories within the subcontinent, maintaining a large private army of both European and native troops to maintain its power. In 1813 it finally began to license traders to engage in commerce with India but retained its monopoly over the trade with China.
Siddons: Mrs Sarah Siddons née Kemble (1755-1831), one of the most acclaimed actresses of the period, particularly famed for her tragic roles. She more or less retired from the stage in 1812 though made occasional appearances for several more years. One of the few non-royal women to have a statue in London. One of her most famous roles was Lady Macbeth.
Wedgwood china: Josiah Wedgwood and the family business he established had been making technical and aesthetic innovations in china and porcelain since the 1760s. The family were prominent abolitionists and some of their products had anti-slavery motifs.
Aretino’s Postures: the name commonly given to a series of sixteen erotic engravings based on paintings by the Italian Renaissance artist Giulio Romano, to which sonnets by Pietro Aretino were added. Probably a later edition.
Damson cheese: a relish made by cooking a puree of damsons until very thick, and cooling until set solid; sliced to serve with cheese, etc.
Gift like to that sent by Queen Eleanor to Fair Rosamund: Rosamund Clifford was one of the mistresses of the Plantagenet King Henry II. A legend grew up that his Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, had found her in the place where she was concealed and offered her a dagger or a cup of poison.
a modern Desdemona: in Shakespeare’s Othello, Desdemona is led to fall in love with him by listening to the tales of his heroic exploits.
nowtch girls: nautch girls, highly regarded elite performers of Indian classical dance, considered very seductive.
a pretty little book, in which, tho’ I cannot read the legend, the paint’d pictures tell the story fully enough: possibly the Kama Sutra? a selection of images, some of them possibly of around the right period, may be found here.
The ducks of Bombay or the koihais in Bengal: East India Company rule in India was based in three separately administered Presidencies: Madras, Bombay and Bengal. There were slightly disparaging nicknames for the company employees in each: the ducks of Bombay, the koihais of Bengal, the mulls of Madras.
I can guess what’s toward there, and must hoist a quarantine warning: i.e. he has a sexually-transmitted infection.
That moving aria of the sorrowfull Countess: ‘Dove sono i bei momenti’, from Act 3 of Le Nozze di Figaro.
Picturesque Welsh seclusion: an allusion to the Ladies of Llangollen, Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby, who in spite of family opposition, and one failed elopement from Ireland, lived together for many years in rural Wales, and were considered an epitome of romantic devotion. They were much visited by the great and good andcurious of the day.
Rice pillow: rice pillau, a rich savoury dish in Indian cookery.
Harrogate: Harrogate was a popular and thriving spa town in the West Riding of Yorkshire, its chalybeate (iron) and sulphur springs being considered of considerable health benefit. Like other spa towns, it also had a good deal of entertainment of various kinds available to visitors.
Royal Academician: The Royal Academy of Arts was founded in London in 1768 with the aim of raising the professional status of the artist through training. There was a limited membership of 40 practising artists, with a category of associates who were members in waiting.
Shaken the banyan tree: made his fortune through trade in India.
His bibi: his native mistress. At this period many officers and civil servants of the East India Company lived in open and respected relationships with native women and provided generously for the offspring of these unions.
East India Museum: the East India Company’s premises at Leadenhall Street in the City of London included a museum of the products of India, artefacts and curiosities
Mr H- has the prettyest little mansion on the Channel coast near Brighton: this part of the coast, a very short distance across the Channel from France, was a hotbed of smugglers.
Cooling sherbet: a chilled sweetened fruit drink.
That unhappy creature, The Hottentot Venus: Sarah Baartman (also spelled Sara, sometimes in the diminutive form Saartje, and Bartman, Bartmann, or Baartmen, was the most well known of at least two Khoikhoi women from South Africa, who, due to their large buttocks, were exhibited as freak show attractions in 19th-century Europe under the name of Hottentot Venus.
widely black-ball’d: To exclude (a person) from society, a profession, etc.; to ostracize; from use of black balls to record a negative vote on admission to clubs etc.
to see her a penitent magdalene : i.e. a repentant prostitute
spunges: the use of a sponge,soaked in vinegar and/or oil, as an occlusive contraceptive device, was known of at this time.
baudruche: a condom; at this period would have been handmade from animal gut, reusable, and expensive. Employed for the avoidance of sexually transmitted infections, also advocated for contraceptive use.
on-dit: a rumour, gossip – from the French ‘one says’
pikelets: a kind of crumpet or teacake: considerable regional variations as to what pikelet signified.
Queen Maud: The Empress Matilda or Maud (1102-1167), daughter of Henry I of England, married to the Holy Roman Emperor, designated heir to the English throne after the death of her brother William, and, now a widow, married to Geoffrey of Anjou. On her father’s death her succession was contested by her cousin Stephen resulting in civil war. She was finally succeeded by her son, Henry II.
cowcumbers : cucumbers
their regiment order’d to the Cape: Cape Colony, at the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, formerly a Dutch colony, and after several transfers back and forth, assigned to Britain by the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814.
forbid the use of mantraps: These were often set against poachers and trespassers at this period, and could cause considerable injury. They were eventually banned.
follower of the Utilitarian philosophers: Followers of the school of philosophy associated with Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), arguing that the greatest happiness of the greatest number should be the measure of right and wrong, and that the ideal was the maximisation of felicity.
crim.con. action: a legal action in which a husband would sue his wife’s seducer for damages for ‘criminal conversation’. A staple of scandal-sheets. Also a necessary preliminary to the cumbersome procedure of obtaining a parliamentary divorce.
when the print-makers of Holywell Street publish a hideous caricature: Holywell Street, off the Strand, was the centre of pornographic publishing. Well-known persons of the day were at the risk of being obscenely caricatured.
Oronooko, The Royal Slave: 1688 novel, also turned into a play, by Aphra Behn, concerning an African prince tricked into slavery and transported to Surinam, where he leads a slave revolt.
this Iago: reference to Shakespeare’s Othello and Iago’s scheming to create jealousy of Desdemona.
quizzing-glasses go up: a single lens, usually in an ornate frame and on a chain or ribbon, lifted to the eye to examine some matter of interest.
give away his mother’s handkerchief to Cassio: allusion to the scheme of Iago in Othello to create doubt as to Desdemona’s fidelity.
the prettyest madhouse in elegant rural seclusion in Sussex: Ticehurst House, private lunatic asylum founded 1792 in extensive grounds.
the remarkable Mrs Somerville: Mary Somerville (1780-1872) nee Fairfax, polymath and writer on science, noted mathematician and astronomer.
canting Evangelickal fellow: from the late eighteenth century there was a revival within the Church of England emphasising the conversion experience and rejecting ritualism and displaying a concern for the wider moral reform of society. Their earnestness and intensity and prying into the state of their parishioners’ souls did not make them universally popular.
observe Mr H- operate at Barts: St Bartholomew’s Hospital, Smithfield, City of London, f. 1123, according to legend by Rahere, the jester of Henry I. At this period operations were often attended by an audience.
a successful Caesarian operation perform’d by Mr Barry at the Cape: James Miranda Barry was not the first person to successfully perform a Caesarian operation, but these were still rare enough for the one performed by Barry when serving with the Army at the Cape, survived by mother and child, to be noteworthy.
Islington Green: Islington at this time was a village outside London, a popular place for excursions and entertainments and a residential area outside the noise and smoke of the town
an eating-house near to the East India Dock for his seafaring compatriots: significant numbers of lascars, South Asian seamen in the employ of the East India Company, came to London each year and might spend some time there between voyages, or even settle.
has her fortune carefully ty’d up: while under English common law when a woman married her property became her husband’s until the passage of the Married Women’s Property Acts in the later nineteenth century, it was possible under Equity law to tie up any fortune a woman might have to her own use, although this might be constrained by the imposition of trustees.
turn you on the parish or make you abandon your child at the Foundling Hospital: i.e. cast her out of the house to take what provision the poor law provided, or else give up her child at the Foundling Hospital in Coram’s Fields, Bloomsbury
some common Covent Garden Miss: Covent Garden was the centre of the London sex-trade, but Clorinda would consider herself superior to the women who conducted their business there.
might bring an action before the magistrate for the maintenance of the child. Furthermore, he says, I consider that you yourself would have convincing grounds for a suit against him for the seduction of your servant: It was possible for a woman who had been got with child outside of wedlock to bring an action to ‘swear a bastard’ upon the father in order to obtain maintenance. There was also the rather curious law of seduction whereby an employer could sue a seducer for the loss of a servant’s services.
customary vails: usual tips
Miss Herschel watching the skies: Caroline Herschel (1750-1848), sister of Sir William Herschel, Astronomer Royal, and noted astronomer in her own right
as if I had sent a card to the Prince: i.e. the Prince Regent, later George IV.
something in the style of Scott: the novels of Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) on Scottish history were making a considerable impression: although they were at first published anonymously his authorship – he was already well-known as a poet - was an open secret.
in the City: i.e. on financial business in the City of London
the gathering-place for his fellow artists and many other virtuosi: this was a common thing at artists’ studios.
one of those high-playing continental spaws: Continental spas where taking the waters for health were often combined with facilities for gambling as well as other forms of entertainment
carry’d screaming to Bedlam: Bedlam, or Bethlem, Hospital, St Mary Bethlehem, founded in 1247, and for centuries the only public institution for the care of the insane in England.
if Lady Hamilton was to be enacting her celebrat’d Attitudes: Emma Hamilton (1765-1815), one of the famed beauties of her day, evolved a form of performance art recreating scenes from classical mythology, which became exceedingly renowned and imitated.
Upper Canada: one of the provinces of British North America, approximately equivalent to southern Ontario. Haven for Loyalist refugees fleeing from the American Revolution
A dissenting minister: a minister in one of the nonconformist, non-Anglican, churches
does not play at being a milk-maid like the late French Queen: Marie Antoinette was widely reputed to have played this pastoral charade.
the risks I ran as a young man of being taken up for snaring rabbits: poaching was potentially a capital offence, or at least leading to transportation under the Game Laws, which severely restricted who might preserve and shoot game.
as the lady in the play puts it, dwindle into a wife: Millamant, in Congreve’s Restoration comedy, The Way of the World (1700).
removes a lorgnette from her reticule: a pair of spectacles on a handle, held before the eyes; a small drawstring bag, originally made of netting, carried by women to hold money and small items.
that an Italian name for a singer signifies a castrato: there had been several internationally renowned Italian castrato singers (male singers who had been castrated before puberty to retain their purity of tone combined with adult force) during the eighteenth century, with opera roles written for them by major composers. By the early nineteenth century the age of the castrato was in decline but the operation remained legal in Italy until 1861 and the last of the castrati survived into the age of gramophone recording.
born under a dancing star: as with Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing: ‘my mother cried, but then there was a star danced, and under that I was born’.
Silvia in The Recruiting Officer: The breeches role in Farquhar’s 1706 comedy.
waters particular beneficial for ladies that are pale and find themselves tiring readyly: the chalybeate waters at Harrogate contain salts of iron so might prove beneficial in degrees of anaemia.
so that you may name your friends: i.e. arrange seconds for a duel
that entertaining story by Madame d’Arblay, Evelina: Fanny Burney published her first and most famous novel Evelina: or the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World in 1778; in 1793 she married the French Constitutionalist emigré, Genera lAlexandre D’Arblay.
some ginger in my reticule: against queasiness.
Mr Owen of New Lanark: Robert Owen, utopian socialist and founder of the cooperative movement.
one of the most admirable works by a female philosopher he knows of: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft.
Messrs Bentham and Mill, the Comte de St-Simon, Mr Owen’s theories, model cottages, the evils of the truck system: James Mill (the father of John Stuart Mill); Henri de St Simon, utopian socialist; truck system – payment by tokens or vouchers redeemable at a company store.
not the least desire to towsell-mowsell: engage in sexual fondling or heavy petting.
Mrs Carter that was a not’d scholar of Antient Greek: Elizabeth Carter (1717-1806) was a leading member of the Bluestocking circle, a friend of Dr Johnson, and a scholar of Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Arabic.
take any money that I have put by, that I understand is his legal right: under English Common Law, any property or earnings of a wife belonged to her husband.
was train’d at the Lying-In Hospital that is now called after the Queen: founded in 1739 as a charitable infirmary for women in dire need. In 1752 moved to larger premises in Marylebone and known as the General Lying-In Hospital, became a teaching institution for midwifery. In 1809 Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, became its patron.
the worst thing seen on the London stage since Vortigern: Vortigern and Rowena was produced in London in 1796, allegedly a newly discovered work by Shakespeare. It was in fact by the notorious forger William Henry Ireland. It was not well-received.
those that cannot bring themselves to like the idea of a man-midwife: Male practitioners were increasingly engaging in midwifery, but largely among elite patients, who considered it fashionable and modern.
attitude recalling that of Mr J- in the balcony scene: in Romeo and Juliet.
I fear we have, no, I understand ‘tis most inauspicious to quote from the Scottish play: allusion to the theatrical superstition about the ill-effects of quoting from Macbeth: the reference is to the line ‘we have scotched the snake, not killed it’.
as bad as the Mohocks are report’d to have been, a regular Hellfire set: the Mohocks were allegedly a gang of upper-class thugs terrorising London in the early eighteenth century, but they appear to be an early instance of an urban myth created by the sensationalist reporting of the Grub Street press; similarly it is hard to distinguish the reality of the Hellfire Club from sensationalist accounts, but there were certainly groups of elite males engaging in organised immoral and blasphemous activities and pagan rituals during the eighteenth century.
ran on to our land to evade the keepers: we were known for being severe about standing on our bounds, for we were no tenants but yeoman farmers: i.e. they owned their own land and were not obliged to let the local lord’s keepers pursue miscreants onto it; whereas tenant farmers would have been. There was a good deal of hostility to the preservation of game: game-birds and animals might make free of farmers’ crops but they were forbidden to take any measures to prevent this, as well as feeling resentment against landlords’ monopoly on this source of food.
The Modern Prometheus: Mr MacD- has told Mr F- ‘tis very fine and quite out of the common, far superior to anything by Mrs Radcliffe: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein;or, The Modern Prometheus (1818); Ann Radcliffe, founder of Gothic Fiction.
their effect on the humours: Humoral theory remained an influential way of thinking about the body and health into the early nineteenth century
badly rhym’d squib concerning Venus, intending you, my dear, eloping with Mercury: the implication being that she had gone into seclusion for mercurial treatment of syphilis.
fresh as a milkmaid: milkmaids were noted for the freshness of their complexions, a phenomenon largely attributable to their contracting cowpox and thus acquiring immunity to the far more disfiguring, and very prevalent, disease of smallpox: this observation led Edward Jenner to the concept of vaccination.
laudanum: alcoholic tincture of opium, used for pain relief or recreation.
Commission for improvements: a local government board set up by private Act of Parliament to undertake matters of paving and cleansing streets, lighting, providing watchmen and dealing with nuisances, funded by levying rates.
a very fine fossil: this was an age of great developments in palaeontology and the uncovering of the fossil record.
hearing ‘em their horn book: a child’s first learning primer of a sheet with the alphabet etc on it, in a frame with a handle, originally covered with horn, whence the name.
nightmare that he is back at Eton as a very little boy: boys were sent to public school very young in the early nineteenth century, and the schools were notably brutal with an accepted regime of bullying.
He says ‘twas at Ranelagh: Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens in Chelsea.
who attempt’d my acquaintance in pleasure gardens: Clorinda no longer needed to solicit for clients at pleasure gardens; she was in a position for men to come to her to solicit her favour and to be choosy.
snubb’d him at Vauxhall or some such place: Vauxhall Gardens, Kennington, on the south bank of the Thames, a significant venue for pleasure and entertainment from the late seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century.
spike his guns: thwart his designs, a metaphor drawn from the rendering of a gun unserviceable by driving a spike into the touch-hole.
incarcerate in debtors’ prison: prisons in which debtors unable to pay their creditors were incarcerated, until they had worked off their debt or managed to obtain funds. The description of the Marshalsea in Dicken’s Little Dorrit is based on his own experience when his father was imprisoned there for debt.
insulted one of the patronesses of Almack’s: Almack’s Assembly Rooms, King Street, St James, London, run by a group of ladies in the very highest society, the Patronesses, and very exclusive: only those who passed their approval were permitted to purchase vouchers admitting them to the weekly balls. Insulting one of them would be social suicide for a young lady on the marriage market.
kedgeree: An Indian dish of rice boiled with split pulse, onions, eggs, butter, and condiments; also, in European cookery, a dish made of cold fish, boiled rice, eggs, and condiments, served hot.
a generous compliment: a substantial tip
to a most touching lament from an opera upon the subject by Purcell: Dido’s Lament from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas.
to Margate: Margate was already a flourishing seaside resort offering health-giving seawater baths for visitors; Royal Sea-Bathing Hospital founded there, 1793-6.
L.A. Hall, FRHistS