An Honourable Estate: 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.
you should be tippt the wink: given a hint.
you are at your elevens: midmorning break for refreshment.
for agitation and endeavouring to form a combination: setting up a trade union.
you will go become positive nabobs of the jam trade: persons of wealth and influence.
I did not desire merely to leave my card saying PPC: when somebody left Town, the convention was to leave cards marked PPC for ‘Pour Prendre Conge’ - to take leave.
a chicken pillow: a pilau, a rich rice-based dish with chicken.
the Desert’d Village so tellingly describ’d by Goldsmith: Goldsmith’s 1770 poem describes the evil effects of rural depopulation caused by enclosure and the activities of rapacious landowners.
another of these absentees that squeezes the poor peasantry: Maria Edgeworth’s 1812 novel The Absentee was an attack on Irish landlords who oppressed the peasantry via their agents in order to maintain a high life style in London Society.
would make a fine Medea: in the mythological tale of Jason and Medea as turned into the play by Euripides.
Mr W‑ as the Gravedigger: Hamlet, Act V, Scene 1.
even without there is an Iago steps between to make trouble: as in Othello.
‘Tis sure a tangl’d web, tho’ the deceit that was first practis’d was that of Lord N‑: Sir Walter Scott, Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field in Six Cantos:
Oh! what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive!
an entire hecatomb of rats: a piled-up heap of rats.
Wellington himself might envy my lines of communication: Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, leader of the allied forces against the French in the Peninsular Campaign during the Napoleonic Wars, and subsequently the victor at Waterloo. Noted for his victories against numerically superior forces.
chaste as ice, pure as snow, preserve the immediate jewel of our souls: Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1, Hamlet to Ophelia: Othello, Act III. Scene 3, Iago to Othello on one’s good name.
the opinion of Lord Chesterfield that they are merely children of a larger growth: expressed in one of his Letters to His Son: ‘A man of sense only trifles with them, plays with them, humors and flatters them, as he does with a sprightly forward child; but he neither consults them about, nor trusts them with serious matters’.
matters are unlike to gang aft agley: from Robert Burns, To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough (1785):
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley.
An essay on the natural history of Guiana: published by Edward Bancroft in 1769.
somewhat of what schoolboys call a muff: a feeble fellow.
set ‘em on to fight snakes quite as a raree‑show: popular entertainment.
Josiah murmurs somewhat about how doth the little busy bee: hymn for children by Isaac Watts (1715):
How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!
In works of labor or of skill,
I would be busy too;
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.
are ever ready to join in a mill: a fist-fight or brawl.
a very fine cashmere shawl that Sir C‑ F‑ had his cousin in Calcutta send: shawls were both practical and fashionable wear at the period, and those made from the wool of the sheep of Kashmir were particularly soft and luxuriously warm.
some tumbledown Castle Rackrent upon Mr Miles O’N‑’s estates: Castle Rackrent (1800) is a novel by Maria Edgeworth that satirises the mismanagement of their estates by Anglo-Irish (often absentee) landlords.
so heroick in the wars with Mysore: The Angl0-Mysore Wars, 1769-1799.
I am ever all mirth and no matter: Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, Act II, Scene 1.
‘tis a long way to the Border and Gretna Green: owing to the difference in the laws of marriage between England and Scotland - parental consent was not required for minors under 21 and marriages could be made by a declaration in front of two witnesses - Gretna Green, the first easily reachable village across the Scottish border, became the most popular destination for runaway couples.
the Marquess goes to Doctors’ Commons, where he may obtain a special license: Doctors’ Commons, located near St Paul’s Cathedral, was the society of lawyers practising ecclesiastical law: alluded to by Dickens in Sketches by Boz as ‘familiar by name to everybody, as the place where they grant marriage-licenses to love-sick couples’. A special license enabled the marriage to take place anywhere at any time of day rather than a designated church within the canonical hours.
a jaunt to Vauxhall: Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, on the south bank of the Thames. a famous and popular resort of public entertainment.
in order to buy bang: bhang, an edible preparation of cannabis.
mayhap crimpt aboard some ship: drugged and kidnapped to serve as a seaman.
over matters of debts of honour: gambling debts, i.e. debts that could not be sued for in court, but which the code of gentlemanly conduct considered should be paid.
some matter of the merchant to secure his treasure: ‘The merchant to secure his treasure, conveys it in a borrow’d name’: Matthew Prior (1664-1721), The merchant, to secure his treasure:
The merchant, to secure his treasure,
Conveys it in a borrow’d name:
Euphelia serves to grace my measure,
But Cloe is my real flame.
that may distract your mind from acting the Othello – or even, I add, the unprovok’d jealousy of Leontes: while Othello was given apparent evidence of Desdemona’s infidelity by Iago, in The Winter’s Tale, Leontes’ jealous belief that Hermione and Polixenes are having an adulterous affair comes from nowhere.
Swifter than arrow from Tartar’s bow! he declares: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act III, Scene 2, Puck to Oberon.
the story of King Cophetua and the Beggarmaid is very pretty: this was a popular trope in literature and art.
an uncle that shook down the banyan tree in Bombay: done well out of trade in India.
he dares says ‘tis entire wigs on the green at N‑ House about this race: an expression, Irish in origin, meaning a quarrel or altercation - said to date from the time when men wore wigs, and if a brawl started, these would soon fall off.
you would go cry Fie upon this quiet life, I want work: Shakespeare, Henry IV Part 1, Act II, Scene 4: ‘Fie upon this quiet life, I want work’.
like unto a midshipman that has been compliment’d by Nelson: a midshipman was a non-commissioned naval officer ranking immediately below the most junior commissioned officer, but considered a potential officer, with the entitlement to walk the quarterdeck: nonetheless it was a humble position, so being commended by the great naval hero would be a great source of pride.
the cut of his jib: distinctive personal appearance, nautical expression derived from the characteristic form of the jib, or stay-sail, of a ship.
an agreement to pay a peppercorn rent: a purely nominal rent.
that Neapolitan cicisbeo: the recognized (supposedly platonic) gallant or cavalier servente of a married woman in eighteenth century Italian custom.
‘tis the fever of a sicken’d brain like unto Leontes in A Winter’s Tale: when he supposes on no evidence whatsoever that Hermione is adulterous with Polixenes and the child she is pregnant with (Perdita) is not his own.
give out something that presents itself to be a university: Harvard College, f. 1636.
did it go dance the carmagnole outside their door: a dance associated with the French Revolution.
I did urge her to give sorrow words: Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 3, Malcolm to Macduff.
younger than she are happy mothers made: Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene 2, Paris to Capulet, about Juliet.
‘tis not the opera as we know it at Naples: England did not have a native operatic tradition comparable with those known on the continent.
desiring to say that he had quite entire made the career of a second Siddons: Sarah Siddons was perhaps the most celebrated actress of the age.
perchance the Marquess has rights of presentation to some snug living that might suit the Reverend Mr L‑: Appointments to benefices, i.e. positions as clergyman in parishes, paid out of tithes on local agriculture, were largely in the hands of individuals and institutions, and made on the basis of family interest and patronage.
the excursion they contriv’d to Ranelagh: Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens in Chelsea.
Lord A‑ will come with ‘em to the Music Meetings: these, which became the Three Choirs Festival which still takes place, originated as annual meetings of the cathedral choirs of Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester, rotating between the three cathedrals, founded c. 1715 to alleviate the poverty of widows and orphans of the diocese.
I have a deal of dislike to marriage myself, for places a deal of power in the hands of the husband and none at all in the hands of the wife: this is unfortunately a very fair summation of the state of the law as regards matrimony at the period.
providing that Cheapside would serve your purpose: Cheapside was a major shopping thoroughfare in the City of London.
Mr O’N‑ is hardly a Lovelace, I was in some concern that he intend’d to deal with me as that rogue did with Clarissa Harlowe and drug me: Lovelace is the villain, or some would claim anti-hero, of Samuel Richardson’s 1748 epistolary novel Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady .
a few simple chymical experiments out of the works of Mrs Marcet: Conversations on Chemistry, Intended More Especially for the Female Sex by Jane Marcet, pioneering writer of popular works on science.
at least he did not proceed to the Caesarean operation: successful Caesarian sections - i.e. with mother and baby both surviving were still rare at this period. One of the few recorded was performed by James Barry .
do not aspire to be Miss Herschel and discover new comets: Caroline Herschel, 1750-1848.
I laugh and say the world must be peopl’d!: from Benedick’s speech in Much Ado About Nothing, Act II, Scene 3, in which the revelation of Beatrice’s supposed love for him leads him to re-evaluate his views on marriage.
unlike the U‑s, he does not adhere to ancestral ways: he is not an observant Jew.
Satan would be quite bewilder’d by the busyest of C‑s: in the words of Isaac Watt’s hymn, ‘Satan finds some mischief still/ For idle hands to do’.
keep up with the modes by consulting La Belle Assemblée &C at the circulating library: La Belle Assemblée or, Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine Addressed Particularly to the Ladies, a British women’s magazine published from 1806 to 1837, particularly noted for its fashion plates.
there is a fine speech in Shakspeare that we have heard Lady B‑ read: The Merchant of Venice, Act III, Scene 2.
did not even have the benefit of a Sunday School: Sunday Schools had been set up from the later decades of the eighteenth century to provide basic education along with Bible study to children and young people who worked during the week.
he doubts not from things he says that he is a Deist, mayhap an entire freethinker: a Deist accepted the existence of a deity while rejecting revealed religion; a freethinker rejected the notion of a deity altogether on rationalist grounds.
would make Wellington mopish: Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, noted for his success in the Peninsular Campaign during the Napoleonic Wars and subsequently for the victory at Waterloo.
oblig’d to have dealings concerning her portion &C: there would very likely be some existing provision for a marriage portion for Lady Anna which would require legal dealings.
was not born in the purple: not of exalted rank (originally, members of the Byzantine royal family born to reigning parents).
the certain secret inner pockets in poachers’ jackets: pockets concealed inside poachers’ coats into which they could convey poached game to keep it concealed.
as ‘twould be a matter of a jury of his peers, the Earl would be arraign’d before the House of Lords: this continued to be the case for peers well into the twentieth century.
an asp conceal’d in a basket of figs so that I may cheat the Roman triumph: allusion to the means by which Cleopatra committed suicide rather than be led in triumph by Octavian.
confides ‘tis a tennis‑court: i.e. real or royal tennis, played on an indoor court. The modern game of lawn tennis dates only from the later nineteenth century.
hoist with his own petard, is’t not so? Has digg’d a pit, and fallen therein himself: Hamlet, Act III, Scene 2 (=Blown up with his own bomb); Psalm 57:6: ‘They have digged a pit before me, into the midst whereof they are fallen themselves’.
Mrs Atkins is a pearl of great price: Matthew 13:45-46.
clappt up in Bedlam or some discreet private house: Bethlehem Hospital was a public lunatic asylum just outside the City of London; particularly for the more elite patient, there were private houses that took care of the mentally-ill.
where I daresay marriage is very largely conduct’d upon Young Lochinvar lines: Young Lochinvar was the character in Sir Walter Scott’s Marmion who abducted his true love at her wedding to his rival.
not some matter of abducting an heiress: unscrupulous and impecunious men would sometimes attempt to repair their fortunes by abducting heiresses in order to marry them and thus gain control over their wealth. The law treated such cases very severely.
happy to serve seven years for her: Genesis 29:20: ‘And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her’.
she wishes one might go break the entail: creating entails upon estates in order to maintain them intact through generations led to considerable problems but breaking them was a legally intricate procedure.
L.A. Hall, FRHistS