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.
a boisterous voyage to Cythera: Cythera was supposed to be the birthplace of Venus, goddess of love: , there is a famous painting by Jean-Antoine Watteau, The Embarkation for Cythera.
thrown into a House of Correction: institutions established under the Elizabethan Poor Law for the incarceration of vagrants, beggars, and those guilty of minor offences and ‘disorderly conduct’.
some of the scullery-work: undertaking the rougher and less skilled tasks associated with the kitchen: washing and scouring pots and dishes, cleaning the floor, scrubbing vegetables, etc. Scullery-maid was an entry-level post that might lead to better-paid kitchen work of higher status
the grand climacterick period of a woman’s life: menopause.
some trouble – tho’ these fellows are very close about it and do not speak openly – within the ranks of the gentlemen of the Trade in those parts: besides their battles with the Revenue Officers, smugglers would often have vicious fights with other gangs.
raises her lorgnette: a pair of spectacles on a folding handle, held before the eyes
this precious stone, set in a silver sea: from John of Gaunt’s speech in Richard II, Act II, Scene 1
his interest in a couple of pocket boroughs: a pocket borough was a parliamentary constituency which, before the 1832 Reform Act, had a very small electorate and was in the pocket of a patron who could bring about the election of whoever he wished.
the very obvious problem of rotten boroughs: much the same as pocket boroughs: tended to refer to boroughs which had once been thriving centres of population and had subsequently declined.
in quite radickal need of reform: there were a great many objections to the composition of Parliament at this time, as being unrepresentative of large areas of the country and classes within the population which had risen to significance as a result of the Industrial Revolution.
diamond and emerald parure: a set of several pieces of jewellery intended to be worn together.
that Mrs F- has brought a cuckoo to the nest: i.e. that she has committed adultery and borne a child not her husband’s.
if there be anything in maternal impressions: the theory, which endured into the early twentieth century, that things that women saw during pregnancy, or events that had a deep effect upon them, would create an impression upon the child in the womb.
Her Grace the Duchess, tho’ at first seeming to do so well, has suddenly dy’d during the period of lying-in: as there is no mention of fever, probably thromboembolism: deep venous thrombosis in the aftermath of childbirth remains a known risk, and these days measures such as ensuring the woman gets up (rather than lying-in for a lengthy period) and wears pressure stockings, are undertaken to prevent it.
on the grounds that one that goes out a wet-nurse will almost certainly be a fallen woman: it was probably more likely than not that a woman obliged to earn a living as a wet-nurse would be a single mother in destitute circumstances, but poor married women might also undertake this.
the saying concerning sailors and horseflesh: a sailor on horseback was proverbially supposed to cut an awkward figure.
far better for his little Lordship than essaying to rear him by hand: artificial feeding of infants was by no means ideal and there was no notion of sterilising the equipment used: A Short History of the Baby Feeding Bottle.
do not stand there like a pillar of salt: In the book of Genesis, Lot’s wife was transformed into a pillar of salt upon looking back at Sodom.
some most eccentrique arrangements in the domestick affairs of some members of quite the highest aristocracy: given that many unions among the aristocracy were made for political or economic reasons and family benefit, after ‘an heir and a spare’ had been born a certain amount of latitude might be permitted. See also the marital arrangements of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.
might Euphemia put up a cooling sherbert: a chilled sweetened fruit drink.
I daresay he has to do with resurrection men: with the great expansion of anatomical research and education at this period and the prejudice against dissection, the supply of bodies was limited to those of condemned criminals. With the decline in the passing of capital sentences in the early nineteenth century, even though the penalty was still on the books, there were not enough bodies to fulfil the demand. This led to the development of a clandestine and remunerative trade in recently buried bodies, which ‘body-snatchers’ or ‘resurrection men’ would disinter from their graves and sell on to anatomists.
a condition of the heart that leads towards a dropsy: congestive heart failure leading to the accumulation of fluid in the soft tissues (oedema).
quite remarkable results in such cases can be obtain’d from the use of an extract of foxglove: while digitalis, from the foxglove, had been known to be of use in treating dropsy from the classical era, its use was put on a scientific and more reliable basis by the studies of William Withering published in 1785.
perchance, I think, she bears scars of whipping for some crime?: the judicial penalty of whipping for a range of crimes was only abolished for women in 1820.
specimen for a cabinet of curiosities: there was a great interest in curiosities and ‘freaks of nature’, on the borderline between the scientific and the sensational.
the Marquess is a dilettante that dabbles in the antiquities of the region and rather more than dabbles with Neapolitan ephebes: many gentlemen and members of the nobility from Northern Europe were attracted to the shores of the Mediterranean by its classical remains and also by the (usually mercenary) availability of sexual activities illegal in Britain.
tincture of digitalis, consider’d most exceeding effective for heart troubles, tho’ must be administer’d with great care and caution for can prove entire fatal if taken in excess: digitalis is indeed effective for certain heart disorders, but is also fatal in excess or if administered to someone who does not have a condition for which it is the remedy.
to Whitstable even if ‘tis not the season for oysters: a seaside town on the north Kent coast, famous for its oysters since Roman times, and by this period developing as a resort.
I daresay Dr Johnson’s remark about the dog on its hind legs would be invokt: on hearing about a Quaker meeting at which a woman preached, Dr Johnson said ’ a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all’.
badly knockt about by what they call the mala aria: malaria was endemic in many parts of the Italian peninsula at this time. The name ‘mala aria’ means ‘bad air’: it was attributed to airborne miasmas. It would be nearly a century before the role of the anopheles mosquito in its transmission was discovered.
working most covertly with the Carbonari: a network of secret Italian revolutionary societies with liberal and patriotic principles, allied to similar groups throughout Europe and South America, resisting the oppressive political situation after 1815, particularly evident in the southern parts of Italy, and aiming at the reunification of Italy.
The Worship of Priapus, a philosophickal study of the religious worship of the generative principle: Richard Payne Knight, A discourse on the worship of Priapus, and its connection with the mystic theology of the ancients (1786): based on his observations in the region of Naples.
I should desire to ensure that my own wealth was well-ty’d up: as otherwise under common law it became her husband’s property.
Why, I continue, sure I might be bearing an heir: ‘twould put his succession in doubt: the possibility that the widow might be pregnant would mean at least a delay in declaring the succession of the heir presumptive.
I am Nemesis incarnate in my vengeance: Nemesis was the Greek goddess of retribution.
A special licence is obtain’d. ‘Tis purpos’d to have a very quiet ceremony in the family chapel of R- House, with a few guests so that none can say the deed was done hugger-mugger: with a special licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury, a marriage could be conducted anywhere by a clergyman of the Church of England. However, to avoid any appearance of sinister secrecy, it was advisable to have a few witnesses.
my collections that I intend shall be donat’d to the British Museum: i.e. the antiquities he had accumulated while at Naples, left to the nation.
it may entertain ‘em to go about to bleed him or force him to drink noxious concoctions: this, unfortunately, was pretty much all that the medical profession could do in such a case.
a number of ladies have visit’d and left cards: an indication of social acceptance.
ladies in good society do not attend these mournfull occasions: it was not the custom for ladies to attend funerals.
o, she has sent up pikelets: which Seraphine had learnt to make for Mr F-.
In full aristocratick mourning and heavily veil’d to conceal the ravages of grief? The heavy mourning of immediate widowhood would indeed be concealing.
the inheritance of the title and the entail’d B- properties must wait upon the possibility of an heir of the late Marquess’s body: this would be standard procedure.
He may not intend your death, madame, says Docket, merely the miscarriage of any child you may be carrying: though measures to bring the latter about might well also bring about the former.
new livery should go be acquir’d to match my new station: outfitting the servants in a way more appropriate to her new rank, possibly in the heraldic colours of the Marquesses of B-.
eventually going to one of the Scottish universities, or mayhap some German place: where the curriculum would be more modern than at Oxford or Cambridge.
an agreeable small creature still in dresses: little boys wore dresses until they were breeched, and their hair cut, at the age of four or five.
very fine toy theatre, no trumpery tuppence-colour’d matter: reference to toy theatres made of paperboard and the production of printed sheets of theatrical characters for such theatres, plain for a penny, coloured for twopence
Tibby is waiting for me looking over an old copy of Ackermann’s Repository: Ackermann’s Repository of Arts was an illustrated periodical noted for its fashion plates.
I should rather have some improving work, do they have anything by Miss Edgeworth?: Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849), novelist and writer on education and social issues. Her fiction often had a somewhat didactic element. Her views were, for the day, progressive.
My mourning ring for the Duchess: a ring worn in memory of the deceased, often with their name, date of death, and an inscription; recipients were usually specified in the will. Made of dark substances, for example jet.
to apply for a writ de ventre inspiciendo: a writ to inspect a woman possibly pregnant, or feigning pregnancy, either to confirm the claim of a presumptive heir, or in instances when a woman ‘pleaded her belly’ against a sentence of execution.
and be brought to bed of a foundling child convey’d to the lying-in chamber in a warming-pan: allusion to the ‘warming-pan scandal’, when it was alleged that James Francis Edward, born to James II and his second wife Mary of Modena in 1688 after several children who died in infancy, was in fact a substitute for a stillborn child, conveyed into her chamber in a warming-pan. The birth of a healthy male Catholic heir was extremely politically contentious.
he was one of those fighting against the tyrannick and despotick rule of the Bourbon: The Bourbon dynasty had been restored to rule over the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (Sicily and Naples) in 1815. There were several popular revolts but the monarchy was only overthrown by Garibaldi in 1861 and the territory annexed to the new Kingdom of Italy.
lawd a’mercy, lawks a’mercy, this is none of I! like the lady in the rhyme:
There was an old woman, as I’ve heard tell
She went to market, her eggs for to sell.
She went to market, all on a summer’s day
And she fell asleep upon the King’s Highway.
There came by a pedlar whose name was Stout,
He cut her petticoats all round about;
He cut her petticoats up to her knees,
Which made the old woman to shiver and sneeze.
When the old woman first did wake,
She began to shiver and she began to shake.
She began to shake, she began to cry,
Lawd a’mercy, lawks a’mercy, this is none of I!
Lady J- says of course I must be present’d at court…. I shall be entire delight’d to sponsor you at a Drawing Room. You should be about the matter of court dress at once: She would be presented at a formal Drawing Room at St James’s Palace: due to the Regent’s matrimonial difficulties, presentations took place to Queen Charlotte (before her death in 1818) or one of the Regent’s sisters. Court dress was very rigidly stylised.
award the golden apple without fear or favour: allusion to the Judgement of Paris
‘tis as inauspicious as quoting from the Scottish play backstage: allusion to the theatrical taboo on quoting Macbeth.
I would perform a friend’s office in the laying out of the body: the laying out the body after death was a task often undertaken by women; here Biddy implies that she would undertake it in order to preserve Docket’s secret.
to cut the Gordian knot of this tangle: taking a direct and bold solution to an apparently intricate problem, from a proverbial incident in the life of Alexander the Great.
I nearly urge him to give sorrow words &C in the words of the Bard, but still have a foolish superstition against quoting from the Scottish play: ‘Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak/ Whispers the o’erfraught heart and bids it break’, Macbeth, Act 4, Scene 3
the provisions of the Code Napoleon on the subject are a model of enlightenment in defining such relations as a question of private morality and outside the business of the Law: same-sex acts in private were decriminalised in France in the Penal Code of 1791, and this was retained in the Napoleonic Penal Code of 1810, although there were still provisos concerning public morality and order. This also applied in several other countries of Europe which adopted this Code.
draw the undesir’d attentions of the Vice Society: the Society for the Suppression of Vice, founded 1802, by William Wilberforce, successor to the earlier Society for the Reformation of Manners and the Proclamation Society. Very concerned with preventing what it considered to be indecent (and blasphemous, i.e. atheist) publications. It was far less concerned with taking active measures against same-sex activities than the earlier Society for the Reformation of Manners, but there were a number of local societies, or even informal groups influenced by a similar morally-reforming agenda, which did pursue bringing prosecutions against men having sex with other men, or alleged to be doing so or soliciting it.
with quite vulgar haste… Mr G- sets about the formalities to have himself proclaim’d Marquess of B‑: this would involve applying to the Committee for Privileges for a Writ of Summons to attend the House of Lords, as well as the legalities confirming inheritance of the entailed property.
this quaint old-fashion’d regalia: Court dress, see above
in the dower house: a small house set aside for the widowed mother of the heir to an estate.
a horrid old hunks: a derogatory term for an unpleasant old man.
an English Bluebeard with his gallery of dead wives: the tale of Bluebeard was well-known by this time and already formed the basis of a pantomime.
the notaio: lawyer.
will shortly be able to move into lighter mourning: after six months a widow might wear somewhat lighter, though still sombre, colours, instead of unrelieved black.
Miss M- is quite Iago’s sister: a reference to the villain in Othello.
sure G- will be acquaint’d with the bishop from the Lords: the Bishop of Winchester was one of the Lords Spiritual and as such had a seat in the Lords.
a dispensary: more or less the equivalent to a general practitioner’s surgery: somewhere where the poor might go to seek medical advice and treatment.
the opera Finn the Fair by Mr P- and Mr G- D-… there are very strong similarities to that work of Ossian by Macpherson, that was so denounc’d by Dr Johnson: The purported poems of Ossian, composed by James Macpherson and published during the 1760s. Their authenticity was questioned at the time, and their similarity to Irish myths has been pointed out.
only to gaze upon her fascinating black Cerberus: Cerberus was the dog that guarded the gates to Hades.
a fine folly on the B- estates: a fanciful building erected for purely decorative and picturesque effect.
were I King Cophetua and she the beggarmaid: a legend known at least since Shakespeare’s time; it became a popular motif in Victorian poetry and art.
less like those that went about to unite Beatrice with Benedick, that I have been quite feeling about this match, and more like the villain Don John and his confederates that plott’d against Hero: allusion to Much Ado About Nothing.
to dwindle into a wife: Millamant, in Congreve’s Restoration comedy, The Way of the World (1700).
so that they do not pad their bills, but also know what is due towards one in your position: this would be common commercial practice.
to deliver the cut: to very deliberately refuse to acknowledge a person on encountering them.
what a deal of cheating practice goes forward in that world: it was only gradually that the rules of racing as established by the Jockey Club at Newmarket were taken up at other racecourses.
similar arrangements in the very highest ranks of society: see above re ‘eccentrique arrangements’.
Quintus imitates the action of a tiger: Shakespeare, Henry V, Act 2, Scene 1: ‘Then imitate the action of the tiger’.
a pretty little fantastickal tale in the Oriental style: a style which had become fashionable following the publication of English translations of The Arabian Nights or The Thousand and One Nights.
given the Marquess’s known avarice ‘tis unlikely that he will be about obtaining a special licence from the Archbishop…. licence has been obtain’d, rather than banns called: a special licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury was very expensive (over 20 guineas). However, an ordinary licence issued by the bishop of the diocese within which the marriage was to take place, or his surrogate, was a great deal cheaper.
that was requisite to certify the fellow as lunatick: I confide that there will have to be Chancery business over the estate: one of the responsibilities of the Court of Chancery was to manage the affairs of certified lunatics who owned property.
some private madhouse suit’d to his station: it would not be considered appropriate for a nobleman to be incarcerated in a public asylum such as Bedlam or St Luke’s but in one of the establishments set up for the reception of paying patients (or patients paid for by their relatives or guardians).
and have strait-jackets &C to hand: physical restraint of the insane was still common practice, in particular when there was fear of violence (or, as in this instance, manifest violence).
he never went about to obtain a formal separation: it would have been deleterious to a clergyman to have it known that matters within his marriage had come to such a pass that he sought a formal separation in the ecclesiastical courts. This, however, left his wife with all the responsibilities of that status.
some scurrilous tale concerning the Empress of Russia and a stallion: among the scurrilous legends told about Catherine the Great (1729-1796), Empress of Russia, was that she died while attempting intercourse with a stallion.
when there is less danger from feverish miasmas and the mala aria: i.e. during the autumn and winter months.
Marcello could appear under the guise of a cicerone: a guide to the antiquities and curiosities of a place.
as with the page Cherubino in that entertaining opera by Mozart: Cherubino, in The Marriage of Figaro (traditionally sung by a mezzo-soprano en travesti), in his first act aria, ‘Non so piu cosa son, cosa faccio’, declares his helpless attraction to every woman he encounters.
L.A. Hall, FRHistS