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.
the pen of Mrs Radcliffe: Ann Radcliffe, noted author of Gothic novels combining sensation with sensibility: ‘For most contemporary readers, the charm and much of the originality of Radcliffe’s novel lay in her descriptions of landscape, which were influenced by her favorite painters–Salvator Rosa, Claude, and Gaspar Poussin’.
Milord and I are bidden to a ridotto: An entertainment consisting of music, dancing, and sometimes gambling, often in masquerade.
how putting on a mere domino: a small mask covering the eyes worn as part of a masquerade
of the rank of Junker: a member of the landed nobility of Prussia.
the police in these parts are quite notorious for corruption and oppression: this may reflect a certain British prejudice, along with understandable feeling against the tools of the oppressive regime against which the late Marquess had been conspiring.
perchance I should go masquerade as a Handsome Cabin Boy as in the song: in which a young woman masquerades as a cabin boy in order to go to sea, attracts the amorous attention of the captain’s wife, and also of the captain, to whom she eventually bears a child.
my dear mama had me scratcht against the smallpox when I was but a child: variolation for smallpox had been introduced to Britain from Turkey in the early eighteenth century; by the early nineteenth century this was beginning to be superseded by Edward Jenner’s discovery of vaccination.
for sure I would not be able to claim a universal law that could justify the action: there have presumably been discussions of Kant and the Categorical Imperative.
envies those fellows that are set to the task of hunting slave-ships: after the British abolition of the slave-trade in 1807 the Royal Navy was used to shut down the continuing clandestine trade.
I think they are a little shockt when I give ‘em Juliet’s nurse: who is unashamedly bawdy in her speech (‘thou wilt fall backwards’).
his very unconvincing attempt to act the Othello: i.e. to rage with unfounded jealousy.
given me quite the Nelson touch: daring and bold strategy.
they will be performing Don Giovanni…. sure I wish I might call upon statues to deal with troublesome fellows: in the final act of Mozart’s opera, the statue of the Commendatore, mockingly invited to supper by Giovanni, comes to life and carries him to hell.
one does not carry a reticule: a netted drawstring bag.
any actor that plays Hamlet confront’d by his father’s restless spirit: a favourite scene from the play for actors to be painted in.
to offer her smelling-bottle: containing sal volatile or other ammonium salts, meant to revive to consciousness.
he fears he would contract a stroke of the sun: sunstroke.
unless perchance they have read Scott: the novels of Sir Walter Scott had an enormous influence throughout Europe.
is a world that has such creatures in’t: a misquotation of Miranda’s line in The Tempest, Act 5, Scene 1, ‘O brave new world, That has such people in ’t!”
being embarrassing in Italian by speaking it like unto Mrs Malaprop: the character in Sheridan’s The Rivals whose use of incorrect words of similar sound to the ones she intends has given the term ‘malapropism’ to the language.
in the expectation no doubt that he would vanish with a smell of sulphur: i.e. that he is demonic if not actually the devil.
Tho’ I see ‘em make certain signs at her and mutter, strega: = ‘witch’.
in England we no longer have any superstitious beliefs in witchcraft: the 1735 Witchcraft Act made a superstitious belief in magic powers an offence, and therefore it became a crime to pretend to magic powers to deceive the public. However, this did not entirely do away with popular and folk belief in cunning-folk with occult powers.
il bello scozzese: the lovely/handsome Scot.
she herself is found in very low spirits most unlike her usual wont…the profession can advise nothing but bleeding, opium, and warm baths that do nothing: these were what was generally prescribed at the period for post-natal depression.
As Marmion remarkt, oh what a tangl’d web we weave: Canto XVII, lines 532-3, of Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field by Sir Walter Scott, first published in 1808.
distribute the cameos and other trinkets made out of lava and some of the quaint pretty little figures that they make in those parts to compose nativity scenes: Naples had a long tradition of making cameos and curios out of volcanic lava, and also of elaborate presepi or crib scenes of the Nativity.
‘tis less to be concern’d with than when they become very wild and excit’d: this would indicate the onset of puerperal psychosis. The rise of interest in this condition in the early nineteenth century, and its treatment, has been documented by Hilary Marland.
Dearest Scheherazade: Translations of the The Arabian Nights had been available for over a century.
Waits come and there is a wassail bowl: traditional carol-singers; a warming drink of mulled ale or cider with cream, roasted apples, spices, etc served at Christmas.
snapdragon: a Christmas game with dried fruit, usually raisins, and sometimes almonds, placed in a bowl with brandy and the brandy set alight, the idea being to snatch the raisins out without being burnt.
I do not think he would be entirely happy with a gooseberry in the party: an unwanted third party or intrusive chaperone.
the green room afore an opening performance: the room where the actors gather when they are not on stage.
by way of the Diplomatick Bag: the container holding correspondence etc sent from a diplomatic mission to the home government or other official bodies, conveyed by an accredited diplomatic courier, and customarily having diplomatic immunity from search or seizure. They could sometimes be used for entirely non-official communications.
altho’ the effects are very subtle, yet I am not sure that those hints of civet, musk, ambergris &C: these are substances used in perfumery to convey distinctly erotic and sensual notes, appropriate to Clorinda’s former occupation but less suited to her new station.
I am quite turn’d into Beatrice, and find myself speaking all mirth and no matter: Much Ado About Nothing, Act II, Scene I, Beatrice to Don Pedro.
but 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 borrowed name.
Euphelia serves to grace my measure, But Cloe is my real flame.
some tale of star-crosst lovers: lovers who, like Romeo and Juliet, are kept apart by external forces.
did he go fall into the clutches of those that crimp hands for the lower decks: to entrap for service on board ship.
some fellow that had brought up an orphan girl with the intention of forming her into a perfect wife: Thomas Day, abolitionist and disciple of Rousseau, who took in the foundling girl Sabrina Sidney with the aim of moulding her into the ideal wife. This did not end well. The novel Belinda by Maria Edgeworth, whose father was Day’s great friend, draws on this episode.
such as black-balling: bringing about his exclusion from society, ostracism; from use of black balls to recorded a negative vote on admission to clubs.
that the fathers of bastards have no rights over their offspring, that are deem’d filius nullius, or the son of nobody: while this normally worked to the detriment of the mother and child, since it meant the father also had no duties or responsibilities, unless the mother had gone to court to plead a bastard upon him in order to obtain maintenance, it also meant that the father had no legal claim upon the child.
we went to Margate in the hopes that it would do him good: Margate, on the Kent coast, became a significant seaside resort in the late eighteenth century, famed for its extensive sandy beaches and sea-bathing facilities.
unless there is one has interest in some pocket borough and the member has just droppt dead: a pocket borough was one in which there were so few voters that it was in the pocket of a local magnate able to pay them to elect whomsoever he wanted.
The present Members were elect’d in the days of the Old Duke, but one of ‘em is said very consumptive and unlike to last out the year, so there is the prospect of a by-election: Parliamentary boroughs elected two members.
‘tis not my place to sell him like Joseph into slavery: Book of Genesis, Chapter 37, in which Joseph’s envious brethren sold him into slavery in Egypt.
will kick up such a cry that the neighbourhood will be rous’d and call at once for the constable: Constables were required to apprehend anyone accused of a felony, and bring them before a justice of the peace: by this period they were largely salaried officials paid through local taxation rather than householders holding the office in rotation: see Constables and the Night Watch at the Old Bailey Online.
a more general something rotten in the state of the household: Allusion to Hamlet. Act 1, Scene 4.
There are laws concerning conspiracy: under English common law, conspiracy only needed to involve an attempted crime: the agreement itself was the criminal act.
I daresay did it come to it, Miss M- would turn King’s evidence, for I doubt she owes any great loyalty to any save Miss M‑. O, I say, o, o. Is’t true that a wife may not turn evidence against her husband?: in criminal cases, common law held that wives were not competent to give evidence against their husbands , because of the view that husbands and wives were one person, and therefore the defendant’s protection against self-incrimination extended to their wife.
a play that is consider’d entire too coarse for the taste of the modern day, call’d The Country Wife: the 1675 Restoration comedy by William Wycherley, in which there is a famous double-entendre scene concerning Horner’s china-cabinet and his very good china which is in great demand by the ladies.
there are laws in this country against those that take advantage of superstitious beliefs to gull the ignorant and foolish…. threaten’d with prosecution under the Witchcraft Act: it was illegal to profit from superstitious beliefs in witchcraft under this Act.
‘tis a case of Fie upon this quiet life, I want work!: Shakespeare, Henry IV Part 1, Act 2, Scene 4.
There are laws against stealing children: kidnapping children was a recognised crime under common law.
Sure you are quite the Portia: allusion to the character in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice who disguises herself as a lawyer in order to defend Antonio against Shylock’s vengeance.
Worthing, that is give out a most genteel resort: in the late eighteenth century, this former fishing hamlet on the Sussex coast, ten miles west of Brighton, became an elegant Georgian seaside resort.
rents are extraordinary high and one hears much adverse remark about the quality of housing: London property prices: nothing much changes; also at this period there were no building standards and thus a lot of jerry-building, even in fashionable areas.
that you are warning him about the dangers of strange women, that wish to become familiar. I believe there is a fine verse in Proverbs upon the subject: the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament: 5:3 For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil: 5:4 But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword: 5:5 Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell.
Ratafia and macaroons: a sweet liqueur flavoured with almonds and fruit kernels; a sweet cake made principally of ground almonds, light and crisp.
the party they make up for the Derby: a flat race for colts and fillies, the Derby Stakes, run at Epsom Racecourse, since 1780. It was not only a major event in the racing season but soon became ‘the Londoners’ day out’ with many other entertainments available.
sure you rival the Marquise in Dangerous Connexions: the Marquise de Merteuil in Choderlos de Laclos’s 1782 epistolary novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
is not marriage ordained for mutual society, help, and comfort between husband and wife, as well as the avoidance of fornication and the procreation of children: according to the marriage service in the Book of Common Prayer.
a Unitarian widow that is very much of the philanthropick set: Unitarianism in Britain, growing in strength among dissenters, had begun to form organised churches in the later eighteenth century, and although the rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity was no longer penalised, its association with opposition to the state church and sympathy to the principles of the French Revolution caused it to be attacked by the orthodox and it did not become legal until 1813. It was associated with a rational approach to religion, sympathy towards science, and also, like the Society of Friends, with dedication to humanitarian causes.
the campaign against slave sugar: that would be, sugar produced in the West Indies on plantations that were still run on slave labour; there were campaigns to eschew the use of sugar altogether or to buy East Indian sugar instead.
some may be shockt by Lady Wishfort if not by Mrs Malaprop: Lady Wishfort is an amorously inclined elderly lady in Congreve’s Restoration comedy, The Way of the World:
“Well, and how shall I receive him? In what figure shall I give his heart the first impression? There is a great deal in the first impression. Shall I sit? No, I won’t sit, I’ll walk,—ay, I’ll walk from the door upon his entrance, and then turn full upon him. No, that will be too sudden. I’ll lie,—ay, I’ll lie down. I’ll receive him in my little dressing-room; there’s a couch—yes, yes, I’ll give the first impression on a couch. I won’t lie neither, but loll and lean upon one elbow, with one foot a little dangling off, jogging in a thoughtful way. Yes; and then as soon as he appears, start, ay, start and be surprised, and rise to meet him in a pretty disorder. Yes; oh, nothing is more alluring than a levee from a couch in some confusion. It shows the foot to advantage, and furnishes with blushes and re-composing airs beyond comparison.”
the volume of Wycherley’s plays: Love in a Wood, or St James’ Park, The Gentleman Dancing-Master, The Plain Dealer, and The Country Wife.
what is consider’d fair perquisites: customary rights to certain benefits - ladies’ maids and valets might come in for unwanted clothes, cooks might have the right to sell dripping or take commission from tradespeople, and so on.
the wick’d flee where no man pursueth: Proverbs, 28:1: The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.
the prize money from one of the campaigns in which he show’d so heroick: monetary reward paid out after a successful campaign.
Lady J- talks of providing a settlement: i.e. of settling an income upon Miss A-.
the dripping &C that was going out of the back door: i.e. the kitchen staff were illicitly selling on various by-products of cooking.
the critick styling himself Deacon Brodie: the historical Deacon Brodie was a respectable cabinetmaker of Edinburgh, Deacon of the craft guild and member of the town council. who by night was a housebreaker and thief and eventually hanged. This double life is said to have given Robert Louis Stevenson the germ of the idea for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
I should have a sampler upon my wall with I was born to speak all mirth and no matter in elegant stitchery upon it: samplers, originally a means by which women could record various stitches and effects in embroidery, became stylised and moralised and were the site upon which young girls would practice stitchery whilst also embroidering some improving text or proverb. Clorinda, however, suggests she would stitch this not very improving or moral line from Much Ado About Nothing.
a child’s horn-book:a child’s first learning primer.
raising her lorgnette so that she may see the paintings better: a pair of spectacles on a handle, held before the eyes.
his friends in the Trade: smugglers.
one is carry’d up like the prophet Elijah in the whirlwind: Second Book of Kings in the Old Testament, 2:11, And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
‘tis nearly come time to breech him, cut off his infant curls: when boys were four or five they left off the dresses of infancy and were put into breeches and had their hair cut.
visit the menageries at the Tower and Exeter Exchange: There had been a Royal collection of exotic animals at the Tower of London since the Middle Ages to which the public were admitted. In the later eighteenth century a commercial menagerie operation was set up at the Exeter Exchange in the Strand.
L.A. Hall, FRHistS