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.
‘tis Viola’s speech from Twelfth Night about Patience on a monument, and I am hard put not to laugh: Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene 4:
And with a green and yellow melancholy
She sat like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?
but at least ‘tis not the words of the Shrew concerning a woman mov’d: The Taming of the Shrew, Act V, Scene 2:
A woman moved is like a fountain troubled,
Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty,
And while it is so, none so dry or thirsty
Will deign to sip or touch one drop of it.
to demonstrate Bottom to Bess: from A Midsummer Night’s Dream
I feel like Dido in the ruins of Carthage: an allusion to the end of Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas, after Dido has been deserted by Aeneas, and sings the final death aria, When I am laid in earth (Dido’s Lament).
cause of penitent magdalenes: i.e. endeavours to reform prostitutes.
his friends in the trade: of smuggling.
We were just talking, says Harry, about balloons: the possibility of flight by means of hot-air or hydrogen balloons had been shown to be a possibility in the final decades of the eighteenth century and by the early nineteenth century there had been several manned flights over various distances.
This is the way the lady rides: a rhyme (of which there are several differing versions) to which a small child is bounced in different rhythms on an adult’s knee:
This is the way the lady rides.
Trit, trot, trit, trot.
This is the way the lady rides.
Trit, trit, trot.
This is the way the gentleman rides.
Trit-trot, trit-trot, trit-trot, trit-trot.
This is the way the gentleman rides.
Trit-trot, trit-trot, trit-trot.
This is the way the farmer rides.
Gall-op, gall-op, gall-op, gall-op.
This is the way the farmer rides.
Gall-op, gall-op, gall-op.
This is the way the old man rides.
Hobble-dy, hobble-dy, hobble-dy.
This is the way the old man rides
and down into the ditch!
Astley’s Amphitheatre: this is usually considered the first English circus. It began as a riding school at which equestrian tricks and fancy riding were displayed but then evolved into a spectacular entertainment with many kinds of different acts.
she is no Miss Herschel: Caroline Herschel (1750-1848), sister of Sir William Herschel, Astronomer Royal, and noted astronomer in her own right
fine lectures given at the Royal Institution: an early organisation founded in London for what would now be considered public engagement with science and the diffusion of scientific discoveries.
a fine set of jet: black fossil wood (lignite), long used for jewellery. Because of its sombre colour, it was considered particularly appropriate for mourning wear.
a truckle bed: a low bed on wheels that could be stored under a larger bed.
I am ambusht under a kissing bunch in the doorway: a bunch of evergreens, apples, mistletoe, sometimes candles and other decorations.
the matter of boxes to tradesmen: presents given by the household to those who have provided goods and services throughout the year.
does the Christmas rose bloom: Helleborus niger, commonly called Christmas rose, evergreen plant (not in fact of the rose family) that flowers at midwinter.
practice their pothooks: curved or hooked strokes made when learning to write.
the works of Mrs Marcet: Jane Marcet (1769-1858), author of highly influential works of science education: her much reprinted Conversations on Chemistry, Intended More Especially for the Female Sex (1805) inspired the young Michael Faraday to seek a career in science.
fancy’s child, warbling my native woodnotes wild: quoting John Milton, L’Allegro (1631), on Shakespeare.
And indeed, was not something said of the Bard of Avon’s own lack of classickal learning?: Ben Jonson, To the Memory of My Beloved the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare (1623): ‘though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek’.
a very stylish red cap of Liberty: or Phrygian cap, as associated with the ardour of the French revolution and symbolic of revolutionary fervour.
I am like to speak all mirth and no matter…. I daresay there was a star danc’d when you were born…. Perchance! says I, but sure my mother cry’d : Beatrice’s exchange with Don Pedro, Much Ado About Nothing, Act I, Scene 2.
cheat’d by being beguil’d to make their mark upon some document: individuals who could could not write their names would make their mark, usually a cross, on documents when signing was required; if they could not read, they might be deceived into doing so to their disadvantage.
quite the compleatest reacktionary: opposed to political and social reforms and in favour of a return to the previous state of affairs.
I may hoist a quarantine flag: give a warning signal. Ships which had infectious disease on board were supposed to fly a yellow flag to indicate this when they came to port.
O, bella e sagace marchesa!: o, beautiful and wise marchioness!
an acquaintance that is a Bow Street Runner: the body of men set up by the Bow Street Magistrates Henry and John Fielding to investigate crimes and apprehend the culprits on a retainer system; this led to the development of a detective force.
are like to rat does the wind change or they are made some better offer: i.e. have no serious commitment.
fine turnpike roads: roads well-maintained by a turnpike trust.
a disguise like unto the domino in a play or the opera: the not very convincing concealment of identity by a small half-mask over the eyes.
a soothing tisane: a herbal infusion.
about one of your fam’d recitations from Shakspeare concerning the quality of mercy: i.e. Portia’s famous speech from The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene 1.
the matter of his maiden speech: his first speech in Parliament.
Does not the Bard, say I, desire his audience to imagine the scene? – I pick up the copy of Shakspeare that rests upon the table, find the speech, and read it: The Prologue to Henry V.
I imitate the action of a tiger: Henry V, Act III, Scene 1: speech before Harfleur.
Would he would stick to his last: keep to his own trade, from the proverb ‘the cobbler should stick to his last’.
that fashion of putting on a baudruche: a skin condom.
perchance I am born to be hang’d: proverbially, those who were born to be hanged would not drown; this extends it to assassination by shooting.
gossip is like a poisonous miasma: i.e. an invisible disease-bearing vapour, as in miasmatic theory.
indeed cow’rin’ tim’rous creature I am: Robert Burns, ‘To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough’ (1785): ‘Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie’.
stregoneria: witchcraft, sorcery.
she purposes hold a ridotto in quite entire the Neapolitan style: a masquerade ball.
afore they bundl’d him into a strait‑waistcoat: commonly deployed to constrain lunatics or those supposed insane.
I am like to suppose that they would most immediate be plac’d upon the Index: the Index Librorum Prohibitorum of books banned by the Roman Catholic Church.
at the quite excellent taste of Mr H‑’s trading friends: smugglers.
once His and Her Grace are gone into half‑mourning: the somewhat alleviated state of formal mourning in which slightly less sombre clothing might permissibly be worn.
do not look entirely a Bedlamite: i.e. mad.
Mr de C‑ will have it that ‘tis what artists term Titian: the sixteenth-century Venetian artist painted numerous individuals with reddish-brown hair.
singing mad songs or handing about rosemary and rue…. until I am like to say that I would give ‘em violets, but they wither’d all: Ophelia’s mad scene, Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5.
think I may be going about with straws in my hair: this was an image of mental derangement.
quite refuses to be paint’d in Scottish dress: arrayed according to the image of the Jacobite Highlander popularised by Sir Walter Scott, a perception of Scottish identity which would be entirely anathema to Sandy.
reaching quite entirely to the furthest of the gods: the highest gallery in the theatre.
a crim.con. case: ‘criminal conversation’ - a case in which a husband sued his wife’s lover for damages for adultery. This might or might not be a prelude to obtaining a parliamentary divorce. The amount of salacious and scandalous detail brought in such cases made them catnip to the gutter press of the day.
go keep matters on an even keel: steady, level.
look at this fine collection of playbills: a poster or flysheet advertising a play and giving the names of the actors in the various parts.
extreme unlikely to be a matter of his being under a surgeon’s care: suffering from a sexually-transmitted infection.
that tommie Lady J‑: lesbian.
in the character of the Queen of the Night: from Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute.
late been a great scandal concerning body‑snatchers: gangs who would disinter recently-buried bodies in order to sell them to anatomists for dissection.
like unto some character from Waverley: Sir Walter Scott’s 1814 historical novel about the Jacobite uprising of 1745.
tonight you are a Jacobite rather than a Jacobin, tho’ indeed you are still something of a sans‑culotte in this guise: he represents a Jacobite, who wished to restore the Stuart monarchy in Britain, rather than a Jacobin, a French revolutionary who overthrew the French monarchy; the common people of France at the time of the Revolution were known as the sans-culottes (without breeches, the wear of the upper classes), who became a driving force of the Revolution. Wearing a kilt in this romantic reactionary masquerade, Lord R- is also ‘without breeches’.
quite in the John Knox style: John Knox (1513-1572), leader of the Scottish Reformation and founder of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
taken up by the fricatrice Lady J‑: from the Latin fricāre to rub, implying lesbian sex.
this Jezebel or perchance he should say, Potiphar’s wife: Jezebel, from the wife of Ahab, King of Israel, who incited him to follow foreign gods, but the name became generally used for an abandoned or immoral woman. After Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt, he was eventually sold into the household of Potiphar, captain of the palace guard, where Potiphar’s wife endeavoured but failed to seduce him
did he – o, say ‘tis not so – go emulate Young Werther?: Goethe’s 1774 novel The Sorrows of Young Werther was blamed for an epidemic of copycat suicides in emulation of the hero.
Passing strange and wondrous pitifull: Othello, Act I, Scene 3: Desdemona on Othello’s tales of his experiences.
I am all mirth and no matter: Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing, Act I, Scene 2.
a superannuat’d meretrix: prostitute too old to continue in her profession.
like the donkey ‘twixt two bales of hay: the paradox of Buridan’s ass, placed exactly midway between two bales of hay and, although hungry, unable to decide which one to eat.
indeed entirely in favour of the constitutional reforms, very much also in favour of the limit’d franchise, and a proponent of the notion that reform should be most carefully dispens’d by an enlighten’d ruler: while indeed a Constitution was proclaimed in Bavaria in 1818, the franchise for the newly-instituted Parliament was very narrow, and any leanings towards more radical reform were curbed by the monarchy, backed up by the other European powers.
at the ridotto he came as Rienzi: Cola di Rienzo, fourteenth-century Italian politician and populist leader, Tribune of Rome and proponent of a united Italy.
that came as Aspasia with her husband as Pericles: Aspasia, the renowned consort of the ancient Athenian statesman, Pericles.
to go about to learn engraving so that she might engrave the plates herself: engraving was the main means of reproduction of images at this time.
she would quite come to ruin and the Fleet or the Marshalsea: debtors’ prisons.
a fine cashmere shawl: made from the wool of Cashmere goats, traditionally woven in Kashmir; considered very stylish (and also warm) during the Regency period.
altho’ our marriage had little to do with procreation or avoidance of fornication, indeed I think there was mutual aid and comfort in the matter: from the Form of the Solemnization of Matrimony in the Book of Common Prayer: ’ It was ordained for the procreation of children…. for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication…. for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity’
Non piu andrai from The Marriage of Figaro: Hector has not been an amorous butterfly, and is not going to war, but he is certainly undergoing a significant change of circumstance.
a cabinet of curiosities: very miscellaneous collections of artefacts, curious natural objects, and artworks, kept together in specially designed cabinets or even rooms (Wunderkammer).
the works of Mrs Aphra Behn: the reference to this Restoration writer of plays, poems, and fiction, acclaimed by Virginia Woolf as the first Englishwoman to earn a living by her pen, is particularly apposite as she was at one time employed as a spy (in the Royalist interest).
She also takes me to see the fine ice‑house: ice-houses provided a means of preserving food, and also chilling food and drinks, before refrigeration.
in the green room before the drama commences: the room off-stage where actors can relax or prepare.
MPs may not be arrest’d for debt: Parliamentary privilege means that MPs may not be arrested for civil matters.
being everything by starts, and nothing long: from the description of Zimri (intended as George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham) in John Dryden’s satirical poem, Absalom and Achitopel (1681)
copies of La Belle Assemblée, Ackermann’s Repository: periodicals particularly noted for their very fine fashion plates.
Ratafia and macaroons: a sweet liqueur flavoured with almonds and fruit kernels; a sweet cake made principally of ground almonds, light and crisp.
a game of spillikins: played with sticks of wood or bone cast down into a heap; the object being to draw one at a time out with a hook without disturbing the others.
her lace‑making… quaintly carv’d bobbins: Lady T- makes bobbin lace, using bobbins and a pillow into which pins would be stuck to hold the threads.
Lady T‑ has took out a quizzing‑glass: a single lens on a handle to peer through.
Sir V‑ P‑ has some notion towards tupping me: term used for the mating of sheep (as in the line in Othello, ‘an old black ram is tupping thy white ewe’).
like the lady in the Scottish play: Lady Macbeth.
that sure is pinchbeck and paste: pinchbeck was a gold-mimicking alloy of copper and zinc, paste was handcut glass, sometimes set on a metallic foil base, intended to create an effect similar to gemstones. While authentic Pinchbeck items are now collectibles, and antique paste jewellery is esteemed in its own right, the imputation here is of cheap imitation.
some means to spike the K‑s’ guns: thwart their designs: metaphor drawn from the rendering of a gun unserviceable by driving a spike into the touch-hole.
basilisk glances: the mythical reptile supposed to be able to kill with a glance.
that still stands brooding like Cassandra: daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy, cursed by Apollo to utter true prophecies which no-one would believe.
even are they quite roll’d up: in severe financial straits.
a recommendation for an asylum for penitent magdalenes: i.e. a reformatory for penitent prostitutes.
she is on the catch for a coronet: aiming to marry her daughter into the aristocracy.
playing pell‑mell in the fine court at R‑ House: pall-mall, a game played with balls and mallets, a precursor to croquet.
daresay she has never told her love and is quite Patience on a monument, smiling at grief: Viola’s speech in Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene 4.
Molly’s friend: sympathetic to male homosexuals.
no common molly‑house: private spaces such as taverns or coffee houses where gay men could meet.
not as tho’ she need fear capture by corsairs in this day and age: corsairs, or Barbary pirates, privateers operating in the Mediterranean based on the North African coast: still active in the nineteenth century, so the danger was not entirely over.
or the rubster A‑: lesbian.
a sad old madge such as I: effeminate homosexual.
could put ‘em together like a dissect’d map: educational puzzles for children - maps pasted onto a board which was then cut into pieces for children to put together.
Quintus reading in Little Charles: Anna Letitia Barbauld’s Lessons for Children (1778), written for her nephew and foster-son, Charles Aikin.
Julius is still in dresses: small boys were clothed in dresses and not ceremoniously ‘breeched’ and their hair cut until they were four or five.
as Lady J‑ goes about to present me at Court: a necessary entree to Society.
the fine entertaining history of Moll Flanders: Daniel Defoe’s 1722 novel, The Fortunes & Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders &c. Who was Born in Newgate, and during a Life of continu’d Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv’d Honest, and dies a Penitent. Written from her own Memorandums …. (Plot summary.)
can tell a hawk from a handsaw: Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2: ‘I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw’.
a little work he has writ upon low fevers: typhoid (usually).
a glass of raspberry shrub: a refreshing sweet tart drink.
going to St James and being stiffly formal in a most antiquat’d gown and plumes: the official location of the Royal court was still at St James’ Palace, Westminster, and court dress still adhered to the style of an earlier generation.
they may go about to trepan me: to entrap, to capture.
there is some excellent fine sparrow‑grass: asparagus.
L.A. Hall, FRHistS