Sudden Death: 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.
a cowcumber: a cucumber.
old paintings that show the Seven Works of Mercy: the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy:
- To feed the hungry.
- To give water to the thirsty.
- To clothe the naked.
- To shelter the homeless.
- To visit the sick.
- To visit the imprisoned, or ransom the captive.
- To bury the dead.
the fine hop‑pillow: a small pillow filled with dried green hops, a soporific herb.
more lemonade, or should I prefer shrub: shrub was a refreshing tart fruit drink.
that play at battledore and shuttlecock: a game played with small rackets and a feathered shuttlecock, the predecessor of badminton.
he may be charg’d with bigamy and attempt’d murder: even might he plead the privilege of his rank: peers were in theory able to plead privilege of their rank to escape punishment for all crimes except murder or treason if it was a first offence. There are very few instances of this occuring.
he is a wretch’d Malvolio of a creature: allusion to Twelfth Night.
Perchance I will not read Perdita’s speeches upon gillyvors in this place: in Perdita’s speech on flowers in The Winter’s Tale, Act IV, Scene 4, she deprecates flowers produced through artificial cross-pollination by gardeners rather than the simple rustic products of nature. Presumably the Earl’s interests will encompass cross-breeding, grafting, etc, to create new horticultural effects.
those theatrickals at Mansfield Park: the amateur theatricals that take place in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park cause considerable upheaval and adverse consequences.
the scene in which the young lady spoke of rosemary and violets: Ophelia’s mad scene, Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5.
the Family Shakspeare: the expurgated version of the works published by Thomas Bowdler in 1807 (but edited by his sister Henrietta Maria) meant to omit material unsuited for reading in mixed company and before children.
do they essay Viola or Rosalind: the breeches parts in Twelfth Night and As You Like it.
is in no wise like Lady Bertram: the vague and indolent aunt of Fanny Price who had the good fortune to marry the wealthy Sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park in Jane Austen’s novel of that title.
marry’d some Nabob: a Briton who had acquired a fortune in India.
to speak their lines trippingly on the tongue, and not to saw the air too much with their hand: Hamlet’s advice to the players, in Act III, Scene 2.
he has, as they say, shook the banyan tree: made a fortune in India.
a fine flourishing brown family: it was not uncommon for Europeans in India at this period to have relationships with Indian women and acknowledge their offspring by them.
as if the scales had fallen from his eyes: allusion to Acts of the Apostles, 9:18, in which Saul, blinded after his encounter on the road to Damascus, had his sight restored by Ananias.
took us 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.
praising the waters at Leamington Priors: now Royal Leamington Spa, in Warwickshire, where a spa developed around supposedly healing waters during the eighteenth century.
Mr W‑ Y‑ murmurs something about Rousseau: the Enlightenment philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), whose influential theories on child-rearing expressed in Emile, or On Education (1762) included the importance of mothers nursing their own children. His views on female education, however, rendered him anathema to Mary Wollstonecraft.
wont to reside at Cheltenham: mineral springs were discovered at this Gloucestershire town at the edge of the Cotswolds in 1716, leading it to become a leading spa resort.
I daresay there is a dog or so about the place that has not gone with the guns, and mayhap a crow in the trees, and one might persuade one to bark at t’other, ‘twould be entire as melodious: allusion to Beatrice’s comment in Much Ado About Nothing, Act I, Scene 1: ‘I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than hear a man swear he loves me’.
dear C‑ has the shield against Medusa and has tam’d the gorgon: according to legend, Perseus was given a mirrored shield by the goddess Athena, in which he was able to observe the gorgon Medusa without gazing on her directly and being turned to stone: however, he then cut off her head.
the oppressive cruelties that are manifest’d in the matter of preserving game: even without the use of vicious protective devices such as mantraps or spring-guns the Game Laws were very oppressive, forbidding the rural poor to catch game and imposing ferocious sentences for poaching.
Mr J‑’s very fine performance in the Scottish play when transfixt by some phantasm: i.e. in Macbeth.
an apoplectick seizure: a stroke.
since ‘tis a most sudden death, there must be a crowner’s inquest: the coroner was a royal officer elected by local freemen, who was obliged to hold an inquest before a jury on any cases of sudden, accidental, suspicious or unnatural death.
a crowd of idle fellows that come watch as if ‘twere some raree‑show: a vulgar spectacle of entertainment.
dust to dust, ashes to ashes: from the Burial Service in the Book of Common Prayer.
are there no sapient pigs: possibly the most famous of several performing pigs, Toby, the Sapient Pig, who appeared at the Royal Promenade Rooms, in the Spring Gardens, where he would ‘spell and read, cast accounts, play at cards; tell any person what o’clock it is to a minute by their own watch… tell the age of any one in company’, and, ‘discover a person’s thoughts’,
the matter of an ice‑house: an insulated underground structure for storing ice and thus for preserving and chilling food.
she is about washing sallets: salad greens.
the works being clos’d for Wakes Week: Wakes Weeks, originally a religious holiday, by the time of the Industrial Revolution had become a period during which mills and factories were shut down for maintenance.
he has a mind to becoming a veterinarian: the London Veterinary College had been founded in 1791. A veterinary school was launched in Edinburgh in 1823.
are there not fellows that are renown’d zoologists: by this period there was increasing scientific interest in the study of animals, rather than their display as objects of entertainment and curiosity in menageries.
he will go hang ‘em in the game‑larder: a small outbuilding in which the carcases of game animals and birds could be hung to mature in a cool environment.
debtors’ prison is no place one would desire to go: 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.
we might have a tiffin‑party some day: tiffin was a term of uncertain derivation in use in Anglo-Indian households to signify a midday repast.
entire time for Deborah’s elevens: midmorning snack, ‘elevenses’.
those to whom he ow’d debts of honour: gambling debts, that is, debts which could not be sued for in court but which it was considered a matter of personal honour to pay.
is she not quite entire a woman and a sister: this alludes to the inscription ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’ on the famous and much reproduced Wedgewood anti-slavery medallion, 1787.
I daresay would be quite roll’d up: in financial straits.
there are some that are mophrodites: hermaphrodites.
‘tis like a deal of the monsters in Aristotle: Aristotle’s Masterpiece, also known as The Works of Aristotle, the Famous Philosopher, an early modern popular manual of advice on sex and reproduction: not by the ancient Greek philosopher although attributed to him. It included various illustrations of monstrous births.
did not Dr Johnson remark upon the triumph of hope over experience: reported in Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson concerning a man who remarried following an unhappy first marriage.
He also, says I, remarkt that marriage has many pains: In Rasselas: ‘Marriage has many pains, but celibacy has no pleasures’.
Lord A‑ that plays at Lords: Marylebone Cricket Club was founded in 1787 when Thomas Lord set up a private ground in Dorset Fields, Marylebone; it moved to its present location in St John’s Wood in 1814.
Do you go about like Laertes to your sisters?: Laertes, in Hamlet, Act I, Scene 3, before embarking for Paris, gives brotherly advice to Ophelia.
Oxford Street with all its fine shops: Oxford Street was already a major shopping venue by this date.
your parents are not on the parish: they are not paupers.
Tibby quite devours La Belle Assemblée and Ackermann’s Repository &C: periodicals noted for their writing on fashion and publication of fashion-plates.
bring Parliament to pass some law concerning the cruelties of badger‑baiting: a blood-sport in which badgers would be set to fight dogs. As with other blood-sports of the day there was agitation against its cruelty - the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded in 1824 - and it was, in fact, made illegal in 1835, although continued clandestinely into the present.
some fine game he us’d to play in Scotland– goff I think ‘twas call’d: golf originated in Scotland in the fifteenth century. Although the Royal Blackheath Golf Club originated with Scottish courtiers of James I and VI when he succeeded to the English throne, the game did not become widespread in England and the Empire until the mid-nineteenth century.
a very small glass of ratafia apiece: a sweet liqueur flavoured with almonds and fruit kernels
somewhat of a green and yellow melancholy comes upon Bess: Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene 4.
a deal of vapourishness and even greensickness in girls of those years: a condition of young women marked by pallor, palpitations, poor appetite, also known as chlorosis; sometimes identified as a form of anaemia. Alleged to be curable by marriage, or at least sexual intercourse.
husbands may abuse their wives with little recourse: unfortunately the case. Spousal abuse had to be very severe for the courts to rule a marital separation.
I shall have a wreath of bays to offer you: traditionally a crown for poetic triumph.
the diseases of trades, of which there are known some several peculiar to lead‑miners: there was increasing attention being paid to occupational diseases at this period. As lead is a toxic metal, mining it posed significant risks to health beyond those of mining accidents.
go ask my Parliamentary friends to provide me with more frankt covers: members of both Houses of Parliament had the privilege of sending letters by Royal Mail free under their signature (frank). This was a perk they often extended to family and friends by providing them with pre-franked covers. Before the introduction of the Universal Penny Post in 1840, except within areas where a penny post applied to local letters, postage was expensive - letters were charged by distance and numbers of sheets - and paid by the recipient.
a fellow with no interest that might have anticipat’d to live out his life as a curate: many men who had taken orders lacked the connections who might present them to a secure living in the church and therefore might eke out their entire careers as underpaid curates.
some fine macaroons fresh from the oven: a sweet cake made principally of ground almonds, light and crisp
by keeping up his hortus siccus: a herbarium, an arranged collection of dried plants.
fine improvements in coach‑making to match the improvement in the roads, ‘tis give out that the use of springs makes the riding a deal more pleasant: there had been significant improvements in carriage technology during the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
a trip to Scarborough: a seaside town on the North Yorkshire coast, a spa and one of the first seaside resorts.
purposes hold a ridotto: a masquerade ball.
expect’d to hear that he had been shot during a quarrel over a gaming‑table in St James: where there was a great concentration of gentlemen’s clubs.
the Admiral is ever fie upon this quiet life! and desires great battles: Shakespeare, Henry IV Part 1, Act II, Scene 4: ‘Fie upon this quiet life, I want work’.
there is still some matter of Corsairs in those parts: privateers operating in the Mediterranean based on the North African coast: still active in the nineteenth century, so the danger was not entirely over.
the work 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. While somewhat less concerned with taking active measures against same-sex activities than the earlier Society for the Reformation of Manners, 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.
quite entire acceptable to the patronesses of Almacks: 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.
going to a very good staymaker: stays, or corsets, a laced undergarment shaping a woman’s figure to the dictates of fashion.
some antient club for that sport at Blackheath: the Royal Blackheath Golf Club.
whispering it to the reeds that will tell all that King Midas has asses’ ears: the barber who was obliged to conceal King Midas’s secret, whispered it into a hole in the ground, out of which grew reeds which told the story.
in his younger days was a United Irishman, and still has republickan sympathies: The Society of United Irishmen in 18th-century Ireland that initially sought Parliamentary reform. However, it evolved into a revolutionary republican organisation and launched the Irish Rebellion of 1798 with the objective of ending British monarchical rule over Ireland and founding a sovereign, independent Irish republic.
not all Romish orders… are like unto those depict’d in the works of Mrs Radcliffe or Monk Lewis: Gothic literature made a significant feature of sinister and/or lecherous monks.
a convent that was by no means like unto the one describ’d by Diderot: the novel La Religieuse by the Enlightenment philosopher Denis Diderot was intended by him to expose the adverse consequences of placing young women in convents whether or not they had a vocation, as well as more generally criticising religious corruption.
Intends go take the waters at Tunbridge Wells: Tunbridge Wells had been a fashionable spa resort since the seventeenth century with the discovery of a chalybeate spring (water containing salts of iron) there.
did Mrs Aphra Behn write more than Oroonoko, or the royal slave: Aphra Behn (1640-1689), celebrated as the first woman in England to earn a living by her pen, wrote successful plays, poetry and novels: her most enduring work was the short novel Oroonoko, the Royal Slave (1688).
an enterprize to go settle Africkans that at present reside in England in Africa: one would think that the lack of success of the Sierra Leone Resettlement Scheme, and indeed the reluctance of Black Londoners to take part in the scheme, would have deterred such plans.
the Hon Company’s dislike to missionaries: until 1813 when the Charter Act imposed greater governmental control over the activities of the East India Company and removed its trade monopoly, it had been very resistant to admitting missionaries to the territories it controlled on the subcontinent, in the interest of maintaining diplomatic trade relations with local powers.
has somewhat harm’d the carriage‑trade: put off private patients (unlike the poorer classes treated in hospitals).
resurrection men, ‘tis indeed a low trade pursu’d by dreadfull fellows: with the decline in executions of criminals, whose bodies were formerly made available for dissection, there was a demand for corpses for anatomical education and research, supplied by ‘body-snatchers’ or ‘resurrection-men’, who would dig up recently buried bodies from graveyards and convey them to anatomists.
there are some Utilitarian free‑thinkers that would go leave their bodies for dissection: most famously Jeremy Bentham himself.
While the Hippocratick Oath, he declares, most specifick excludes surgeons as pursuing a craft distinct from physicians: in this oath physicians foreswore, among other things, the use of the knife, an art which belonged to the craft of surgery.
I was never inclin’d to be a dominie: schoolmaster (Scots)
a phthiriasis, that is caus’d by a certain louse: pubic lice infestation.
delightfull to think her at Halifax: to send someone to Halifax was a euphemism for sending them to Hell; Halifax, as the capital of Nova Scotia, was also a very distant place to send someone.
going as a Dresden shepherdess: Dresden (actually, Meissen, a short distance away) was a major centre for the production of fine porcelain during the eighteenth century; among their products were fanciful figures of stylised shepherds and shepherdesses in fashionable dress.
L.A. Hall, FRHistS