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 very fine costume for Hippolyta that would greatly become Lady Anna, and was there not a costume for Titania: Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, and Titania, Queen of the Fairies, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
some thoughts of going as a Covenanter: a Scottish Presbyterian movement, originating in the sixteenth century, and playing a significant part in resistance to Charles I’s attempts to impose a new liturgy upon the church in Scotland and a major part in the ensuing civil wars.
the regimen he was under, and the virtues of sea‑water for his particular constitution: a particular course of medical treatment, involving diet, exercise, bathing, etc, to promote or restore health, tailored to the specific individual.
the fate of Sisyphus: condemned to continually push a large stone uphill, which on reaching the top immediately rolled back down to the foot of the hill.
Columbine and Harlequin : stock characters in the Harlequinade, derived from the Commedia dell’Arte.
about the Grand Tour: an extended journey upon the Continent intended to educate and polish young men of the upper classes, usually under the care of a ‘bear-leader’, an older and more responsible man.
Miss Herschel may be an entire excellent woman: Caroline Herschel (1750-1848), noted astronomer.
by helping with his hortus siccus: collection of dried plant specimens.
I was like to think of the merchant to secure his treasure &C: ‘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.
the party that Sir B‑ W‑ got up to go to Ranelagh lately: Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens in Chelsea.
the greatest fears that she finds herself in Siberia: Russian political exiles were sent to this vast chilly and inhospitable territory in Arctic Asia, colonised by Russia from the seventeenth century onwards.
some saying concerning Caesar’s wife?: Julius Caesar divorced his second wife Pompeia after a scandal concerning an attempt to seduce her by Publius Clodius Pulcher. Although there is no evidence that he succeeded, Caesar divorced her on the grounds that his wife should not even be under suspicion.
my very stylish red cap of liberty: or Phrygian cap, as associated with the ardour of the French revolution and symbolic of revolutionary fervour.
what the poet has justly called the cup that chears: William Cowper, in The Task (1784), referring to tea:
And while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups,
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each.
you were not born in the purple: born of high-ranking parentage.
to put in a fine modern range: cast-iron kitchen ranges heated by solid fuel were a major development in cooking technology at this period.
a Dresden shepherdess, with a small stufft lamb (‘tis not a real lamb) upon one shoulder: 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.
do you personate Papageno: the bird-catcher in Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute.
there is an opera by Purcell that deals of Incas, from a play by Dryden: The Indian Queen.
Penelope’s web that was never finisht: from Homer’s Odyssey: Penelope, wife of Ulysses, deferred accepting any of the suitors seeking her hand during Ulysses’ very delayed return from Troy, until she had finished weaving her father-in-law’s funeral canopy. Each night she would unweave the day’s work.
a lecture at the botanickal society on carnivorous flora: plants which obtain nutrients by trapping animals or insects.
rabbits that mark the approach of a stoat: stoats are reputed to mesmerically paralyse rabbits when hunting them.
whether he was like to see me in the Row: Rotten Row, the fashionable place to ride and meet in Hyde Park.
nothing wrong with admiring a fellow for the dangers he has past thro’: allusion to Othello, Act I, Scene 3: ‘She loved me for the dangers I had passed’.
some nasty old hunks: derogatory term for an unpleasant old man
would quote Burns that The rank is but the guinea’s stamp: Robert Burns, A Man’s A Man For A’ That (1795):
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The Man’s the gowd for a’ that.
do not think he is by way of being a whip: i.e. an accomplished hand at driving a team of horses.
that gang aft agley without it: 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.
bring her back to Town in quite a Nelson spirit: the effective and decisive action characteristic of Nelson’s naval strategy.
perchance we need one to undertake the rough: i.e. the lowest forms of housework, scrubbing, etc.
there is metal more attractive somewhere about: Hamlet, Act III, Scene 3: ‘Here’s metal more attractive’.
the Shrew’s exhortation that a woman mov’d is like a fountain troubl’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.
a party making up to go to Astley’s: Astley’s Amphitheatre, 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.
so that I do not resemble Coriolanus confronting the Roman mob: in Act III, Scene 1 of the play by Shakespeare, in which the patrician soldier Coriolanus refuses to pander to the mob for political advantage but defies them.
several of these very fine mirrors would benefit from re‑silvering: the silver layer at the back of mirrors could become damaged over time.
that fine speech concerning The barge she sat in: Antony and Cleopatra, Act II, Scene II.
have left my dunnage: nautical term for luggage.
the shocking conditions upon the plantations: the sugar plantations of the West Indies continued to be worked by slave labour until the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire in 1833. Conditions were notoriously harsh and cruel.
that she would like a husband better fitt’d for for working days: as Beatrice responds to Don Pedro’s proposal in Much Ado About Nothing, Act II, Scene I: ‘No, my lord, unless I might have another for working days: your Grace is too costly to wear every day’.
as childish things to put away: I Corinthians 13: 11: ‘When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things’.
‘Tis not the yerba maté that he grew accustom’d to in the Americas: a drink brewed in a calabash gourd from the caffeine-rich leaves of the yerba mate plant and consumed through a metal straw.
some remote estancia: a large private landholding, usually given over to raising livestock.
and obtain any dispensations necessary for her to take the veil: these would have been necessary on account of her illegitimacy and mixed race before she could become a nun.
confides that the Earl is still the same nip‑cheese about domestick expenditure: skinflint, penny-pincher.
to see how fat‑stock prices go: livestock fattened ready for market.
Goes take the laughing gas, that is give out to produce visions: nitrous oxide, the effects of which had been discovered by Sir Humphry Davy in 1799, leading to the holding of ‘laughing gas parties’ in his circle. Davy did indeed write poems inspired by the gas, though these were not published during his lifetime.
no wild young mohock: the Mohocks were an alleged early eighteenth century gang of violent well-born criminals.
‘twould be caviare to the general: like the play described by Hamlet to the players in Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2.
without it comes to naming seconds: i.e. a challenge to a duel.
altho’ not pockets to let: not in financial difficulties.
did all turn up to declare just cause and impediment: when the banns were called for an impending marriage, it was in the terms ‘If any of you know cause or just impediment why these two persons should not be joined together in Holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it’. In the actual ceremony, there was also provision for impediment to be alleged.
rather than country matters: allusion to Hamlet’s coarse joke to Ophelia in Act III, Scene 2.
for making Bath chairs: a light carriage for one person with a folding hood, which could be pushed by hand or drawn by a pony, particularly used by invalids and the disabled; invented by James Heath of Bath.
the girls play fox and geese: a traditional board game for two players.
playing the game of goose: a board game consisting of a race using counters and dice.
those such as Mrs Carter that are most exceeding not’d as classickal scholars: Elizabeth Carter (1717-1806), poet, classicist, translator, member of the Bluestocking circle and friend of Dr Johnson.
the pretty flames of the 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 may go distribute boxes to my household: presents given by the household to those who have provided goods and services throughout the year; also gifts given by the master or mistress of the household to the servants.
the heyday in the blood is tame: Hamlet, Act III, Scene 4: Hamlet to Gertrude: ‘for at your age/The heyday in the blood is tame’.
some plates in La Belle Assemblée: La Belle Assemblée or, Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine Addressed Particularly to the Ladies: a women’s magazine of the period particularly noted for its fine fashion plates
confide we shall wish to go to 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.
to sell horses as ‘twere in a poke: from the proverbial expression ‘a pig in a poke’: selling something in a bag that purported to be a suckling pig but was in fact a cat or a dog.
whether the lady doth protest too much: Hamlet, Act III, Scene 2.
and then go offer me carte blanche: i.e. to set her up as a mistress.
did the tumbrils roll past her door and tricoteuses sit upon her doorstep: allusion to the Terror during the French Revolution. Tumbrils conveyed prisoners to the guillotine, and tricoteuses were the women who sat and observed the executions while knitting. Among the items they knitted were caps of liberty, or Phrygian caps.
despite his wounds bleeding and crying for vengeance: there was a superstitious belief that a murdered person’s wounds would break out into bleeding in the presence of the murderer.
that you are not about making a monster, animat’d by lightning: allusion to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus.
very much in the spirit of here you may see Benedick, the marry’d man: Benedick’s scornful repudiation of marriage in Much Ado About Nothing, Act I, Scene 1:
pluck off the bull’s horns and set them in my forehead, and let me be vilely painted, and in such great letters as they write “Here is good horse to hire” let them signify under my sign “Here you may see Benedick the married man”
is laughingly turned back on him by Don Pedro in Act V, Scene 4: ‘How dost thou, Benedick, the married man?’
I improve the shining hour: Isaac Watts, ‘How Doth the Little Busy Bee’:
How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!
Was’t not Lord Chesterfield, says I exceeding prim, gave out that a true gentleman did not give way to laughter in company: Lord Chesterfield’s Letters to His Son include several strictures against laughter: e.g. ‘Frequent and loud laughter is the characteristic of folly and ill manners’; ‘In my mind, there is nothing so illiberal, and so ill-bred, as audible laughter’.
quoting How doth the little busy bee: see above.
the ice‑house goes be fill’d with ice: ice-houses were filled with ice in the winter, and, if they were properly constructed, the ice melted very slowly so they remain cool for several months.
Dr J‑ had some concerns about miasmas: poisonous disease-causing vapours.
you will see me lead apes in hell first: the fancied consequences for a woman dying unmarried - alluded to in Much Ado About Nothing and The Taming of the Shrew.
entire wigs on the green at N‑ House: 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.
Lady B‑ is a Daniel come to judgement: Shylock on Portia in her masquerade as a lawyer, in The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene 1, alluding to the Old Testament character Daniel famed for his judgement.
could quite be call’d to the bar: qualified to argue in court on behalf of another.
not sure she would be entire wearing the willow did he depart these shores: grieving over his absence.
matters in the philanthropick set will gang aft agley: Burns, ‘To a Mouse’, see above.
the British Museum, that is the fine storehouse of knowledge for the nation: the Department of Printed Books (now part of the British Library) was founded in 1753, and had the privilege of legal deposit of most items printed in the United Kingdom, as well as building up a remarkable collection of non-deposit works.
those lines of the poet concerning A perfect Woman, nobly plann’d, To warn, to comfort, and command: William Wordsworth, She was a Phantom of Delight.
are those ladies not Unitarians: 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. It would be regarded with some suspicion by Evangelicals.
you will have read that salutary work Northanger Abbey: in which Jane Austen contrasts Catherine Morland’s Gothic imaginings with the troubles of contemporary life.
L.A. Hall, FRHistS