Gaudy Night

The page numbers and excerpts for these Gaudy Night annotations are from the U.S. paperback edition copyright 1936 by Dorothy Leigh Sayers Fleming and renewed 1964 by Anthony Fleming.

ARTICLE NOTE: “Gaudy Night” readers interested in a discussion of the role music plays in the book should check out “The Science of Mysteries: Leave Us the Counterpoint” by Jennifer Ouellette at Scientific American.


The phrase “gaudy night” is unfamiliar to most American readers. My American Heritage dictionary gives this definition: “a feast, especially an annual university dinner.” Gaudy is derived from the Old French gaudie, for merriment, which threads itself through history all the way back to the Latin gauidum, enjoyment and merrymaking. (Contributed by Marc van der Poel)

The phrase appears in Shakespeare’s “Antonius and Cleopatra” XI,11, 225: “Let’s have one other gaudy night: call to me All my sad captains; fill our bowls once more; Let’s mock the midnight bell.”


Rivers of Knowledge are there, Arts and Sciences flow from thence. Counsell Tables are Horti conclusi, (as it is said in the Canticles) Gardens that are walled in, and they are Fontes signati, Wells that are sealed up; bottomless depths of unsearchable Counsels there.

— John Donne

From a sermon Donne — who was a Church of England cleric as well as a poet — preached at Whitehall on 4 March 1624. The Latin tags “Horti conclusi” (meaning enclosed garden) and “Fontest signati” (sealed wells) are quotations from the Song of Songs 4:12. (“A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.”) Note that Harriet repeats these phrases as a way of expressing her fear of the mental states of university women who stayed behind in their horti conclusi.
(Courtesy Viviana Castelli)

Author’s Note

in aeternum floreant

aeterno: everlasting; floreo: blooming, flourishing


1 ~ Thou blind man’s mark, thou fool’s self-chosen snare,
Fond fancy’s scum, and dregs of scattered thought,
Ban of all evils; cradle of causeless care;
Thou web of will, whose end is never wrought:
Desire! Desire! I have too dearly bought
With price of mangled mind, thy worthless ware.
– Sir Philip Sidney

A sonnet by Sir Philip Sidney

2 ~ Shrewsbury Gaudy: As “gaudy” is not used in the United States as a noun, it should be noted that the old word (from 1582) means ostentatiously or tastelessly ornamented, or, as in the phrase “giving gaudy praise,” extravagant. So a gaudy night gives the impression of a party in which everyone dresses up, where taste and restraint are thrown out the window.

3 ~ Miss Patty: A character in “Quality Street” a love story set in England during the Napoleonic Wars by Sir James Barrie that debuted in 1901. The story summary is quite extensive, so here’s a link to the Internet Movie Database. It was filmed twice, in 1927 with Marion Davies — William Randolph Hearst’s mistress — in the title role, and in 1937 with Katharine Hepburn.
(Contributed by Bernie Lobert)

Cher: The River Cherwell, which runs on a north-south course along the east side of the university area.

coffee and parkin

parkin: a cake-like dessert

Prometheus and Epimetheus had changed their parts

A reference to Greek mythology. Prometheus and Epimetheus were brothers, one as shrewd as the other was clumsy. Zeus asked Hephæstus and Athena to create the source of all evil for men. They responded with Pandora, the first woman, and she was so beautiful that Epimetheus fell with love with her despite Prometheus’ warning and took her as wife. Upon her arrival on Earth, she opened the jar and unleashed evil onto the world.

In the Protagoras dialogue, Plato reworked the Pandora myth to defend the statement that civic virtue can be taught. He dropped Pandora from the story and replaced it with a creation myth. Prometheus and Epimetheus were responsible for assigning powers to all the creatures. Epimetheus took on the job, but gave too many to the animals, and had nothing left for man. Prometheus corrected the problem by stealing fire and the arts from Hephæstus and Athena.

8 ~ Scholar; Master of Arts; Domina; Senior Member of this University (statutum est quod Juniores Senioribus debitam et congruam reverentiam tum in privato tum in publico exhibeant)

“It is decreed that Juniors will show to Seniors appropriate and fitting respect both in public and private.”
(Translation provided by Monica Connolly)


Mistress or counsel

10 ~ we are both decently sub-fusc.

Sub-fusc: drab or dusky. From the Latin word “subfuscus,” meaning dark brown. At Oxford, it describes a formal way of dressing. For men, it would have been a black suit, white shirt, white bow tie with cap and gown, and for women, the same only with black tie, black skirt, gown and ladies’ cap. This uniform is still used today for university functions and during exams.
(Contributed by Mary Henely)

14 ~ the conversation naturally passed to biology, Mendelian factors and Brave New World

Mendelian factors: part of the theory of inheritance proposed by Gregor Mendel that established the science of classical genetics. By propagating pea plants, he proposed that each plant determined the characteristics of its progeny by passing down “factors,” now known as genes.

Brave New World: a dystopian novel by Aldus Huxley that examined the creation of a state run solely along scientific principles.

15 ~ Carlyle . . . all the old gossip without troubling to verify anything

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881): historian and critic. His most famous work is his “History of the French Revolution.” After his death, reminiscences published by a friend, based in part on Carlyle’s papers, caused a scandal by detailing the marital strife and sexual troubles in Carlyle’s marriage.

17 ~ No one can bathe in the same river twice, not even in the Isis.

Isis: One of four headstreams that meet in Oxford to create the Thames River. The quotation is derived from Heraclitus, who wrote, “You cannot step twice into the same river; for other waters are always flowing upon you.” It is an example of the Heraclitian, or ever-changing, view of the universe, which is discussed below.

20 ~ like illustrations to Pendennis — so out of date of them!

“Pendennis” is a novel by William Makepeace Thackery, published in 1848. The reference to illustrations is unknown.

21 ~ Well, I’m like Marjory Fleming’s turkey — I do not give a single damn for the Old Students’ Meeting; I simply must eat and drink.

The story of Marjory Fleming (1803-1811) is a tale of literary necrophilia. She died young and the diary she kept during the last 18 months of her life achieved a short literary popularity. She also wrote poetry, from which the above reference is derived.


21 ~ the promise of permanence in a Heraclitean universe

Heraclitus (535-475 BCE): a Greek philosopher who created the notion of dynamism, which states that the universe is in a state of constant flux, and that much of the stability we perceive is illusionary. Eventually, everything will pass through phases and circle around again: fire changing continually into water, then into earth, earth back into water and then into fire. Our final destruction is inescapable and even the gods cannot avoid this fate.

23 ~ sub-fusc

Drab or dusky. From the Latin word “subfuscus” meaning dark brown.

33 ~ God made the integers; all else is the work of man

A statement by Leopold Kronecker, the 19th-century German mathematician. While he added to the theory of equations and higher algebra, he believed that all mathematics can be reduced to arguments involving only the integers and a finite number of steps. He opposed the use of irrational numbers, upper and lower limits and transcendental numbers.


36 ~ They do best who, if they cannot but admit love, yet make it keep quarter, and sever it wholly from their serious affairs and actions of life; for if it check once with business it troubleth men’s fortunes, and maketh men that they can no ways be true to their own ends. — Francis Bacon

Quoted from Bacon’s essay “Of Love.”

42 ~ Mr. A.E.W. Mason

Alfred Edward Woodley Mason: a popular novelist and contemporary of Sayers. He was known particularly for the novel “The Four Feathers” and his series featuring Inspector Hanaud.

43 ~ How all occasions do inform against me!

A line from From “Hamlet,” Act IV, Scene iv, Line 32

49 ~ Mary, Countess of Shrewsbury, in whose honour the college had been founded

Little was discovered about Mary, but if she was anything like her mother, she must have been a holy terror. Her mother, Elizabeth Talbot, countess of Shrewsbury, was first married at 12 to Robert Barlow, who died shortly thereafter. She inherited large estates twice more by the same method before marrying, in 1568, George Talbot, 6th earl of Shrewsbury. The next year, they were entrusted with the care of Mary Queen of Scots until 1584. In 1574, she was sent to the tower for three months because her daughter married Charles Stuart, a claimant to the throne, and Queen Elizabeth I was not pleased. She built a number of great mansions, including Hardwick Hall.

50 ~ Like the mother of the Gracchi

This Cornelia (died 100 BCE), a Roman woman renowned for her devotion to her children’s education, particularly the tribunes, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and Gaius Sempronius Gracchus. Both were involved in attempts to reform the Roman Republic, particularly in redistributing lands from the wealthy landowners to the poor, and both were killed for their efforts. Her letters of advice to her sons exist today.

52 ~ Rubbidge, as Mrs. Gamp would say

Mrs. Gamp: a character in “Martin Chuzzlewit” by Charles Dickens. She inspired the slang word gamp, referring to the large baggy umbrella she habitually carried, as well as a term for a midwife.

54 ~ meditating on (series of Greek symbols)

“On kai me on,” translated as “being and not being.” Sayers discusses this use in Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus” in her book “The Mind of the Maker:”

“It is here that we come up against a bunch of fascinating speculations about the ‘on kai me on’ — being and not being. It is all very well for Marlowe’s Faustus to exclaim impatiently, ‘Bid oncaymeon farewell’, the inquisitive mind find it very difficult to bid farewell to this intriguing subject. (Living Age Books, 1956, p. 99)

Dan Drake discusses Faustus and “on kai me on” in his annotation to “The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Melagar’s Will.” Look for crossword clue “2. VI.”

(Thanks to Marc van der Poel for the translation and Tom Sulyok for tracking down the Sayers’ reference.)


55 ~ Thou canst not, love, disgrace me half so ill,
To set a form upon desired change.
— William Shakespeare

From Sonnet 89.

“Time is,” quoth the Brazen Head; “time was; time is past.”

The Brazen Head is a legendary magical item of Eastern origin, a head made of brass capable of speech, and it has inspired a number of tales. The one from which the quote is derived concerns Roger Bacon (1210-after 1292), a philosopher who studied at Oxford. According to the story, Bacon was told that if he heard the head speak, whatever project he was working on at the time would succeed; if not, it would fail. To ensure success, he had his familiar, Miles, watch it while Bacon slept. That night, the head spoke three times: “time is;” “time was;” and “time past.” The head then fell and was smashed to pieces.

In “The Honourable History of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay” by Robert Greene (1558-1592), the story is told with a comic flair. The head was a powerful artifact that took decades to create, and, when properly used, was supposed to encircle England with a powerful force. The clown Miles invokes the head, and it speaks the first two lines. But when the assistant fails to complete the spell properly, a magic hammer appears and destroys the head as it says, “time is past.”

56 ~ Vade in pace: Latin for “go in peace.”

56 ~ Old Firm: It seems to be a common catch-phrase, intending to reassure the listener that, even in those days of economic uncertainty, the Old Firm will still be doing business, such as in this saucy seaside postcard by Donald McGill:

gaudy night annotations
(Contributed by Gary Glenn)

57 ~ Coqcigrues: A reference to “Letters to Dead Authors” by Andrew Lang (1844-1912). Lang was a prolific, now mostly forgotten, author and Greek scholar, who wrote in a number of forms, in this case, imaginary letters to authors. He is best known for reviving the popularity of fairy tales with his multi-colored titles, beginning with “The Blue Fairy Book” in 1889. He also collaborated with A.E.W. Mason (see 42 reference) in “Parson Kelly” (1899). He also wrote “The Valet’s Tragedy and Other Stories” which figures into another reference below (see 124 reference).

58 ~ to afficher one’s self with him at Ferrara’s.

afficher: to show off, from the French for display.

Ferrara: Possibly a fancy restaurant, although whether real or fictional is not known.
(Contributed by Lilah Lohr)

Ottawa Conference: In response to the 1929 stock market crash, Britain went off the gold standard, causing a devaluation of the pound. The conference in 1932 reached agreements establishing import and export rules and tariffs among the Commonwealth nations.
(Contributed by Michael Loo and Lilah Lohr)

62 ~ “You not alone, when you are still alone,
O God, from you that I could private be!”

Quote from “Idea” by Michael Drayton

64 ~ if you intend to be like Caesar’s sacrifice

A reference to Act II, Scene 2 of “Julius Caesar,” in which his wife and friends argue that he should not go to the Forum that day. A sacrifice is called for, and the augurers (those who read and interpret what they find in the sacrifice) say that he should not go; that, as the servant says, “They could not find a heart within the beast.”

Caesar replies:

The gods do this in shame of cowardice;
Caesar should be a beast without a heart,
If he should stay at home today for fear,

(The “beat without a heart” line in the book is probably a mispelling.)
(Contributed by Michael Loo)

71 ~ the scholarship papers blowing about me like leaves in Vallombrosa!

Vallombrosa: A monastery near Florence that appears in “Paradise Lost”; book I, line 302:

Thick as autumnal leaves that strow the brooks
In Vallombrosa, where th’ Etrurian shades
High over-arch’d imbower.

72 ~ Like Lady Athaliah’s tower in “Frolic Wind,” the home of frustration and perversion and madness– “If thine eye be single, the whole body is full of light”

“Frolic Wind” was a novel published in 1929 by Richard Oke, the pen name of Nigel Stansbury Millett. He was a minor British novelist of the 1930s. (Thanks to Gaslight Digest for providing the information.) The novel is also listed under “gay fiction” at a website (now defunct) that categorized gay fiction. Athaliah is also a Biblical name. She was the only queen to rule Judah (843-847 BCE) and was noted for killing all of her male rivals to the throne, except for Joash, who killed her. The story is told in 2 Kings. 11: 16.

If thine eye: A quotation from two books. There is Luke 11: 34-36: “The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness. If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light.” There is also Matthew 6:22: “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.”

75 ~ post occasio calva

A Latin phrase attributed to Cato but Wikiquote mentions it was possibly spoken by Dionysius Cato from the 3rd or 4th century A.D. The full phrase is “Fronte capillata, post est Occasio calva” and means “Hairy in front, opportunity is bald behind.”
(Contributed by Tom Sulyok)


76 ~ Virginity is a fine picture, as Bonaventure calls it, a blessed thing in itself, and if you will
believe a Papist, meritorious. (Etc.)
— Robert Burton

Drawn from “The Anatomy of Melancholy” by Robert Burton, (1577–1640), English scholar and vicar at Oxford University. Note that Sayers does not provide the full quotation, which I think causes a bit of confusion. When Burton speaks of “toys,” is he referring to the inconveniences? No, he is actually talking about the “embracing, dalliance, kissing, colling” and other pleasures of marriage.

Here is the complete passage, with the excised portions highlighted in bold:

Virginity is a fine picture, as Bonaventure calls it, a blessed thing in itself, and if you will believe a Papist, meritorious. And although there be some inconveniences, irksomeness, solitariness, &c., incident to such persons, want of those comforts, quae, aegro assideat et curet aegrotum, fomentum paret, roget medicum, &c., embracing, dalliance, kissing, colling, &c., those furious motives and wanton pleasures a new-married wife most part enjoys; yet they are but toys in respect, easily to be endured, if conferred to those frequent encumbrances of marriage. Solitariness may be otherwise avoided with mirth, music, good company, business, employment; in a word, Gaudebit minus, et minus dolebit; for their good nights, he shall have good days. And methinks some time or other, amongst so many rich bachelors, a benefactor should be found to build a monastical college for old, decayed, deformed, or discontented maids to live together in, that have lost their first loves, or otherwise miscarried, or else are willing howsoever to lead a single life. The rest I say are toys in respect, and sufficiently recompensed by those innumerable contents and incomparable privileges of virginity.

Bonaventure is St. Bonaventure (1221-1274), a leader of the Franciscans.

(Contributed by James Fulford)

blotted its copybook

Obviously not a good thing. A opybook is what a student writes his homework in, so blotting it — say, with a pen that leaks ink — is sure to bring a frown of disapproval from headmaster.

94 ~ Lombroso, theories about what murderers look like.

The Italian physician sare Lombroso developed a theory about criminality based on the dubious science of phrenology. He measured the heads of living and executed criminals and compared them to the skulls of apes, prehistoric humans and “primitive” peoples. In “Criminal Man” (1876), he theorized that criminals were victims of atavism, or the reappearance of a inherited trait after an absence.

98 ~ You have contrived to cast the Apple of Discord among us with a vengeance.

Apple of Discord: A story from Greek mythology. Zeus was preparing a wedding banquet for Peleus and Thetis and did not invite Eris. In revenge, she created an apple of pure gold, inscribed it “To The Prettiest One,” and rolled it into the hall during the banquet. Athena, Hera and Aphrodite each claimed it and began to fight over it. Zeus directed that an arbitrator be found to settle the issue, and sent them to Paris, a shepherd of Troy.


115 ~ the Chaucer Folio, the Shakespeare First Quarto, the three Kelmscott Morrises, the autographed copy of “The Man of Property,” and the embroidered glove belonging to the Countess of Shrewsbury.

The school’s treasures:

Chaucer Folio: This probably the first edition of the Complete Works, printed in 1542 possibly by William Thynne.

Shakespeare First Quarto: A rare edition of the plays. Quarto is a reference to the size of the book, obtained by folding a whole sheet into four leaves.

Kelmscott Morrises: The three Kelmscott Morrises are unidentified, but they are probably from the more than 50 books that the Kelmscott Press printed during the lifetime of William Morris, who founded the press in 1891 in a cottage near Kelmscott House. Long a designer, Morris started the press as a way of expressing his feelings towards the art of craftsmanship that was being lost to industrialization. Influenced by medieval illuminated manuscripts, he designed and printed more then 50 books written by himself and Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Tennyson, Rossetti, Swinburn and medieval authors. Morris designed the typefaces, made the paper and printed the books by hand. They were expensive, but exquisite examples of the bookmaking art, and command high prices today. The finest work was “The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer” illustrated by Burne-Jones.

“The Man of Property”: The first novel in the “Forsyte Saga” by John Galsworthy, published in 1906. Galsworthy’s harsh critique of the upper middle classes is quoted elsewhere. Galsworthy won the Nobel Prize in 1932, a few years before “Gaudy Night” was published.

117 ~ “much learning hath made thee mad”
A reference from the Bible, Acts 26:24. Arrested for blasphemy, Paul defends himself before Herod Agrippa II by telling the story of his conversion on the road to Damascus. (Slight highjack: in the King James Version, he provoked generations of snickers from 13-year-old boys by quoting the Lord as telling him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me; it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” Of course, he meant pricks as goads, or pointed sticks.)

Ahem, to quote from the Bible:

22 Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come:

23 That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.

24 And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.

25 But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.

120 ~ battels: Bills charged to each Oxford student for their education, lodgings and provisions.


122 ~ O my deare Cloris be not sad,
Nor with these Furies daunted,
But let these female fooles be mad,
With Hellish pride inchanted;
Let not they noble thoughts descend
So low as their affections,
Whom neither counsell can amend,
Nor yet the Gods corrections.
— Michael Drayton

From “The Fourth Nimphall” in “The Muses Elizium” by Michael Drayton. A version can be found at Project Gutenberg.
(Contributed by Tony Morris)

124 ~ the murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey and the alleged poisoning of Sir Thomas Overbury by the Countess of Essex.

The Godfrey reference is to a story from “The Valet’s Tragedy and Other Stories” by Andrew Lang. The story of Sir Godfrey’s murder can be found at Wikipedia.

Sir Thomas Overbury (baptized 1581-1613) was a poet and essayist in the court of James I. Overbury was secretary and close adviser to Robert Carr, later Viscount Rochester. In 1611, Rochester fell in love with Frances Howard, wife of the Earl of Essex. She secured a divorce and planed to marry Rochester. Fearing a loss of influence over his friend, he tried to persuade Rochester to drop the match, and circulated his poem “A Wife” which was interpreted as an attack on Lady Essex. This angered the king, and Lady Essex’ powerful relatives had Overbury imprisoned. She arranged to have him slowly poisoned to death.

Three months later, Rochester, now Earl of Somerset, married Lady Essex. Over the next two years, suspicions were raised over Overbury’s death, and in the end, six people were tried, including the Earl and his wife. They were prosecuted by Francis Bacon, and convicted and pardoned by the king, while the others were convicted and executed. Overbury’s poem, meanwhile, was published in 1614 and went through several editions. But what was more important, the later editions included witty and satirical prose portraits of Jacobean types that advanced the development of the essay. These were written by John Webster, Cecily Bulstrode, Lady Frances Southwell, Thomas Dekker and John Donne, with a few contributed by Overbury.

126 ~ O les beaux jours que ce siecle de fer

Miss Millbanks seems to be conflating two lines from Voltaire’s 1736 poem “Le Mondain” (“The Man of the World”) that praises the modern age and warns against looking back at the “good old days.” Her quotation roughly translates into “O beautiful days in this age of iron.”

Groupists drink cocoa . . . But they are oh! So tender to the failings of others

Groupists … the failings of others: The Oxford Group, a Christian organization that, like many before and many to follow, emphasized its focus on God and Christ over such things as worship rituals, hierarchies, agendas or leaders. Founded by American missionary Frank Buchman in 1908, the movement emphasized adopting four absolutes — honesty, purity, unselfishness and love. The “Oxford Group” label came from press accounts of a students’ trip to South Africa, and it stuck. The group’s beliefs influenced the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. Prior to World War II, the group changed its name to Moral Rearmament.

(Contributed by Johanna Kershaw and others)

140 ~ in the somnolent stage of her rake’s progress

somnolent: inclined to sleep

Rake’s Progress: a series of engravings by William Hogarth that appeared in 1733-1735, that charted the downfall of a libertine.

143 ~ Not surprising if she goes mad in white linen

mad in white linen: A common phrase. It appears in the stage direction from Sheridan’s play “The Critic,” in which he writes

“Enter Tilburina , stark mad in white satin, and her confidante, stark mad in white linen”.

(Contributed by Joanna Lonergan)


144 ~ Tho marking him with melting eyes
A thrilling throbbe from her hart did aryse,
And interrupted all her other speache
With some old sorowe that made a newe breache:
Seeemed shee sawe in the younglings face
The old lineaments of his fathers grace.
— Edmund Spenser

From “The Shepheardes Calender” by Edmund Spenser. A version can be found at
(Contributed by Tony Morris)

148 ~ tristius haud illis monstrum nec saevior ulla pestis et ira deum Stygiis sese extulit undis. Virginei volucrum vultus foedissima ventris proluvies uncaeque manus et pallida semper ora fame.

From Virgil’s “Aeneid,” lines 214-218:

No prodigy
more vile than these, nor plague more pitiless
ere rose by wrath divine from Stygian wave;
birds seem they, but with face like woman-kind;
foul-flowing bellies, hands with crooked claws,
and ghastly lips they have, with hunger pale.

(Contributed by Delores de Manuel)

“His lordship has drunk his bath and gone to bed again”

From Edward Spencer’s “Cakes and Ale,” a book published in 1913. Subtitled “A Dissertation of Banquets Interspersed with Various Recipes,” the above quote is from an old story to describe the effects of good living: “Many sufferers will feel a loathing for any sort of food or drink, except cold water. ‘The capting,’ observed the soldier-servant to a visitor, “ain’t very well this morning, sir; he’ve just drunk his bath, and gone to bed again.”

The book can be read at Project Gutenberg.

(Contributed by Peter Osborn and others)

149 ~ Dark and true and tender is the North

From “The Princess: A Medley: O Swallow” by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Later, it was set to music by Sir Arthur Sullivan.

All quiet on the Western Front

World War I reference. The Western Front was the line of battle between the Germans and the French and English (and later Americans). The phrase, taken from a German Army report (where it was “Im Westen nichts Neues”) became the title of an anti-war novel by Erich Maria Remarque. (Contributed by Marc van der Poel)

155 ~ I expect you want to be very truly run after, like Old Man Kangaroo.

A reference to the “Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo,” from Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories

156 ~ As Sherlock Holmes said on another occasion: I think we must ask for an amnesty in that direction’

A line from the conclusion of “Silver Blaze”:

“You have explained all but one thing,” cried the Colonel. “Where was the horse?”

“Ah, it bolted, and was cared for by one of your neighbors. We must have an amnesty in that direction, I think.”

160 ~ Have you been approached about debagging Culpepper

Public school slang for removing the victim’s pants.

from now on, I shall consider nothing but the value of the Thing-in-Itself, unmoved by any pressure of public opinion.

Immanuel Kant used this phrase to contrast between an object as it exists and how we perceive it. In very, very simple terms, Kant believed that while we can experience the material world through our sensory perceptions, we cannot come to a complete understanding of it. We do not experience the world passively, we interpret it.

161 ~ Komisarjevsky

Fyodor Fyodorovich Komissarzhevsky (1882-1954): Russian theatrical director and designer. After studying architecture in Russia and Germany, he directed several plays in St. Petersburg, then produced plays and operas as a director in the imperial and state theaters in Moscow before emigrating to England in 1919. Komissarzhevsky was known for his modernistic treatments of Shakespeare’s plays, such as his “Macbeth” (1933), which was performed in 20th-century dress against a background of aluminum scenery.

Great noise on O.U.D.S. and spends his vacations in Germany I don’t know how they contrive to get so worked up about plays. I like a good play, but I don’t understand all this stuff about stylistic treatment and planes of vision.

O.U.D.S. Oxford University Dramatic Society. Komissarzhevsky produced “King Lear” for the OUDS in 1927.

fountain statue of Mercury165 ~ drown myself in Mercury

A reference to the fountain statue of Mercury in Christ Church College.
(Contributed by Marc van der Poel)

167 ~ the minute they write d.s.p. after me, Uncle Peter’s for it.

Latin “decessit sine prole” or French “decede/decedee sans posterite,” died without issue


170 ~ Come hether friend, I am ashamed to hear that what I hear of you . . . You have almost attayned to the age of nyne yeeres, at least eight and a halfe, and seeing that you knowe your dutie, if you neglect it you deserve greater punishment then he which through ignorance doth it not. Think not that the nobilitie of your Ancestors doth free you to doe all that you list, contrary-wise, it bindeth you more to followe vertue. — Pierre Erondell

Pierre Erondell was an exiled Huguenot teacher and author of a book about teaching the language, from which this quote was taken, called “The French Garden” (1605). His book “The Elizabethan Home” was combined with another work and republished in 1930. Its editor was Muriel St. Claire Byrne, a close friend of Sayers who worked with her on the stage version of “Busman’s Honeymoon.”

(Contributed by Henrietta Wurst)

173 ~ If one’s genuinely interested one knows how to be patient, and let time pass, as Queen Elizabeth said.

The lady is Queen Elizabeth I, who, during negotiations with the French in 1580 concerning a possible marriage, wrote:

“You do not forget, mon tres cher, that the greatest cause of delay [in arranging a match] is due to this [agitation by English zealots against a Catholic marriage], that our people ought to congratulate and to applaud. To bring this about I have let time pass, which generally helps more than reasoning.”

Sayers loved this phrase so much she used it in “Striding Folly.”

Perhaps that’s the meaning of the phrase about genius being eternal patience, which I always thought rather absurd.

“Genius is eternal patience.” ~ Michelangelo (found only at one of many “Quote of the Day” inspirational sites)

176 ~ les beaux yeux de la cassette de l’oncle Pierre

Roughly “the beautiful eyes of uncle Peter’s money box”, a reference to Molière’s “L’avare” (“The Miser”)

Let’s compare the passage from the French and English versions (with the quote above underlined) from Project Gutenberg:

Harpagon: (à part.) Ma cassette trop honnête !

Valère: Tous mes désirs se sont bornés à jouir de sa vue ; et rien de criminel n’a profané la passion que ses beaux yeux m’ont inspirée.

Harpagon: (à part.) Les beaux yeux de ma cassette! Il parle d’elle comme un amant d’une maîtresse.

Or, in English:

Har. (aside). My cash-box modest!

Val. All my desires were limited to the pleasures of sight, and nothing criminal has profaned the passion those fair eyes have inspired me with.

Har. (aside). The fair eyes of my cash-box! He speaks of it as a lover does of his mistress.
(Contributed by Marc van der Poel)

gaudy night annotations Dives dying and being tormented in Hades, from the Church of Ste-Maria-Magdaleine at Vezelay183 ~ I feel like Dives in whats-his-name

Dives is the name of the unnamed rich man in the parable of Lazarus found in Luke 16:20. While the poor man Lazarus dies and ascends to heaven, the rich man who ignored Lazarus’ suffering dies and is tormented forever in Hades. Why or how the man became named is unknown, but “dives” is the Latin Vulgate word for “wealthy.”
(Contributed by Marc van der Poel)


190 ~ Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness,
Some say thy grace is youth and gentle sport;
Both grace and faults are loved of more and less;
Thou makst faults graces that to thee resort.
— William Shakespeare

From sonnet 96.

196 ~ but she seemed to have gone off into the Ewigkeit

Ewigkeit: German word for perpetuity or eternity

197 ~ Codlin is the friend, not Short

From Dickens’ “Old Curiosity Shop,” chapter 19. Codlin and Short were Punch-and-Judy men who accompany Little Nell and her grandfather as they roam the country. Codlin had a shrewd suspicion that little Nell and her grandfather were fleeing someone and hoped had absconded, and that a reward would be offered for their discovery. So he tried to make friends with the little girl in the hope of making something of it.

“None of the speakers has much to say in actual hostility to Lord Salisbury’s speech, but they all harp upon the theory that Codlin is the friend, not Short.” — Newspaper paragraph, Oct. 13th, 1885.

198 ~ as old James Forsyte says, “Nobody ever tells me anything.”

A reference to “Man of Property” by John Galsworthy

200 ~ Like the Old Man of Thermopylae — never does anything properly

From “Some Nonsense Limericks by Edward Lear” (1846):

There was an Old Man of Thermopylae,
Who never did anything properly;
But they said, “If you choose
To boil Eggs in your Shoes,
You shall never remain in Thermopylae.”

“The portrait of a blinking idiot” (Amazing fellow, Shakespeare. The apt word for all occasions.)

From “The Merchant of Venice.” On one of three caskets Portia offers to potential suitors. The Prince of Arragon chose this one.

201 ~ continue to rob Peter to pay all (rather neat thing to say)

According to the “Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings,” the saying is very old. The earliest written usage is from the 1380s in John Wycliffe’s ‘Select English Works.’ written in about 1380. The quote also pops up in several different languages. In French, one may “decouvrir saint Pierre pour couvrir saint Paul” (‘Strip Peter to clothe Paul’); in Spanish, to “desnudar a uno santo para vestir a otro” (‘To undress one saint to dress another’); and in German, to “dem Peter nehmen und dem Paul geben.” (‘To take from Peter and give to Paul’).

203 ~ legged it over the wall like one John Smith

“Legging it” is British slang for running, while “John Smith” implies that he’s trying to disappear (John Smith, of course, being a common name).
(Contributed by Tony Morris)

204 ~ One halfpennyworth of bread to this intolerable deal of sack

The Prince’s last line from Shakespeare’s “Henry IV, Part One,” Act II, Scene iv. Wimsey also drops a reference to this scene in “The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention.”


207 ~ Leave me, O Love, which reachest but to dust;
And thou, my mind, aspire to higher things;
— Sir Philip Sidney

Two lines from a sonnet.

219 ~ vanished daily into the Radcliffe Camera . . . in Radcliffe Square the Camera slept like a cat in the sunshine, disturbed only by the occasional visit of a slow-footed don

Radcliffe Camera: One of the most interesting buildings at Oxford, the Radcliffe Camera is a circular library that was built between 1737 and 1749. It is named for Dr. Radcliffe, one of the University’s greatest benefactors, who died in 1714 and left £40,000 to build a new library. The Camera now contains two Bodleian reading rooms, and a bookstore beneath the front lawn. So why is it called a camera? Because the word is derived from the Latin for room. (Slight highjack: In law, when the judge holds a proceeding in his private office, it is considered to be held in camera.)

of Agag-feet along the padded floor

This is a reference to 1 Samuel 15-32: “Then said Samuel, Bring ye hither to me Agag the king of the Amalekites. And Agag came unto him delicately.” (Contributed by John Dekker)

220 ~ improbably remote and lovely as the towers of Tir-nan-Og beneath the green sea-rollers

The Land of the Faeries

To that still centre where the spinning world
Sleeps on its axis —

Not traced, but as the text says it was created by Harriet, one may assume that DLS wrote it.

221 ~ “Nice little barf-room, Liza — what shall we do with it?”

This story from Punch could not be traced

Here, then, at home, by no more storms distrest,
Stay we our steps — course—flight — hands folded and wings furled.

Again, probably more lines by DLS.


232 ~ As a Tulipant to the Sun (which our herbalists cann Narcissus) when it shines, it is admirandua flos ad radios solis se pandens, a glorious Flower exposing itself; but when the Sun sets, or a tempest comes, it hides itself, pines away, and hath no pleasure left . . . do all Enamoratoes to their Mistress.
— Robert Burton

The mind most effectually works upon the body, producing by his passions and perturbations miraculous alterations, as melancholy, despair, cruel diseases, and sometimes death itself . . . . They that live in fear are never free, resolute, secure, never merry, but in continual pina. . . . It causeth oftimes sudden madness.
— Robert Burton

Both sections are from Burton’s “The Anatomy of Melancholy.” (Contributed by Marc van der Poel)

236 ~ I have a passion for frowst

frowst: A British word for a hot, stale atmosphere

237 ~ Chuck that perishing old Ducange and Meyer-Lübke or whoever it is and go and play.

Charles du Fresne du Cange (1610–88): French medieval historian and philologist. He is principally known for his glossary of medieval and late Latin. Wilhelm Meyer-Lübke (1861-1936) was a Swiss philologist known for his four-volume grammar of Romance languages and an etymological dictionary.

241 ~ mulier vel meretrix, cujus consortio Christianis prorsus interdictum

Ellen Brundige’s Hubpage provides a translation and context for this passage, which she assumes is a line from the university’s regulations which states that “[whether] wife or mistress, association with her is utterly forbidden to Christian men.” She notes that consortio, in addition to “consort,” can also mean partner or equals, which is what Harriet wants with Peter but can’t have (so she thinks) because he was instrumental in saving her life.

242 ~ prog him

While I haven’t found the source for this bit of slang, I did find this amusing page in which the duties and responsibilities of proctors in the English university system is discussed. Oxford University still has proctors, and though their powers have been greatly reduced, they still skulk about issuing fines to students for prohibited activities such as messy post-exam celebrations. The bulldogs, however, were disbanded in 2003.
(Contributed, with thanks, by “Jo”)

Hercules seizing the golden apples, illustration from the Nurnbergische Hesperidesexcept in the Hesperides

The reference comes from Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” act 4, scene 3, when Berowne — arguing that men should abandon their studies in favor of the pursuit of love — says:

For valour, is not Love a Hercules,
Still climbing trees in the Hesperides?

As one of his labors, Hercules was ordered to retrieve the golden apples that grew in the Garden of Hesperides. Doing so required that he climb the tree, which was guarded by a fierce dragon.
(Contributed by Kerry Masteller)

245 ~ He was no King Cophetua; she had not to be humbly obliged to him for kindly taking notice of her.

The legend tells that the African King Cophetua refused to marry until he was entranced at the sight of a beautiful beggar woman, whereby he resolved that she shall become his queen. The story was the subject of a painting by Sir Edward Burne-Jones. Tennyson also told the story in “The Beggar Maid.”

Her arms across her breast she laid;
She was more fair than words can say:
Barefooted came the beggar maid
Before the king Cophetua.
In robe and crown the king stepped down,
To meet and greet her on the way:
‘It is no wonder,’ said the lords,
‘She is more beautiful than day.’
In the end, Cophetua swore a royal oath:
“This beggar maid shall be my queen!”

The story also appears in Shakespeare: “The magnanimous and most illustrate king Cophetua set eye upon the pernicious and indubitate beggar Zenelophon.” Love’s Labour’s Lost, iv. 1.

It’s notable that Sayers may have returned to the well of Shakespeare. Three pages before, we have a quote from “Love’s Labour Lost.” In the same act, we find this couplet, part of a letter that Armado is sending to Rosaline, a peasant girl:

The magnanimous and most illustrate king Cophetua
set eye upon the permicious and indubitate beggar Zenelophon,

As Isaac Asimov wrote in his guide to Shakespeare, “he makes comparisons that are flattering to himself, if little likely to delight the girl.”

Sayers uses this story again in “Strong Poison.”

(Contributed by Lilah Lohr)


258 ~ You might have quoted also from the essay De la Vanité. You remember the passage. Je me suis couché mille fois chez moi, imaginant qu’on me trahirait et assommerait cette nuitlà — his morbid preoccupation with the idea of death and his —”

From Montaigne’s “The Essais III”, chapter 9.
(Contributed by Sabina Schlee)

259 ~ horti conclusi, fontes signati

From Song of Songs: 4:12 (“A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.”) Note the echo of the Donne passage on the title.

ancient dread of Artemis, moon-goddess, virgin-huntress, whose arrows are plagues and death

The Greek goddess of hunting and virginity.
(Contributed by “Jo”)

260 ~ a gentleman of Peter’s kidney

kidney: temperament
(Contributed by Sara Schwager)

262 ~ felt like Aesop’s bat between the birds and beasts

From the fable “The Bat, the Birds and the Beasts”:

A great conflict was about to come off between the Birds and the Beasts. When the two armies were collected together the Bat hesitated which to join. The Birds that passed his perch said: “Come with us”; but he said: “I am a Beast.” Later on, some Beasts who were passing underneath him looked up and said: “Come with us”; but he said: “I am a Bird.”

Luckily at the last moment peace was made, and no battle took place, so the Bat came to the Birds and wished to join in the rejoicings, but they all turned against him and he had to fly away. He then went to the Beasts, but soon had to beat a retreat, or else they would have torn him to pieces.

“Ah,” said the Bat, “I see now. He that is neither one thing nor the other has no friends.”

Crest of Oriel College, OxfordCrest of Worcester College, Oxford269 ~ Lions of Oriel or the martlets of Worcester

Another Oxford reference. This time, to the coats of arms borne by the collects. The lions appear in Oriel College’s coat of arms, and the martlets — a house martin portrayed without feet, used as a crest to indicate the fourth son — appear on Worcester College’s coat of arms.
(Contributed by Tom Sulyok)

a betrothed among the tripping stags of Jesus or a brother nourished by the pious pelican of Corpus (pelican pecking at her breast to feed her younguns.

As above, a reference to college coats of arms. The shield of Jesus College is three running stags on a green background, and the emblem of Corpus Christi College (often referred to as Corpus within the university) is a pelican, used in medieval times as a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice.
(Contributed by “Jo,” Alexx Kay, and many others)


273 ~ Truce gentle love, a parly now I crave.
Me thinks, ‘tis long since first these wars begun,
Nor thou nor I, the better yet can have:
Bad is the match where neither party won.
I offer free conditions of faire peace,
My hart for hostage, that it shall remaine,
Discharge our forces heere, let malice cease,
So for my pledge, thou give me pledge againe.
Michael Drayton

From Drayton’s sonnet 55, which can be found at Project Gutenberg.
(Contributed by Tony Morris)

273 ~ “The University is a Paradise” — true, but — “then saw I that there was a way to hell even from the gates of Heaven”

“Then I saw that there was a way to hell, even from the gates of heaven, as well as from the City of Destruction.”

276 ~ A.L. Smith thought highly of him

A(rthur) L(ionel) Smith: (1850-1924) Historian and Master of Balliol, Wimsey’s college, from 1916-1924.
(Contributed by Michael Loo)

279 ~ Ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. . . . but they said: we will not walk there

From Jerimiah 6:16: “Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken.”

284 ~ My ear is open like a greedy shark to catch the tunings of the voice divine.

“The crashing conclusion of a sonnet by Keats. True, it is a youthful effort; but there are some things that even youth does not excuse.”
— Wimsey

From “Woman! When I behold thee flippant, vain” by Keats.

you have allowed me to spread the tail of vanity before that pair of deserted Ariadnes

tail of vanity: a reference to a peacock’s tail, noted for its beautiful plumage. Pliny the Elder noted that peacocks raise their tail feathers when praised, and medieval bestiaries taught that the peacock reminds us not to fall into the sin of pride.

Ariadnes: In Greek mythology, Ariadnes, daughter of King Minos of Crete, gave the Athenian king’s son, Theseus, a spool of thread that enabled him to get through the labyrinth to kill the Minotaur. She sailed away with Theseus, but he left her stranded on the island of Naxos.

So, expressed in his unique way, what Lord Peter was doing, was thanking Harriet for allowing him to show off his punting skills before the women waiting for their escorts to take them onto the river.

(Contributed, with grateful thanks, by Lilah Lohr)

286 ~ noble and nude and antique

From “Dolores” by English poet and playwright Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909):

We shift and bedeck and bedrape us,
Thou art noble and nude and antique;
Libitina thy mother, Priapus
Thy father, a Tuscan and Greek.


289 ~ Do but consider what an excellent thing sleep is: it is so inestimable a jewel that, if a tyrant would give his crown for an hour’s slumber, it cannot be bought: of so beautiful a shape is it, that though a man lie with an Empress, his heart cannot beat quiet till he leaves her embracements to be at rest with the other: yea, so greatly indebted are we to this kinsman of death, that we owe the better tributary, half of our life to him: and there is good cause why we should do so: for sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together. (Etc.)
— From “The Gull’s Hornbook” by Thomas Dekker

(Contributed by Melanie Jones)

291 ~ Praise from Sir Hubert is praise indeed

This comes from the play “A Cure for the Heartache” (Act V, Scene 2) by Thomas Morton. The line actually runs “Approbation from Sir Hubert Stanley is praise indeed.”
(Contributed by John Hughes and his mother)

I was committing the fatal error of theorizing ahead of my data

A Sherlock Holmes reference that appears in several of the stories:

“I never guess. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.
Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories
to suit facts.” from “A Scandal in Bohemia”

“It is a capital mistake to theorize in advance of the facts.” from “The Adventure of the Second Stain”

296 ~ How wonderful is Death, Death and his brother Sleep! And, having asked whether Ianthe will wake again and being assured that she will, he proceeds to weave many beautiful thoughts about Ianthe’s sleep. From this we may fairly deduce that he (like Henry who kneeled in silence by her couch) felt tenderly towards Ianthe. For another person’s sleep is the acid test of our own sentiments. (And on and on and on and a very strange passage it is)

From Percy Bysshe Shelley:

How wonderful is Death!
Death and his brother Sleep.

Queen Mab. i.
Henry Clerval

In Percy Bysshe Shelley’s first major poem, Queen Mab (1813), the male friend (and author-surrogate) who awaits the dreaming Ianthe’s awakening is named Henry. Clerval is at least partly drawn as a portrait of an idealized Shelley.

297 ~ Harriet, thus cozened into playing Phoebe to the sleeping Endymion,

From Thomas Drayton’s “Phoebe and Endymion” (1593) which became a source for Keats’ “Endymion.”

298 ~ Religio Medici

Certainly there is no happiness within this circle of flesh; nor is it in the opticks of these eyes to behold felicity. The first day of our jubilee is death.

When I am from him, I am dead till I be with him. United souls are not satisfied with embraces, but desire to be truly each other; which being impossible, these desires are infinite, and must proceed without a possibility of satisfaction.

From “Of Affection” by Thomas Browne.
(Contributed by Sarar Schwager)

299 ~ And watch you bring that pole up in three

Strictly a guess here, as sites on punting talk more about the correct follow-through after kicking the ball rather than the mechanics of poling a boat. Punting a boat is not an activity for amateurs, except for the amusement of those watching on the riverbank. Plenty can go wrong, from the punter falling in to digging the pole in too deep and being unable to pull it out, thereby leaving your only means of steerage behind you. The trick seems to lie in keeping your balance, not overdoing it, watching where you go, and setting an easy rhythm. “Bringing it up in three” refers to the moment when you’ve pushed down the pole as far as you want it to go. You pull the pole out with one hand, bring it up toward you, hand over hand, so that you can push it down again with the proper hand. Failure to do so leads to an awkward motion that looks shabby and could cause catastrophe.

Men of passion but no parts

parts: a constituent of character or capacity. Could also refer to talents, as in “a man of many talents.”

300 ~ Kai Lung, Apuleius

Kai Lung: Ernest Bramah wrote several books about Kai Lung, an itinerant teller of tales in “a China that never was.” These tall tales are noted as much for the way they are told as for the content, and are read for pleasure as much as we read P.G. Wodehouse today. (The reference also appears in “Strong Poison”)

John Donne: Peter reacted strongly to Harriet’s guess for several reasons. First, Donne was not a popular poet at the time. He was too Papist, too sensual and his meanings too obscure. But Peter feels a close kinship to Donne’s combination of the spiritual, intellectual and sensual (take, for example, “To His Mistress Going to Bed” and the couplet ‘Licence my roving hands and let them go / Before, behind, between, above, below’ Whew!). With Donne seated in his soul, Harriet’s playful tone rubbed him the wrong way by catching him with his metaphorical pants down. Since Harriet has not reciprocated Peter’s affection, he feels at a disadvantage, and responded by shutting down.

The perfect Augustan? No; I’m afraid it’s at most a balance of opposing forces

A reference to Virgil’s “Aeneid,” his epic poem telling the story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travels to Italy and becomes the ancestor of the Romans. Dryden’s translation of the poem strengthened what he saw as Virgil’s attempt to cast the current emperor, Augustus, in the role of Aeneas, praising his virtues that made him the model of the “perfect prince.” From Dryden’s introduction:

Virgil had consider’d that the greatest Virtues of Augustus consisted in the perfect Art of Governing his People; which caus’d him to Reign for more than Forty Years in great Felicity. He consider’d that his Emperor was Valiant, Civil, Popular, Eloquent, and Religious. He had given all these qualities to Aeneas.

Small wonder that Wimsey would decline the mantle of the “perfect Augustan.”

(Thanks to Mary Brown for pointing the way.)

303 ~ And so-o-o (in saccharine accents), the co-onvent gates closed behind So-o-onia!

Not traced


304 ~ From noise of Scare-fires rest ye free,
From Murders Benedicite.
From all mischances, they may fright
Your pleasing slumbers in the night:
Mercie secure ye all, and keep
The Goblins from ye, while ye sleep.
Robert Herrick

From “The Bell-Man,” of which there are two more lines to the poem: –Past one a clock, and almost two,– / My masters all, ‘Good day to you.’

(Contributed by Alexx Kay)

311 ~ Vera incessu patuit dean

A reference to Virgil’s Aeneid, I.v.603. “She stood revealed, an undoubted goddess in her walk.”
(Contributed by Tom Sulyok)

If she bid them, they will go barefoot to Jerusalem, to the great Cham’s court, to the East Indies, to fetch her a bird to wear in her hat

From “The Anatomy of Melancholy,” by Robert Burton, Part 3, Section 2. (Contributed by John Tucker)


321 ~ He that questioneth much shall learn much, and content much . . .
Francis Bacon

A quotation from his essay XXXII, “Of Discourse
(Contributed by Alexx Kay)

King Darius said to the lions: —
Bite Daniel. Bite Daniel.
Bite him. Bite him. Bite him.

And she was as fine as a melon in the corn-field,
Gliding and lovely as a ship upon the sea.

Both are quotations from “The Daniel Jazz,” by Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931).

Long before poetry slams turned verse into performance art, Vachel Lindsay was touring the United States with his “Higher Vaudeville,” declaiming his poems in what the “Oxford Companion to American Literature” called “a dramatic use of gesture and chant, emphasizing his strong rhythms and syncopation.” He would rock on his feet and pump his arms as he shouted and sang his poems. Lindsay dubbed these compositions “the Higher Vaudeville,” poems written in “a sort of ragtime manner that deceives them into thinking they are at a vaudeville show.” Or, as he wrote, “By that very act I persuaded the tired businessman to listen at last. But lo, my tiny reputation as a writer seemed wiped out by my new reputation as an entertainer.” He tried to retire from the road, but his poor spending habits and the enthusiastic receptions he received encouraged him to continue until his death.

323 ~ Ye’ll no fickle Tammas Yownie

Tammas Yownie: A character from “Huntingtower” (1922) by John Buchan (1875-1940). The sentence comes from chapter 6, in which a Glasgow grocer and his friend venture into the Scottish highlands to meet with members of the Gorbals Die-Hards, a group of poor boys who have formed their own version of a Boy Scout troop:

Presently, as they tramped silently on, they came to the bridge beneath which the peaty waters of the Garple ran in porter-coloured pools and tawny cascades. From a clump of elders on the other side Dougal emerged. A barefoot boy, dressed in much the same parody of a Boy Scout’s uniform, but with corduroy shorts instead of a kilt, stood before him at rigid attention. Some command was issued, the child saluted, and trotted back past the travellers with never a look at them. Discipline was strong among the Gorbals Die-Hards; no Chief of Staff ever conversed with his General under a stricter etiquette.

Dougal received the travellers with the condescension of a regular towards civilians.

“They’re off their gawrd,” he announced. Thomas Yownie has been shadowin’ them since skreigh o’ day, and he reports that Dobson and Lean followed ye till ye were out o’ sight o’ the houses, and syne Lean got a spy-glass and watched ye till the road turned in among the trees. That satisfied them, and they’re both away back to their jobs. Thomas Yownie’s the fell yin. Ye’ll no fickle Thomas Yownie.”

(Contributed by Lilah Lohr)

324 ~ the diplomatic aspects of the Divorce . . . really masterly. Indeed, I felt that, if anything, you had slightly underestimated the pressure brought to bear upon Clement by . . .

Possibly a reference to Henry VIII’s struggle with the Catholic Church over the divorce question. The Clement could be a reference to Clement VII (1523-1534).

326 ~ We are mortified in nineteenth-century Gothic, lest in our overweening Balliolity we forget God. We pulled down the good to make way for the bad; you, on the contrary, have made the world out of nothing — a more divine procedure

“Balliolity” is a reference to Balliol, one of Oxford’s most prestigious colleges (Wimsey, of course, went there). Its members have a reputation for self-satisfaction verging on smugness, what H. H. Asquith once described as having “the tranquil consciousness of an effortless superiority.” This is what Lord Peter is referring to as “overweening Balliolity.” In the late nineteenth century, many of the college’s buildings were rebuilt by Alfred Waterhouse in the late nineteenth century in the Gothic style. Lord Peter, apparently, strongly disapproves.
(Contributed by “Jo”)

327 ~ en prise

A chess term for a piece, typically a pawn, left exposed to capture. From the French for “to be taken.”

328 ~ The great advantage about telling the truth is that nobody ever believes it — that is at the bottom of the ψευδη λεγειν ωσ δει

“The art of framing lies.” A quote from Aristotle’s “Poetics,” Chapter 24:

“Homer more than any other has taught the rest of us the art of framing lies in the right way. I mean the use of paralogism. Whenever, if A is or happens, a consequent, B, is or happens, men’s notion is that, if the B is, the A also is … but that is a false conclusion. Accordingly, if A is untrue, but there is something else, B, that on the assumption of its truth follows as its consequent, the right thing then is to add on the B. Just because we know the truth of the consequent, we are in our own minds led on to the erroneous inference of the truth of the antecedent.”

(Courtesy of Katja Stokley)

The toad beneath the harrow knows where every separate tooth-point goes

From “Pagett, MP,” by Rudyard Kipling.

The toad beneath the harrow knows
Exactly where each tooth-point goes;
The butterfly upon the road
Preaches contentment to the road.

329 ~ the ticking of the Death-watch, which is made by tapping with the jaws and is held to be a love-call.

The beetle has a fondness for seasoned wood, so it’s not surprising one found a home in his headboard. As Wimsey states, once at home in its burrow, the male beetle seeks a mate by tapping the wood. The beetle’s name is a reference to a folk superstition that suggests that hearing it meant a person’s days were numbered. The connection is obvious when you reflect that in an active house, the noise may go unheard, but in the stillness of the sickroom, it becomes apparent.

Mark Twain makes a similar reference at the start of Tom Sawyer, chapter 9:

AT half-past nine, that night, Tom and Sid were sent to bed, as usual. They said their prayers, and Sid was soon asleep. Tom lay awake and waited, in restless impatience. When it seemed to him that it must be nearly daylight, he heard the clock strike ten! This was despair. He would have tossed and fidgeted, as his nerves demanded, but he was afraid he might wake Sid. So he lay still, and stared up into the dark. Everything was dismally still. By and by, out of the stillness, little, scarcely perceptible noises began to emphasize themselves. The ticking of the clock began to bring itself into notice. Old beams began to crack mysteriously. The stairs creaked faintly. Evidently spirits were abroad. A measured, muffled snore issued from Aunt Polly’s chamber. And now the tiresome chirping of a cricket that no human ingenuity could locate, began. Next the ghastly ticking of a death-watch in the wall at the bed’s head made Tom shudder—it meant that somebody’s days were numbered. Then the howl of a far-off dog rose on the night air, and was answered by a fainter howl from a remoter distance. Tom was in an agony. At last he was satisfied that time had ceased and eternity begun; he began to doze, in spite of himself; the clock chimed eleven, but he did not hear it. And then there came, mingling with his half-formed dreams, a most melancholy caterwauling. The raising of a neighboring window disturbed him. A cry of “Scat! you devil!” and the crash of an empty bottle against the back of his aunt’s woodshed brought him wide awake, and a single minute later he was dressed and out of the window and creeping along the roof of the “ell” on all fours.

330 ~ The real tragedy is not the conflict of good with evil but of good with good

Not traced

331 ~ Nobody can prevent the Fall of Troy, but a dull, careful person may manage to smuggle out the Lares and Penates — even at the risk of having the epithet pius tacked to his name

lares and penates: treasured household possessions, from the Latin for two household gods. Lares were fertility gods; Penates gods of the storeroom.

Aeneas introduces himself (510-531): “I am Aeneas, duty-bound (pius), and known above high air of heaven by my fame.” Aeneas comes from Troy, looking for Italy as his new fatherland. His mother is a goddess (Venus), and he is a descendant of mighty Jove (the founder of Troy, Dardanus, was one of Jupiter’s many sons with females other than Hera). After the fall of Troy, Aeneas escaped from the burning ruins of the city, carrying his father and the household gods (see Lares and Penates) on his shoulders. In the Aeneid, Aeneas’ most common epithet is “pius,” and Virgil presents him as the exemplar of the Roman virtues of devotion to duty and reverence for the gods.

But epic actions are all fought by the rearguard — at Roncevaux and Thermopylae

The battle at Roncevaux is recounted in “The Song of Roland,” about a campaign in Spain, where in 778, a nephew of Charlemagne fought the Saracens in a rearguard action.

The battle at Thermopylae is the more notable action in which, in 480 B.C.E., 300 Spartans under Leonidas fought to the death to keep the Persians under Xerxes from the narrow pass in central Greece. Although the Persians won at Thermopylae and conquered central Greece, they suffered considerable losses in the battle, and most of the Greek troops and ships were able to escape to the Isthmus of Corinth to rejoin the main Greek forces. This battle became celebrated in history and literature as an example of heroic resistance against great odds.

332 ~ Like the lovers in that Stroheim film, we’ll go and sit on the sewer

Possibly “Greed,” a version of McTeague, Frank Norris’ novel, which was released in the 1920s. Early in their relationship, McTeague and Trina take the interurban train out into the countryside. As they’re standing at the station, Trina’s title card in the shortened MGM version reads, “This the first day it hasn’t rained in weeks. I thought it would be nice to go for a walk.” In Schmidlin’s reconstruction from the shooting script, it reads: “Let’s go over and sit on the sewer,” and so they do, perching on a manhole cover.

340 ~ Forged Decretals . . . Chatterton . . . Ossian . . . Henry Ireland . . . those Nineteenth-Century Pamphlets the other day

All of these are famous forgeries:

Forged Decretals: Also known as the False Decretals, this collection of partly spurious documents attempted to show that common law gave the bishops the legal right to resist attempts at interference from secular authorities. While they were proved to be mostly fraudulent by the 16th century, they were considered authoritative during the Middle Ages. Since then, the False Decretals have gained their chief fame because they were one of the great forgeries of history. Included in the collection are 60 letters or decrees of popes from Clement I to Melchiades (d. 314), of which 58 are forged; an original essay on the early church and the Council of Nicaea, with canons of 54 councils, of which all canons but one are authentic or were accepted as authentic long before the author’s time; and a collection of papal letters from the 4th to 8th cent., Of which the majority are authentic.

Thomas Chatterton (1752-70): English poet who died at the age of 17 by poisoning himself. But he was also a forger. At the age of 12, he composed the “Rowley Poems,” claiming they were copies of 15th-century manuscripts. They were not, although they were acclaimed for their vigor and evidence of Chatterton’s poetic genius, much that it helped him. He became a hero to the romantic and Pre-Raphaelite poets, several of whom, notably Keats and Coleridge, wrote poems about him.

Ossian: A collection of purportedly ancient poetry that were actually written by James Macpherson (1736-96), a Scottish author. Educated at Aberdeen and Edinburgh, he spent his early years as a schoolmaster. In later life he held a colonial secretaryship in West Florida (1764-66) and was a member of Parliament from 1780 until his death. In 1760, at the insistence of John Home and others, he published “Fragments of Ancient Poetry Collected in the Highlands of Scotland,” supposedly his own translations of ancient Gaelic poems. Later, he published translations of two epic poems, Fingal (1761) and Temora (1763), which were represented as the work of a 3rd-century Irish bard named Ossian. A collection, “The Works of Ossian,” appeared in 1765. Samuel Johnson and others heatedly challenged the authenticity of the poems. After Macpherson’s death, an investigating committee of scholars agreed that he had used some ancient Gaelic poems and traditions, but composed most of the supposedly ancient poetry himself. His prose poems, written in a loose, rhythmical style, filled with supernaturalism and melancholy, influenced powerfully the rising romantic movement in literature, especially German literature.

As a fan of Patrick O’Brian’s works, I must point out an extended argument over Ossian authenticity surfaces in “Post Captain,” chapter 4.

Henry Ireland (1777-1835): English forger of Shakespearean documents and manuscripts. Besides forging deeds and signatures relating to Shakespeare, Ireland fabricated two plays, “Vortigern and Rowena” (1796) and “Henry II” (both pub. 1799), as the works of Shakespeare. Edmond Malone, however, exposed him, and Ireland later acknowledged the hoax.

Thomas James Wise (1859–1937): English bibliographer and book collector. His famous Ashley Library of rare editions and manuscripts was acquired by the British Museum in 1937. His many bibliographies and catalogs of the works of English literary figures included those on Shelley, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Conrad, Coleridge, and Robert Browning. Wise also privately printed nearly 300 works of English authors, some of which were exposed by John Carter and Graham Pollard as forgeries in “An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets” (1934).

344 ~ ‘The greater the sin the greater the sacrifice — and consequently the greater devotion

And these say: ‘No more now my knight
Or God’s knight any longer’ — you,
Being than they so much more white,
So much more pure and good and true,

“Will cling to me for ever —

From William Morris‘ “The Judgment of God.” Wimsey comments after reciting this that “William Morris had his moments of being a hundred-percent manly man.”

(Contributed by Alexx Kay)

345 ~ sit desolate in the midst, like a lodge in a garden of cucumbers

From the Bible, Isaiah 1:8: “And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.”

348 ~ I have tried if I could reach that great resolution, to be honest without a thought of heaven or hell

From the “Religio Medic,” paragraph 47:

I have practised that honest artifice of Seneca, and in my retired and solitary imaginations, to detain me from the foulness of vice, have fancied to my self the presence of my dear and worthiest friends, before whom I should lose my head, rather than be vitious: yet herein I found that there was nought but moral honesty, and this was not be vertuous for His sake Who must reward us at the last. I have tryed if I could reach that great resolution of his, to be honest without a thought of Heaven or Hell: and indeed I found, upon a natural inclination and inbred loyalty unto virtue, that I could serve her without a livery, yet not in that resolved and venerable way, but that the frailty of my nature, upon an easie temptation, might be induced to forget her.

The Duke drained a dipper of brandy-and-water and became again the perfect English gentleman

A line from ““Gertrude the Governess: or, Simple Seventeen”,” a parody of “Jane Eyre” by Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock. Here is the paragraph in full:

The girl presently descended and was ushered into the library, where she was presented to the Earl. As soon as the Earl’s eye fell upon the face of the new governess he started visibly. Where had he seen those lineaments? Where was it? At the races, or the theatre–on a bus–no. Some subtler thread of memory was stirring in his mind. He strode hastily to the sideboard, drained a dipper and a half of brandy, and became again the perfect English gentleman.

(Contributed by Katharine)

349 ~ Caudry — 1918

Caudry is a town approximately 12 kilometers east of Cambrai on the south side of the main road to Le Cateau (N43). Caudry town was the scene of part of the Battle of Le Cateau on the 26th August 1914, and from that date it remained in German hands until the 10th October 1918, when it was captured by the 37th Division. Caudry Old Communal Cemetery contains graves of known and unknown WWI casualties of French, German, British and Russian soldiers.

350 ~ “You know the old song: Naggin’ at a feller as is six foot three —” “And her only four foot two”

From the pub song “It’s a Great Big Shame,” popularized by Gus Elen, a music hall performer.


353~ Go tell that witty fellow, my godson, to get home. It is no season to fool it here!
— Queen Elizabeth

From Lytton Strachey’s “Elizabeth and Essex,” chapter XVI, in reference to Sir John Harington.

Apollo Belvedere, flannel-lessApollo Belvedere in spotless flannels

“Apollo Belvedere” is the name of a marble sculpture of the handsome Greek god of light, youth, and music. It is a Roman copy of a Greek bronze original.

354 ~ a young Sultan inspecting a rather unpromising consignment of Circassian slaves

Circassia is a region in the Trans-Caucasus, noted for the fair skin of its inhabitants. According to various writers on the “Near East” (as it was then called) and the Ottoman Empire, Circassian girls were considered especially
desirable and were imported in large numbers for the harems of the Sultan and other Ottoman magnates.

In Part II, Chapter VII of “The Innocents Abroad,” Mark Twain discusses this practice, and includes a mock “Slave-girl Market Report” as it might appear in an American newspaper:

“Best brand, Circassians, crop of 1850, £200; 1852, £250; 1854, £300…”

(Contributed by Rick Rostrum)

“Oho!” said the Dean. “So that’s how the milk got into the coco-nut!”

An idiom expressing a sudden understanding of a problem or question. It has been traced as a witticism as far back as 1832:

… when that fat fiddle-player, George Prince Regent, inquired of an old dowager of eighty-six, at what age woman became insensible to the tender passion, he received the following simpering reply: – “Your Royal Highness had better apply to someone older than myself for an answer to that question,” which fully accounts for the milk in the cocoanut, as the showmen say.

In 1873, it shows up as a stock conundrum:

It would be a curiosity to see the names of the men in public life, to-day, who started out and received their first encouragement by discussing the somewhat fresh and novel questions: “Whether Columbus was entitled to more credit for discovering America, than Washington was for defending it”; “whether there is greater pleasure in participation than in anticipation”; “which is the more perplexing, a smoky chimney or a scolding wife”; “which could more easily be dispensed with, fire or water”; and last but not least: “How did the milk get into the cocoanut shell?”

We also learn that the phrase can also be paired with a second question: such as “That accounts for the milk in the cocoanut but not for the hair outside.”

The phrase also shows up (along with a digression from which this entry is taken) in James Joyce’s “Ulysses.”

(Contributed by Henrietta Wurst)

356 ~ I keep myself to myself

A common phrase in England, generally meaning that the person minded his own business. Most often applied to criminals.

Also, from Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson:

Enoch Robinson stared at George Willard, his childlike blue eyes shining in the lamplight. Again he shivered. “I wanted her and all the time I didn’t want her,” he explained. “Then I began to tell her about my people, about everything that meant anything to me. I tried to keep quiet, to keep myself to myself, but I couldn’t. I felt just as I did about opening the door. Sometimes I ached to have her go away and never come back any more.”

From “Saving Myself For You” written by Sammy Cahn in 1944:

I’ve been saving myself for you, just you, no one but you
I’ve saved my heart in your name
It’s for you to claim
Some day

Been behaving myself for you, just you, no one but you
Because you’d never forgive
A kiss I might give

I’ll keep myself to myself
And in the long run I’ll win
I’ll keep myself to myself
Because I know that you’ve been

Saving your love for me, just me, and come what may
Until we’re together
I’m saving myself for you


372 ~ O well-knit Samson! strong-jointed Samson! I do excell thee in my rapier, as much as thou didst excel me in carrying gates. I am in love, too.
— William Shakespeare

From “Love’s Labor Lost,” Act 1, Scene ii.

373 ~ a set of features limned themselves pallidly against the dark background, like Pepper’s ghost.

Pepper’s ghost is a magical illusion named after John Henry Pepper, a chemistry professor at London Polytechnic Institute. In 1862, a Liverpool civil engineer named Henry Dircks constructed a miniature working model of the effect, and Pepper built the first practical full-size version and exhibited it on stage.

The basic idea is this: a sheet of glass is exhibited on stage, turned at a 45-degree angle. The audience can look through it, but at the same time, they can also see something placed off-stage to the right of the glass, so long as that thing is very well-light. The result is a ghostly image superimposed on the primary image.

That’s the basic illusion. Magicians can use this technique to create a unique escape stunt, but that goes beyond the needs of this annotation.

‘The reason no man knows, let it suffice What we behold is censured by our eyes.’

Not traced

“It lies not in our power to love or hate,
For will in us is overruled by fate.
When two are stripped, long ere the course begin
We wish that one should lose, the other win:
And one especially do we affect
Of two gold ingots like in each respect.
The reason no man knows: let it suffice,
What we behold is censured by our eyes.
Where both deliberate, the love is slight,
Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?”
— Marlowe, “Hero and Leander”

Not traced.

374 ~ The crystal springs, whose taste illuminates
Refined eyes with an eternal sight,
Like tried silver, run through Paradise
To entertain divine Zenocrate

From Marlowe’s “Tamburlaine the Great,” Part II; Act II, Scene 4. The Zenocrate in question is Tamburlaine’s wife, and the section comes from her deathbed scene.

384 ~ Elizabethian songs.

Not traced.


389 ~ For, to speak in a word, envy is naught else but tristitia de bonis alienis, sorrow for other men’s good, be it present, past, or to come: and gaudium de adversis, and joy at their harms. . . . ‘Tis a common disease, and almost natural to us, as Tactius holds, to envy another man’s prosperity.
— Robert Burton

From “The Anatomy of Melancholy.”

392 ~ Make her a goodly chapilet of azur’d Colombine,
And wreathe about her coronet with sweetest Eglantine,
With roses damask, white, and red, and fairest flower delice,
With Cowslips of Jerusalem, and cloves of paradice.

From “The Shepeard’s Garland,” a poem by Michael Drayton.
(Contributed by Erskine Fincher)

fix a vacant stare and slay him with your noble birth

From “Lady Clara Vere de Vere,” a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Lady Clara Vere de Vere,
There stands a spectre in your hall:
The guilt of blood is at your door:
You changed a wholesome heart to gall.
You held your course without remorse,
To make him trust his modest worth,
And, last, you fixed a vacant stare,
And slew him with your noble birth.

(Contributed by Erskine Fincher)

drowning it in a butt of malmsey

A reference to George, 1st Duke of Clarence (1446-1478), the younger brother of King Edward IV. During the war of the Roses, he made the mistake of supporting Warwick the Kingmaker against his brother. In 1471, Clarence abandoned Warwick and returned to his brother’s side, and while high in the king’s favor, his behavior so annoyed the king that he was arrested in 1477, tried for treason, convicted, and executed. It was rumored that, at his request, he was either drowned in his favorite wine or poisoned by it. The true facts are unknown.

393 ~ Mandragorae dederunt odorem

From the Vulgate (Latin) Bible: Song of Songs 7:13: “The mandrakes give a smell and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.”

The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo

From Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour ‘s Lost,” Act v. Sc. 2. It is the last telling line in the play, and the reference is to Mercury as the god of eloquence in antithesis to Apollo as the god of music.

401 ~ Is there any left of the house of Saul?

From the Bible, 2nd Samuel 9:1:

And David said, Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may shew him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?

The book of Samuel tells of the friendship that formed between David and Jonathan (whose father was Saul, the king of Israel). Although they were of different tribes, and presumed rivals for the throne, they remained firm friends. When Jonathan, his father and brothers were killed fighting the Philistines at Mount Gilboa, David was proclaimed king, and chose to take Jonathan’s crippled son (and sole survivor), Mephibosheth, into his household.
(Contributed by Laura V. Bond, Juli Thompson, and Erica F. King)

The Virgin’s gone and I am gone; she’s gone, she’s gone and what shall I do?

From Robert Burton’s “Anatomy of Melancholy.” (Contributed by Melanie Jones and Alexx Kay)

402 ~ And all the powerful kings and all the beautiful queens of this world were but as a bed of flowers . . .

Quotation from a sermon by John Donne (1572-1631), as published in “LXXX Sermons” (1640). The complete passage runs:

A day that hath no pridie, nor postridie, yesterday doth not usher it in, nor tomorrow shall not drive it out. Methusalem, with all his hundreds of years, was but a mushroom of a night’s growth, to this day, And all the four Monarchies, with all their thousands of years, and all the powerful Kings and all the beautiful Queens of this world, were but as a bed of flowers, some gathered at six, some at seven, some at eight, All in one Morning, in respect of this Day.


408 ~ Thus she there wayted untill eventyde,
Yet living creature none she saw appeare.
And now sad shadows gan the world to hyde
From mortall vew, and wrap in darkness dreare;
Yet nould she d’off her weary armes, for feare
Of secret daunger, ne let sleepe oppresse
Her heauy eyes with natures burdein deare,
But drew her selfe aside in sickernesse,
And her welpointed weapons did about her dresse.
— Edmund Spenser

This quotation is from the end of the 11th canto of the 3rd book of Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene.”

(Contributed by Caleb Nelson)

409 ~ domina

Latin for counsel

411 ~ Who goes there? France–Pass, France, and all’s well.

The phrase is similar to the Tower of London’s Ceremony of the Keys in which the gates are closed, a procedure that has taken place, so the above website claims, for 700 years.

When the party approaches the sentry challenges, “Who goes there?” The Chief Warder answers: “The Keys.” “Whose Keys?” the sentry demands. “Queen Elizabeth’s Keys.” “Pass Queen Elizabeth’s Keys. All’s well” is the sentry’s final rejoinder.

(Contributed by Patty Wadsworth)

414 ~ Fleat Heraclitus an rideat Democritus? in attempting to speak of these Symptoms, shall I laugh with Democritus or weep with Heraclitus? they are so ridiculous and absurd on the one side, so lamentable and tragical on the other

Heraclitus and Democritus were two Greek philosophers and paired off (as “Weeping Heraclitus or laughing Democritus”) for their basic attitude towards human follies. Democritus was described as laughing at human weaknesses, but he also advanced the theory that the world was formed by the concourse of atoms. Heraclitus was convinced that man and the world was in a constant change of flux, so nothing lasts.

415 ~ He’s getting like the Lord of Burleigh, you know — walking up and pacing down and so on — and the responsibility is very wearing. The wind must be in the south-west, for the heavy boom of Tom tolling his hundred-and-one came clearly to her ears as she crossed the Old Quad.

Lord Burleigh is a character in “The Critic” by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. The play was a “behind-the-scenes” parody of the production of a tragedy called “The Spanish Armada,” and Lord Burleigh is a character in it who is so preoccupied with affairs of state that he cannot speak, but only shakes his head.

417 ~ who envied even the ashy saltness of those dead sea apples

A mythological reference to the Dead Sea apples, also known as Sodom apples. These apple trees, found at the edge of the Dead Sea, were known for bearing wonderful fruit, which turn to ashes and dust when they are plucked. References to them appear in histories by Josephus and Tacitus, as well as these lines from Byron’s “Childe Harold,” iii, 34:

“Like to the apples on the Dead Sea’s shore,
All ashes to the taste.”

the busy brain could very well be “left talking” like the hero of Man and Superman

“Man and Superman: A Comedy and a Philosophy” was a play by Bernard Shaw first published in 1903. It is Shaw’s argument for the existence of the Life Force as well as a spin on the Don Juan story (in this, the hero, John Tanner is being ruthlessly pursued, with matrimony in mind, by a woman).

Otherwise, one would get the sort of couple one had in Private Lives, who rolled on the floor and hammered one another when they weren’t making love, because they (obviously) had no conversational resources.

A reference to “Private Lives,” Noel Coward’s 1933 play about a former couple meeting after they had remarried.

424 ~ a ‘corpse in the case with a sad, swelled face’

A line from “A Lay of St. Gengulphus,” a poem from “The Ingoldsby Legends; or, Mirth and Marvels” by Thomas Ingoldsby (real name: R. H. Barham). The complete couplet is: “Here’s a corpse in the case with a sad swelled face, / And a ‘Crowner’s Quest’ is a queer sort of thing!” Published in magazines and first collected in book form in 1840, the legends are comic and grotesque stories set in medieval times. They were very popular.

425 ~ With beautiful, golden side-whiskers. I really think you ought to rescue him before his bones start to creak and the spiders spin webs over his eyes

A reference to M.R. James (1862-1936), the medieval scholar and former provost of Kings College, Cambridge, who also started the tradition of writing a ghost story each year and reading it aloud on Christmas Eve to friends and colleagues. Mark Gatiss, the actor and writer (“Sherlock,” “Doctor Who”) adapted “The Tractate Middoth” for the BBC in 2013. James had a morbid case of arachnophobia and wove spider imagry throughout this story, including this inspiration for Lord Saint-George:

“I tell you, he had a very nasty bald head. It looked to me dry, and it looked dusty, and the streaks of hair across it were much less like hair than cobwebs. He turned round and let me see his face—which I hadn’t seen before. I tell you again, I’m not mistaken. Though, for one reason or another I didn’t take in the lower part of his face, I did see the upper part; and it was perfectly dry, and the eyes were very deep-sunk; and over them, from the eyebrows to the cheek-bone, there were cobwebs—thick. Now that closed me up, as they say, and I can’t tell you anything more.”

(The tradition of telling a ghost story every year was adopted by one of my favorite writers, Robertson Davies. They are far more humorous than James’ stories, as well as Canadian-centric, and were collected in “High Spirits.”)

(Thanks to Mary Brown for pointing the way.)


425 ~ O no, there is no end: the end is death and madness! As I am never better than when I am mad: then methinks I am a brave fellow; (etc.) — Ben Jonson

From “The Spanish Tragedy,” Act 3, Scene 12. (Contributed by Alexx Kay)

429 ~ Kinder, Kirche, Küche

Old German slogan, later adopted by the Nazis, that woman’s realm was children, church, kitchen.

434 ~ Nec saevior ulla pestis

A phrase from Virgil’s epic Aeneid poem. The full line, from book 3, verse 214, runs: “Tristius haud illis monstrum, nec saevior ulla Pestis et ira deum Stygiis sese extulit undis:-Diripiunt dapes, contactaque omnia faedant Immundo.”

Translated: “Monsters more fierce offended heaven ne’er sent From hell’s abyss, for human punishment: -They snatch the meat, defiling all they find.”

439 ~ Ita

From the Latin for “yes.”

449 ~ History of Prosody

Prosody is the study of versification, how poems are structured


449 ~ The last refuge and surest remedy, to be put in practice in the utmost place, when no other means will take effect, is to let them go together and enjoy one another; potissima cura est ut heros amasia sua potiatur, saith Guianerius . . . (more stuff, including more Latin)
— Robert Burton

Again, from Burton’s “Anatomy of Melancholy.”

451 ~ Towery City, and branchy between towers,
Cuckoo-echoing, bell-swarmed, lark-charmed,
Rook-racked, river-rounded,
The dapple-eared lily below.

From “Duns Scotus’ Oxford” by Gerald Manley Hopkins (1918)

457 ~ Placetne, magistra?

From the Latin: Do you agree, mistress?

I agree
magistra: Two points need to be made here. First, there is a confusion of definitions — much like a herd of cattle or a murder of crows — surrounding the word mistress. For earning an M.A. degree, a man would be entitled to be called master. The closest equivilant for women would be mistress, a word which has other connotations. Second, there seems to be some reference to graduation ceremonies in Britain, in which a ritualized vote is taken as to the worthiness of each student to be awarded a degree. From wikipedia: “First, an official will propose (in Latin) that the graduates be admitted to the relevant degree; a vote is then taken, although, in practice only, one vote will be cast in favor.”

In a 1913 letter, Sayers writes about the ceremony, noting that the format called for the vice-chancellor to address the assembled Oxonian doctors:

“in a sing-song little speech, beginning something about ‘Does it please you doctors of the University that so-and-so should be admitted to such-and-such a degree — placet-ne?‘ and then he took off his cap; then said ‘placet’ without leaving time for anyone to make an objection if he wanted to, and put it on again.”

To quote with permission Alexx Kay’s wonderful note to me about this process: “Put all this Oxford background together and those three words in Latin of Peter’s proposal and Harriet’s acceptance summarize the whole point of the book — only once he addresses her as his equal, as an Oxford magistra, in a totally Oxonian idiom that belonged to them both as Oxford graduates, does she feel comfortable enough as his equal to accept the proposal. “Placetne magistra?” “Placet” sums up the whole emotional content of the book in 3 words.”

(Contributed by Johanna Kershaw)

plucked his velvet sleeve

Remember in weddings the line “if anyone objects, speak now or forever hold your peace”? Similar to that. During the graduation ceremony, at Oxford and elsewhere, proctors would walk among the faculty members while the names of the degree candidates are read. If any faculty member objects, he tugs on the sleeve of the proctor’s gown.

Hilarity would not ensue, I assume.

So the scene of Peter and Harriet finally coming together could also be read as symbolic of the university system accepting the admission of women into their ranks, as discussed throughout GN. The proctor, while personally objecting to the presence of women, realizes that because nobody is objecting, or plucking on his sleeve, there is nothing he can do about it. The future has arrived.

(c) 1995-2016 by Bill Peschel