The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Melagar’s Will

The page numbers are from “Lord Peter” published by Harper & Row. The excerpts are copyrighted 1972 by Harper & Row.

36 ~ endless vortices of the Whirligig school of verse
No such school exists, of course, but Sayers was probably poking fun at vorticism, a movement in English painting that emphasized abstracted machine forms in their works. Two issues of the journal Blast (1914) applied vorticism to the printed word, with contributions from T.S. Eliot, Rebecca West and Ezra Pound. It resurfaced briefly in 1920 as Group X. The deeply conservative Sayers probably would have viewed the various forms of modernism with a jaundiced eye. (Thanks to “Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia” for the summary.)

38 ~ so are the probate and divorce wallahs
A wallah is a man, a chap, or a fellow, usually charged with performing a particular service. The word would be combined with another word to describe someone. Thus, an army chaplain would be called an amen-wallah, a native living in the jungle a jungle-wallah and teetotaler a lemonade-wallah. The word came from India, one of many, like sahib and nabob, that the English language acquired through Great Britain’s colonial ventures.

40 ~ an un-Attic thing to have in a house like this
Lord Peter is making a mild pun here. Attic is the Greek dialect spoken in Athens, which one would not expect to find in a house built along the lines of a Roman villa.


A very shallow pool that captures rainwater from an opening in the roof. The excess water would drain into a cistern that would be used to water the garden in the rear of the house. The impluvium also offered a way to air-condition the house.

41 ~ cave canem
Latin for “Beware of the dog.” The mosaic is based on one found at Pompeii.

rhymed distichs
Two-line poems which do not necessarily have to rhyme. A website at Harvard contains an interesting discussion of them, particularly a series of distiches attributed to Cato that were published by Ben Franklin.

42 ~ Johnny Head-in-Air
A poem by Heinrich Hoffmann (1809-1894) about a boy who, well, always walked around looking up in the air. It was part of a series of poems written by Dr. Hoffmann for the edification and moral education of children.

The complete poem can be found here.

More information can be found here about the works of Dr. Hoffmann.

43 ~ Oh, frabjous day! Calloo! callay!
Lines from Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”:

And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
He chortled in his joy.

A complete version of the poem — and a discussion of its meaning — can be found at this website. The essay also contains a discussion of other words Carroll invented, including ‘whiffling,’ which readers may recall in “Murder Must Advertise” that Wimsey was the creator of the enormously successful “whiffling round Britain” campaign.

48 ~ the Moor of Venice
A reference to the title character of Shakespeare’s “Othello”

page of Roget
A reference to Peter Roget (1779-1869), the inventor of the thesaurus

49 ~ it’s Vulgate, that’s what it is
A reference to the Vulgate Bible of the early Middle Ages, which was written in Latin. The word “vulgate,” from which vulgar is derived, actually means in this sense “common,” as in written in a language common to all.

O my dove, that art in the cleft of the rock
The line is from the Canticles, otherwise known as the Song of Songs, chapter 2, verse 14:

“O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.”

black but comely
An appropriate ending to a story based on a verse from the Canticles, for Lord Peter quotes again from that book, chapter 1, verses 5-6: “I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon. Look not upon me, because I am black; because the sun hath looked upon me . . . ”

South African quadruped in six letters, beginning with Q
Perhaps a quagga?

Quagga specimen on display at the The Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich

(c) 1995-2016 by Bill Peschel