The Unprincipled Affair of the Practical Joker

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

68 ~ Newgate fringe
E. Cobham Brewer’s “Dictionary of Phrase and Fable” defines it as “the hair worn under the chin, or between the chin and the neck. So called because it occupies the position of the rope when men are about to be hanged.”

69 ~ New Army
The sudden flood of volunteers into the British Army at the start of World War I caused a split between the Regulars, and what became known as the New Army. By the end of 1914, battlefield casualties had had wiped out the Regulars, and the surviving units became mixed with the volunteers. But the distinction between New Army and Regular units was retained, with all the traditions and status that came with it

70 ~ Petronius
A very, very dubious author to quote from. Petronius Arbiter was a courtier in the court of Nero, and was described in Tacitus’ account as hedonistic, witty and amoral. He was the author of the Satyrica, a reportedly long work filled with the types of stories not normally found displayed in the bookseller’s window.

76 ~ just to trickle away quiet-like from these halls of dazzlin’ light
Wimsey is quoting from Charles Dickens’ “Our Mutual Friend,” a scene in chapter 15:

‘Now,’ said Mr Boffin, who, in his frankness, felt that it did not become him to have a gentleman in his employment five minutes, without reposing some confidence in him, ‘you must be let a little more into our affairs, Rokesmith. I mentioned to you, when I made your acquaintance, or I might better say when you made mine, that Mrs Boffin’s inclinations was setting in the way of Fashion, but that I didn’t know how fashionable we might or might not grow. Well! Mrs Boffin has carried the day, and we’re going in neck and crop for Fashion.’

‘I rather inferred that, sir,’ replied John Rokesmith, ‘from the scale on which your new establishment is to be maintained.’

‘Yes,’ said Mr Boffin, ‘it’s to be a Spanker. The fact is, my literary man named to me that a house with which he is, as I may say, connected–in which he has an interest–‘

‘As property?’ inquired John Rokesmith.

‘Why no,’ said Mr Boffin, ‘not exactly that; a sort of a family tie.’

‘Association?’ the Secretary suggested.

‘Ah!’ said Mr Boffin. ‘Perhaps. Anyhow, he named to me that the house had a board up, “This Eminently Aristocratic Mansion to be let or sold.” Me and Mrs Boffin went to look at it, and finding it beyond a doubt Eminently Aristocratic (though a trifle high and dull, which after all may be part of the same thing) took it. My literary man was so friendly as to drop into a charming piece of poetry on that occasion, in which he complimented Mrs Boffin on coming into possession of–how did it go, my dear?’

Mrs Boffin replied:

‘”The gay, the gay and festive scene,
The halls, the halls of dazzling light.”‘

‘That’s it! And it was made neater by there really being two halls in the house, a front ‘un and a back ‘un, besides the servants’. He likewise dropped into a very pretty piece of poetry to be sure, respecting the extent to which he would be willing to put himself out of the way to bring Mrs Boffin round, in case she should ever get low in her spirits in the house. Mrs Boffin has a wonderful memory. Will you repeat it, my dear?’

Mrs Boffin complied, by reciting the verses in which this obliging offer had been made, exactly as she had received them.

‘”I’ll tell thee how the maiden wept, Mrs Boffin,
When her true love was slain ma’am,
And how her broken spirit slept, Mrs Boffin,
And never woke again ma’am.
I’ll tell thee (if agreeable to Mr Boffin) how the steed drew
And left his lord afar;
And if my tale (which I hope Mr Boffin might excuse) should
make you sigh,
I’ll strike the light guitar.”‘

‘Correct to the letter!’ said Mr Boffin. ‘And I consider that the poetry brings us both in, in a beautiful manner.’

The lines also appear in the poem “The Light Guitar,” by Henry Jackson Van Dyke (1822-1891):

Oh, leave the gay and festive scenes,
The halls of dazzling light.

(c) 1995-2016 by Bill Peschel