Monday, 7 December 2009

Peeves from Punch, 1865

I've been meaning to follow up London ruined yet again, which mentioned the ubiquity of Macaulay's "New Zealander" visiting a future ruined London. This meme made it to the top of the list of peeves in Punch, 7th January 1865, which published a Proclamation demanding the consignment to limbo of "used up, exhausted, threadbare, stale and hackneyed" constructs. I thought more of the list deserved posting, along with analysis of the objects of complaint, some now obscure.

Macaulay's New Zealander: The retirement of this veteran is indispensable. He can no longer be suffered to impede the traffic over London Bridge. Much wanted at the present time in his own country. May return when London is in ruins

See Google Books / London ruined again.

The Needy Knife-Grinder: "Having been in active use since the days of Mr Canning, may now resume his original part at the wheel".

This refers to a 1786 poem, "The Friend of Humanity and the Knife-grinder" by George Canning and John Hookham Frere, in the style of the Poet Laureate Robert Southey. Printed in The Anti-Jacobin, a newspaper hostile to the French Revolution, it ridiculed Southey's temporary attraction to the French revolutionary cause. Topically, it was fine - see Bartleby. But by 1865, despite the political context being long obsolete, it was still being trotted out as a poetic allusion at every opportunity (eg. a book about Canadian/US industrial relations, the works of Thackeray, a zoology journal...) Enough already, Punch said.

The Coming Man: "Has caused constant disappointment by not arriving when he was expected, especially by the parliamentary train".

This was a cliché that kicked off in the early 1800s for someone destined for greatness, and rapidly took a foothold in the political sphere. Punch ridiculed it in 1848 - see The Coming Man - but it was still going strong as a catch-phrase in 1865 (possibly revivified by Marmion Wilard Savage's 1852 novel Reuben Medlicott; or, The coming man).

Shakspeare and the musical glasses: "No objection to WS, except as a performer in a duet with the musical glasses, which have long ceased to be the novelty they were in O. Goldsmith's time, when the town rang with them".

This refers to a phrase in Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield referring to a fad in 1761-62 for playing musical glasses (for an explanation of "this now famous allusion", see The life and times of Oliver Goldsmith, Volume 2, John Forster, 1854). However, a century later the pairing was still being used as a cliché for frivolous pseudointellectual discourse (see Google Books).

Village HAMPDEN. Mute inglorious Milton: "The BISHOP OF HEREFORD will be glad to see his country cousin. A presentation to a deaf and dumb asylum should be obtained for the mute".

This allusion to Gray's Elegy ("Some village Hampden, that with dauntless breast / The little tyrant of his fields withstood / Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest") became another clichéd pairing, to which even Dickens wasn't immune. "The Bishop of Hereford" refers to Renn Dickson Hampden.

The gentleman who has been talking prose all his life without knowing it: "May now receive his passport, and return to his own country. WESTBURY, C., will be moved to apply to the Imperial Law Officers to issue a writ ne exeat regno".

An allusion to M. Jourdain in Moliere's The Would-Be Gentleman, distinctly overquoted in the years prior to the Punch proclamation.

Miss Parker. Mr. Crawley. In any future novel or work of fiction, if it shall be found necessary to introduce a lady's-maid, it is particularly requested that she may bear some other name than that of Parker.  Likewise, in any forthcoming drame or drama, if a merchant villain is essential to the plot, it is suggested that it would be an agreeable novelty not to call him Crawley.

I'll take their word for this one: it'd be more work to confirm the frequency of such names than I care to do at this instant.

The bull always being taken by the horns, the camel whose back is broken by the last feather... The present address of Edmond's (late Wombwell's) Menagerie is Crystal Palace. Sydenham. The Zoological Gardens would be glad to have the British lion.

Evidently a complaint arising from an overload of zoological metaphors.

Macedon and Monmouth: Have been allowed far too much latitude. No well regulated atlas can be considered complete until they are restored to the use of the Globe.

An evidently overquoted comparison from Fluellen in Henry V.

Apples of Sodom, otherwise Dead Sea apples. The ripe pear.  Strictly forbidden fruit.

A surfeit of a fruit rather liked for its weirdness and metaphorical value - the Apple of Sodom looks like an apple but is just a bitter hollow fibrous pod - as in the National magazine, Lydia Howard Sigourney, Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, etc - and this didn't stop Matilda Betham-Edwards, Mary Brarnston, Ella Wheeler Wilcox and others.

Those are the memorable ones: see Punch  for the remainder.

- Ray


  1. Unfortunately I can't see that one from outside the USA. Is it this one?

  2. You mean the Queen has censored your input? Oh, my. Yes, that's the original skit, a home movie.
    I tend to use "Ooooh, Noooh, Mr. Bill!" Way too much. You have reminded me that everyone is prone to cliches. Mr. Bill borders on gallows humor. Many years ago (in a galaxy far away) we had our annual skit night at an oncology center. While our skit (Sid Platinum and the Emetogenics* singing "By, By, Lunch**") won, there was a video of Mr. Bill getting a Bone Marrow Transplant. Unfortunately, it was much closer to reality than any other Mr. Bill skit. Why do we snark at the human condition? I guess Frued would have had something to say about that.
    (* cis platinum is the worst anti cancer drug for inducing nausea and vomiting, emetogenesis)
    (** By, By Love - Everly Brothers circa 1957)