Saturday, January 24, 2009

snivelling, popping, small-shot, water-hen waste of powder, ammunition, and shot

Journals of Lord Byron
January 24. 1821.

Returned — met some masques in the Corso — 'Vive la bagatelle!' — the Germans are on the Po, the Barbarians at the gate, and their masters in council at Leybach (or whatever the eructation of the sound may syllable into a human pronunciation), and lo! they dance and sing and make merry, 'for to-morrow they may die.' Who can say that the Arlequins are not right? Like the Lady Baussiere, and my old friend Burton — I 'rode on.'

Dined — (damn this pen!) — beef tough — there is no beef in Italy worth a curse; unless a man could eat an old ox with the hide on, singed in the sun.

The principal persons in the events which may occur in a few days are gone out on a shooting party. If it were like a 'highland hunting,' a pretext of the chase for a grand re-union of counsellors and chiefs, it would be all very well. But it is nothing more or less than a real snivelling, popping, small-shot, water-hen waste of powder, ammunition, and shot, for their own special amusement: a rare set of fellows for 'a man to risk his neck with,' as 'Marishall Wells' says in the Black Dwarf.

If they gather, — 'whilk is to be doubted,' — they will not muster a thousand men. The reason of this is, that the populace are not interested, — only the higher and middle orders. I wish that the peasantry were; they are a fine savage race of two-legged leopards. But the Bolognese won't — the Romagnuoles can't without them. Or, if they try — what then? They will try, and man can do no more — and, if he would but try his utmost, much might be done. The Dutch, for instance, against the Spaniards — then the tyrants of Europe, since, the slaves, and, lately, the freedmen.

The year 1820 was not a fortunate one for the individual me, whatever it may be for the nations. I lost a lawsuit, after two decisions in my favour. The project of lending money on an Irish mortgage was finally rejected by my wife's trustee after a year's hope and trouble. The Rochdale lawsuit had endured fifteen years, and always prospered till I married; since which, every thing has gone wrong — with me at least.

In the same year, 1820, the Countess T.G. nata Ga.Gi. in despite of all I said and did to prevent it, would separate from her husband, Il Cavalier Commendatore Gi. &c. &c. &c. and all on the account of 'P.P. clerk of this parish.' The other little petty vexations of the year — overturns in carriages — the murder of people before one's door, and dying in one's beds — the cramp in swimming — colics — indigestions and bilious attacks, &c. &c. &c. —
Many small articles make up a sum.
And hey ho for Caleb Quotem, oh!

Notes on the text:

Corso - Italian for course, meaning way, boulevard, main street

Vive la bagatelle - From an expression of Laurence Sterne: 'Vive l'amour! Et vive la bagatelle!', meaning something like, Long Live Love; and long live frivolity! See Sterne: A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy.

Germans at the Po - The Austrian army is about to cross the River Po. Germans were one of the peoples in the Austro-Hungarian Empire formed in 1815. Directly below is a map of this empire. Scroll down to see a Google map showing the location of the Po.

barbarians at the gate - Origin unknown; probably first used regarding the fall of Rome.

Leybach - This is Ljubljana in Slovenia, then known as Leybach (modern german: Laibach). See Google map below.

Arlequins - Harlequins

Lady Baussiere ... rode on - Sterne, in Tristram Shandy, repeats the phrase:
The Lady Baussiere had got into a
wilderness of conceits, with moralizing
too intricately upon La Fosseuse's text --
She mounted her palfry, her page fol-
lowed her -- the host passed by -- the lady
Baussiere rode on.

-- The Lady Baussiere rode on.

Pity the unhappy, said a devout, ve-
nerable, hoary-headed man, meekly hold-
ing up a box, begirt with iron, in his
withered hands ---- I beg for the unfor-
tunate -- good, my lady, 'tis for a prison
-- for an hospital -- 'tis for an old man --
a poor man undone by shipwreck, by
suretyship, by fire ---- I call God and all
his angels to witness -- 'tis to cloath the
naked -- to feed the hungry -- 'tis to com-
fort the sick and the broken hearted.

-- The Lady Baussiere rode on. . . .

A decayed kinsman bowed himself to
the ground.

-- The Lady Baussiere rode on.
Burton - Robert Burton uses the phrase in Anatomy of Melancholy. 'Byron was a devoted admirer of Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, and, like him in his part of "Democritus Junior," and like the Italians, laughed at misfortunes.' (Quote from the Prothero edition of Byron's Works.)

highland hunting - This seems to make satirical reference to a style of aristocratic hunting practiced by the Highland clans. Sir Walter Scott uses the term in Waverley.

small-shot - No great weapon: lightly-charged shotgun.

water-hen - Also called the moor-hen; presumably Byron means common prey, small game.

a man to risk his neck with - The phrase comes from Scott's Black Dwarf:
'For my part, I won't enter my horse for such a plate,' said Mareschal; and added, betwixt his teeth, 'A pretty pair of fellows to trust a man's neck with!'
-- The Black Dwarf, chap. xiii.
whilk is to be doubted - A paraphrase of an expression Scott uses in some of his novels. For example:
'Now, that's downright shamefu', said Mrs. Heukbane, 'to scorn the poor silly gait of a lassie after he's keepit company wi' her sae lang, and had his will o' her, as I make nae doubt he has.'

'It's but ower muckle to be doubted,' echoed Mrs. Shortcake;--- 'to cast up to her that her father's a barber and has a pole at his door, and that she's but a manty-maker hersell! Hout fy for shame!'
two-legged leopards - A coinage of Byron's

the Bolognese won't - Bologna was threatened by the Austrian army as was Ravenna. See Google map below

Romagnuoles - Refers to the area of East Romagna in which Bologna and Ravenna are located.

the Dutch, for instance, against the Spaniards - The Dutch war for independence spanned 80 years from 1568 to 1648.

I lost a lawsuit - Byron had his ownership of the family's Rochdale estate, with lucrative coal mines, taken from him. The action was not legal and Byron's suit to regain it took many years to wind its way through court.

Countess T.G. nata Ga.Gi - Byron's mistress, the Countess Teresa Guiccioli was born Gamba Bhiselli. She was daughter of Count Gamba of Ravenna.

P.P. clerk of this parish - This refers to a parody of Bishop Burnet's History of my own Times:
Many small articles make up a sum ;
I dabble in all—I'm merry and rum;
And 'tis heigho ! for Caleb Quotem, O!

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A bit of background information:

This comes from The Works of Lord Byron, Letters and Journals, Volume 1 / Byron, George Gordon Byron, Baron, 1788-1824:
Lord Byron's evidence as to the character of the revolutionary party is forcibly recalled to our recollection. He, too, had endeavoured to relieve the tedium of joyless dissipation by playing at conspiracies. The family with which he was so discreditably connected were concerned in these plots; but—notwithstanding the lax morality he affected where Austrian barbarians were concerned—in the journal since made public by his biographer he makes no effort to conceal his contempt for his associates and the horror that some of their practices inspire. In January, 1821, he expresses disapprobation of 'the sort of shooting that has of late been the tenor of their exploits.' This passage is explained shortly after: 'Another assassination has taken place at Cesena ; in all, about forty in Romagna within the last three months.' Again:— It is a difficult part to play amongst such a set of assassins and blockheads. The principal persons in the events which may occur in a few days are gone out on a shooting party, a real snivelling, popping, small-shot water-hen waste of powder and ammunition and shot for their own special amusement; a rare set of fellows for a man to risk his neck with.'

In the mean time the affair grew serious; the sportsmen had no intention of playing out the play; the Austrians threatened to cross the frontier, and the Legate ordered a search for arms: — 'What do my friends the patriots do?' says Lord Byron; 'Why they throw back on my hands and into my house those very arms (without a word of warning previously) with which I furnished them at their own request and at my own peril and expense.' — Moore's Life of Lord Byron, vol. v. pp. 62-85.

Some sources:

The Works of Lord Byron

The Stanford Dictionary of Anglicised Words and Phrases

Notes and Queries: Frivolity

En attendant—Vive l’amlour! et vive la bagatelle!

Sporting Magazine

Natural History & Sport in Moray

The Quarterly review


Sir Walter Scott: The Antiquary

Dutch Revolt

Rochdale coal mines

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