(grouped by text)
Mackerel is a common food fish found in temperate and tropical seas all around the world. It is known to spoil "more readily than others" after death (see Croker 104). The eyes of a mackerel usually are clear, but become "gray and sunken" (Croker 104) after death.
The mackerel is a forage fish (cf. "Forage Fish"). These smaller fish types are food for their larger predators. This imagery can be linked to "chum".
Since the second half of the 19th century mackerel were caught by "chumming": "[The fishermen] also began ‘chumming' – casting scoopfuls of ground bait into the waters around the vessel – as a means of keeping mackerel at the surface and biting hooks." Hence, the term "makerel" might also be implicitly connected to "chum".
The Elegies the speaker refers to were written by John Donne. Donne's Elegies deal with multiple themes relating to human existence, life, death, love, sex, power-relations, the divine, and the mundane. Donne who is assumed to have written his Elegies between 1592 and 1597, is understood to be the first English "love-elegist" (Variorum xciv).
An Elegy in Greek was a lament or a funeral poem, while the Romans used the term for their erotic love poems. In the 16th and 17th centuries the topoi for elegies contained funeral/commemorative poems, didactic verse and witty, erotic or paradoxical love poetry (Variorum xciii).
The lines convey irony, in the sense that the soldier reads the Elegies to his dead chum to rouse him; they also contain cynicism as he speaker perceives the chum's facial expression as "grinning nastily" in reaction to the poetry he listens to. Upon this the speaker concludes that "the worms had got his brain at last" (l.17).
The ambiguity of the word "rouse" can be linked to the sexually charged Elegy "Upon his mistress going to bed" and thus refer to a hoped for "rousing" of his "chum".
The speaker quotes the last line of the elegy "To his mistress going to bed", written by John Donne.
Link to the full text: http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/donne/elegy20.php
In the sexually charged elegy "To his mistress going to bed" the speaker is soliciting his mistress into taking off her clothes and sharing the bed with him. Despite the sexual content of the elegy that bears resemblance to Ovid, here the arts of love (Ars amatoria) merge semantically more into the "arts of war" (Hadfield 52), as the male speaker describes the seduction in the terms of a military campaign (cf. l. 25-29; see Bell 208). The lover speaks like as if he were an "imperial ruler" discovering his conquered territory (Hadfield 53) and its riches, while the female body becomes the land that is waiting to be colonized. In this metaphorical sense the uncovering, the laying down of the clothing then becomes a symbol for the letting down of barriers, resulting in the invasion of the country (see Loomba 73).
In his last line " What needst thou have more cov'ring than a man" John Donne alludes to the Bible (1 Cor 11:3-7): there, a man who covers his head when praying or prophesizing dishonours himself, but a woman who does the same with her head covered, honours herself. Man does not have to cover his head because he is "glory of God," while the woman "is the glory of the man". Donne reverses these statements of St. Paul; in lines 34 and 35 ("As souls unbodied, bodies unclothed must be/To taste whole joys."), he wittily states "that she needs no more cloths than he does", and that she does not need more "covering" than him (see Guibbory 136). The soul's covering is the body, while the body's covering is the clothing – therefore to find true joy she should let down her clothing, her cover.
The soldier's "chum" grins nastily upon hearing the line: "What needst thou have more covering than a man?" This reaction can either be based on the strong sexual connotation of the line as well as the whole Elegy, or it entails sarcasm, if we consider the situation in the trenches, i.e. in the war, where soldiers need to rely on each other, they have to give each other air-cover and also need a shelter to hide.
The ambiguity of the quotation from Donne in the context of "Trench Poets" is related to the polysemy of the word "cover": a) A defensive or protective covering for the body; a piece of armour; b) an article of clothing which serves for shelter or concealment; c) protection from attack; esp. that afforded by the presence or fire of a supporting force; also, a force providing such protection. (see OED "cover, v.").
Giving up the shelter in war could lead to death. In the original erotic context of Donne's poem, the lover entices his mistress into laying off her cover to make her fit for invasion. In "Trench Poets" this meaning is re-interpreted as the idea of covering and uncovering becomes important for survival; every barrier that falls becomes a threat for life. Considering this reading, one could assume that the cover has already been lost once, which led to the "chum's" state he is in, namely death.
The title "Trench Poets" is ambiguous. It can refer to soldier poets of the First World War who often wrote directly from the trenches, drawing on their experiences during the war. However, the title could also refer to the poets read "within" the trenches, here Donne and Tennyson , rather than referring to the poets "of" the trenches, i.e. Rickword.
The term "trench poets" as a sub-group of "war poets" seems to have been developed instead of being coined by a specific person. The epithet "trench poet" probably originated in the fact that poetry by soldiers at the front often appeared in so-called trench newspapers, for instance the The Wipers Times, which was published by British soldiers (cf. Lee). The term is now used widely (see, for instance, the entry on "War poets" in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, or The Short Story and the First World War by Ann-Marie Einhaus).
"Trench poets" was published in 1921 in a collection of Rickword's poetry called Behind the Eyes. Rickword wrote these poems after the war had ended, "reflecting on the experience rather than writing directly out of the experience" (see Schmidt/Young). Still, he had been a soldier and knew what he was writing about. He was a "trench poet," a soldier poet of World War I (Lusty 201). The "trench poets" included mostly young, unknown poets like Sassoon, Owen and Rickword himself who could, through their personal experience, write about the horrors of war in an "authentic voice" (Lusty 199), picturing war with all its atrocities, and creating a counter-image to pro-war propaganda.
The poets alluded to in the text are John Donne and Alfred Tennyson. In Donne's Elegy "The Autumnal," he mentions trenches in relation to lovers (link to Luminarium): "Yet lies not Love dead here, but here doth sit, / Vow'd to this trench, like an anachorite" (15-16).
One might read the title "Trench Poets" as self-referential to the speaker and his "chum" in the poem. What they have in common, apart from being soldiers, is possibly that they are both poets. In the last line, the speaker says that "rats ate his thumbs" (24), indicating that the chum's ability to write has been taken away. If we accept this line of reasoning, the speaker and chum in the poem might relate to war poets in general, of which some survived the war (e.g. Rickword and Siegfried Sassoon) whereas others did not (e.g. Wilfred Owen).
Maud: A Monodrama (1855) is a poem by Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892). It was originally subtitled ‘The Madness' (Sanders 434).
Link to the full text of Maud: http://ota.ahds.ac.uk/desc/3030
In the poem the mentally unstable, unnamed speaker falls in love with a woman called Maud. The speaker and Maud are meeting in secret when Maud's brother appears. He insults the speaker and is probably killed by him in a duel. Maud dies and the speaker loses his mind completely, but when he joins the army he "recovers his sanity" ("Maud").
Death is a major theme in Maud, though it is not its natural, but rather its unnatural, violent form that keeps recurring throughout the poem. The suicide of the narrator's father, the (probable) murder of Maud's brother, and Maud's own premature death blend with visions of death that hold an escapist quality, connecting it strongly to the emotions of the speaker and thus to life itself. Early on in the poem Maud's beauty is described as "dead perfection" (Tennyson 1.2.7), herself being "ghostlike, deathlike, half the night long / Growing and fading and growing" (1.3.8-9). She seems to be in a state between death and life – ever "[g]rowing and fading." This obsession with death becomes even more evident in the second part of the poem where the speaker imagines himself to be in "a shallow grave" (2.5.6) and is thus actively blurring the line between life and death. Death, at least metaphorically, becomes another state of being, of self, and thus ceases to be a fundamental change to non-existence. Dorothy Mermin connects this rather distorted view of death to an inability of coping with loss and mourning. She describes the narrator's attitude as "an attempt to recapture the irrecoverable past, a refusal to accept the fact of loss," and draws the conclusion that "such an attempt cannot […] succeed, it leads to isolation, madness and further loss" (Mermin 267).
In Trench Poets we can find an echo of this "refusal to accept the fact of loss." The lyrical persona attempts to "rouse" (Rickword 6) his fellow soldier, not accepting his having passed away. He holds on to his "chum" (1) even though he is "far gone" (8) and "stiff and senseless as a post" (10) until he cannot, physically, bear his decaying presence any longer (23-24). Note also that he always talks of "him" and "he," never addressing the corpse as an impersonal "it." The denial of the actuality of death leads to this bizarre situation in which death loses its finality as long as the speaker refuses to accept the loss.
Since madness is a prominent theme in Alfred Tennyson's Maud, "healthy things" (if read as mental health) and the reference to "Maud" become an oxymoron.
By mentioning the poem Maud, the speaker in "Trench Poets," a soldier trying to cope with his comrade dying, establishes a connection to another soldier: the psychologically instable narrator of Maud who, at the end of the poem, joins the army to fight in the Crimean War.
The speaker of Maud esteems war higher than peace. In his view, people have made "the blessings of Peace [. . .] a curse" by fighting each other in secret (1.1.6). To him, open war seems more honest.
When the speaker decides to go to war, he gives several reasons for his decision: He claims that he will fight against an "iron tyranny" (3.2), and he is convinced that the war is God's will (cf. 3.4; 3.5). Furthermore, Maud's propagandistic song made him feel ashamed of his not being a warrior (cf. 1.4.1). For him, the war also proves that his people "are noble still" (3.5).
In Level 1, the theme of madness in both Maud and "Trench Poets" is mentioned. With regard to "Trench Poets," one could argue that the speaker lost his mind in war, because he does not realise that he is talking to a dead man throughout the whole poem. The speaker of Maud, however, could be said to recover his sanity by going to war. For example, while the speaker of Maud scorns others at the beginning of the poem, he feels that he is "one with [his] kind" when he goes to war (3.5). Thus, the war for him means reconciliation with his fellow people, while for the speaker of "Trench Poets" it means losing his sanity.
The speaker's assertion in quoting Maud for "healthy things" is most likely ironic. While the war proves to be a sort of remedy for the speaker in Maud, the "chum" (Rickword 1) in "Trench Poets" is not "recovering" with the war, but is actually dying in - and from - it. The sanity of the speaker of "Trench Poets" seems to be questionable, too. After all, he tries to "rouse" (6) his dead friend, not minding his being "stiff and senseless as a post" (10), and talks to him as if he were still alive (14). The term "healthy" is also ironic with respect to the high number of casualties in the First World War. In total, the Great War cost the lives of around 17 million soldiers as well as civilians. Of the 700,000 men fighting for Great Britain, 11.5 % died. A high number of those who survived were bodily or psychically maimed (cf. Winter 73).
However, it is also possible that the line is not ironic: The speaker of "Trench Poets" could also try to console his comrade by quoting Maud: The narrator in Maud claims that God decides who dies in war, thus, the quotes could convince the speaker's comrade that his death was predestined by God and serves a higher purpose.
In the OED, the word "purity" is defined as "the state or quality of being morally or spiritually pure; sinlessness […] innocence; chastity" ("purity, n. 1.").
The term "passion," however, can take several meanings:
(1) The sufferings of Jesus Christ or of martyrs in general (cf. "passion, n. I. 1. c." and cf. "passion, n. I. 2. a.").
(2) Any strong emotion (cf. "passion, n. II. 6. a.").
(3) A "fit, outburst, or state marked by . . . strong excitement, agitation, or other intense emotion. In early use also: a fit of madness or mental derangement" ("passion, n. II. 6. c."). (also see "healthy things")
(4) Strong affection or love (cf. "passion, n. II. 8. a.").
(5) Sexual desire (cf. "passion, n. II. 8. b.").
(6) An "intense desire or enthusiasm for […] something; the zealous pursuit of an aim" ("passion, n. II. 9. a.").
Since the term "passion" has many different meanings, the line "he sneered at passion's purity" is ambiguous. For more information, see "passion" Level 1.
The line "he sneered at passion's purity" can be understood in different ways. The fact that the word "passion" has a religious connotation could imply that the sufferings of the speaker of "Trench Poets" are equated with the sufferings of a martyr or of Jesus Christ. The equation of soldiers and Jesus Christ can be found in other poems from the First World War, for example in Charles Sorley's "All the Hills and Vales Along." If "passion" is understood as "sexual desire," the phrase "passion's purity" is cynical, because sexual desire and innocence are contradictory. If we take "passion" to mean "strong affection," the dead man could sneer at the speaker's affection and care for him. In this case, the line would not be ironic. Also, if we assume that "passion" means "the zealous pursuit of an aim," the dead man could sneer at the speaker's futile attempts to console him. If the word "passion" is supposed to mean "outburst […] marked by […] strong excitement", the man could sneer at the speaker's emotionality ("passion, n. II. 6. c."). An earlier meaning of "passion" was also "a fit of madness or mental derangement" (ibid.). Thus, the dead soldier could sneer at the speaker's madness.
The phrase "passion's purity" could also refer to the speaker of Maud. In this case, the line would be ironic, because the speaker's passion for Maud is not pure. Firstly, because he feels sexual desire for her and, secondly, because his passion drives him to kill Maud's brother. Thus, his passion is neither morally, nor legally pure.
It is also possible that "passion's purity" refers to the other poems quoted in "Trench Poets." In this case, the phrase "passion's purity" would be ironic, because all of them can be classified as love poetry or erotic poetry.
Tennyson was appointed Poet Laureate in 1850 and held the position until his death in 1892 (Shatto 1). During his tenure he wrote two poems that dealt with the Crimean War: The narrative poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade" in 1854 and Maud in 1855. While "The Charge of the Light Brigade" can definitely be said to be the public and official work of a Laureate, Maud has been read as a far more private poem (cf. Markovits 488). As Markovits has shown, "Tennyson's monodrama revisits crucial periods of the poet's own life, including intimate aspects of his early love affairs and the family history of mental instability that contributed to his father's death" (488).
The Crimean War of 1854-1856 was only the first in a series of European wars and power-struggles which were to dominate the second half of the nineteenth century (see Royle ix). Nevertheless, there are important historical and political links to the First World War. For instance, a lot of the technology that is often connected to WWI today was actually first used in the Crimean War (see Edgerton 1-2; Royle ix). Additionally, similar to people's opinion during World War I, the attitude towards the Crimean War turned from romanticized notions about "Death or glory" (Edgerton 3) to the realization of the gruesome realities of trench warfare (see Edgerton 3).
Chum, as refuse from fish, might point to the use of soldiers in WWI as cannon fodder. The soldiers were "wasted" in pointless assaults, used like "chum," as a means to achieve military goals. Within the semantic field of fish and fishery it might be connected to "mackerel-eyed" (l.9).
"Get someone with child" is an archaic idiomatic expression and means, "Make a woman pregnant" ("Get. Phrases, 10").
The poem's speaker is quoting the second line of John Donne's "Song: Go and catch a falling star." (Donne 73, l. 2).
For the full text see: http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/donne/song.php
The line is part of the first stanza of Donne's poem in which the speaker is charging the addressee with impossible tasks, such as to "catch a falling star" (Donne 73, l. 1). "Get with child a mandrake-root" (73, l. 2) is to be read as: Make the mandrake root pregnant (cf. Allen 397, Redpath 119). The speaker stresses that, even if the addressee was able to fulfil these tasks, he could not convince him that a "true and fair" (Donne 74, l. 18) woman exists.
A possible interpretation would be to connect the impossibility of begetting a child on a seemingly human root to the futility of the speaker's attempt to "rouse" (Rickword 6) his dead friend by reciting poetry to him.
The root of the poisonous and narcotic plant Mandragora officinarum was "formerly credited with magi¬cal and medicinal properties esp. because of the supposedly human shape of its forked […] root" ("man¬drake, n."). It was used to promote conception, as a narcotic, an aphrodisiac, and a cathartic (i.e., to clear and liberate).
In the 16th and 17th century, "mandrake" was also used figuratively for "an unpleasant or unwanted person or thing; something to be rooted up, a pestilential growth" ("mandrake, n.").
For an image of a mandrake root see https://assets2.merriam-webster.com/mw/static/art/dict/mandrake.gif
The mandrake is mentioned twice in the Old Testament, presumably as a fertility drug and an aphrodisiac (see Ferber 122). In ancient Greece and Rome it was thought that the seemingly human-shaped root was in the power of dark spirits: "It could be safely uprooted only in the moonlight, after appropriate prayer and ritual, by a black dog attached to the plant by a cord" ("mandrake," Encyclopædia Britannica). After the dog had died of the shriek, the root could be used for beneficent purposes such as to sedate, to anaesthetize (cf. Hambel 56), to induce love and to increase sexual desire (see Roth 15), but also to poison, to drive insane and to kill (cf. Müller 619).
In medieval times the mandrake was thought to shriek when pulled from the ground to cause the madness or death of whoever uprooted it ("mandrake," Encyclopædia Britannica). "According to a fable mandrakes grew under the gallows fertilized by the urine or semen from a hanged thief" (Müller 622). In the early modern period, William Shakespeare and John Donne, for example, refer to the mandrake and its magical powers ("mandrake, n." OED Online); whether in their time, "educated men did not believe such things any more" (Robbins 193) is still being discussed among scholars (cf. Dickson 73).
The leaves and fruit of Mandragora officinarum contain several poisonous alkaloids (Müller 619). Taken in middle range doses, these cause hallucinations (Müller 617). Higher doses lead to the depression of the central nervous system (Vlachos and Poulos 521) and of the respiratory process (Müller 617) – com¬pare the comrade's "gaping" (Rickword l. 9). Severe poisoning results in the arrest of the respiratory process and, consequently, death (Müller 617).
The mandrake root's narcotic properties might relate to the comrade's apathy and stand in sharp con-trast to its aphrodisiac properties and the speaker's intention to "rouse" him (Rickword 6). See also: "Get with child a mandrake-root".
John Donne (1572 - 1631), was an English metaphysical poet and Dean of St. Paul's. He is best known for his love and erotic verses, religious poems and sermons. His major works include Songs and Sonnets and the Divine Poems.
Metaphysical Poetry is characterised by the use of inventive syntax, paradoxical images, and comparing ideas that seem unconnected to express philosophical and spiritual subjects. It combines imagery from art, philosophy, and religion using an extended metaphor known as a conceit.
The term "metaphysics" was used first by Dryden to criticizes Donne for being driven by thought and not sensuality when writing love poetry: "He affects the metaphysics, not only in his satires, but in his amorous verses, where nature only should reign; and perplexes the minds of the fair sex with nice speculations of philosophy, when he should engage their hearts, and entertain them with softnesses of love" (Dryden). However, Samuel Johnson, an eighteenth-century English essayist, poet, and philosopher was the first to coin this term in relation to a literary genre: Metaphysical Poetry. It describes a loose group of poets including George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Andrew Marvell, Henry Vaughan, and of course John Donne.
All poems mentioned in Trench Poets are from Donne's collection Songs and Sonnets. Considering that the speaker quotes from love poems the quotations do not seem as randomly (‘random things') chosen to rouse his dead friend as stated.
In the context of "Trench Poets," the adjective "blacker" could refer to being "[d]eeply stained with dirt; soiled, filthy, begrimed" (OED "black, adj., 5"), or to "an emotion, state of mind, etc.: full of gloom, melancholy, misery, or sadness; [being] very depressed" (OED "black, adj., 14. a.").
In the poem, the expression "grow blacker" is ambiguous. The "chum," mentioned in the first line to which the adjective refers, is dead (this becomes clear at the end of the poem "He stank so badly [...] then rats ate his thumbs" l. 23-24), and his decomposing body is therefore turning black (see "blanch"). However, "grew blacker" can also be read as "becoming sadder," for the chum might be "full of gloom" because of the situation in the trenches and his death. There also seems to be a connection to the subsequent verb "blanch".
The noun "post" can either refer to "[a] support or column of timber or (later) some other strong material" (OED "post, n. 1"), "[t]he place where a soldier, guard, etc., is stationed when on duty" (OED "post, n. 5"), or to "[a]n autopsy, a post-mortem" (OED "post, n. 12").
Given the possible readings of "a post" (l. 10) (link to layer 1) the speaker might either try to emphasise that his chum is not able to stand anymore and, therefore, "lay[s] […] stiff and senseless as a post" (l. 9-10) or that the decomposing body of his chum, who "lay[s] gaping, mackerel-eyed" (l. 9), reminds him of a corpse after an autopsy.
"To rouse" has three possible meanings. When looking at the etymological background, the first one is "to animate": "to bring to life, to refresh" (OED "animate, v."). The second meaning is to wake somebody up ("rouse from sleep" OED "awake, v. Etymology 4"). It also refers to "a state of sexual arousal" (OED "arouse, v. 4"), which links it to the topic of Donne's Elegies.
When looking at the following lines of the poem, the speaker fails to animate his comrade as the chum "was far gone, / for he lay gaping, mackerel-eyed" (l. 8-9). By comparing the chum with a fish, another possible reading of "to rouse" is established, namely "[t]o sprinkle (fish, esp. herring) with salt, as part of the curing process" (OED "rouse, v. 3") in order to preserve it.
The (transitive) verb "blanch" mainly has two meanings relevant for the poem:
1. "To make white, whiten . . . by depriving of colour; to bleach. Also in a figurative sense" (OED "blanch, v., 1")
2. "To make pale with fear, cold, hunger, etc." (OED "blanch, v., 4")
"Blanch" refers to the chum mentioned in the first line of them poem and is ambiguous.
In the context of the poem, "blanch" is ambiguous. The most immediate implication in the context of lines 1-5 is that it refers to the soldier who is growing pale with fear by "the hum / of passing shells" (l. 4-5). Nevertheless, when the poem is read to completion and it becomes clear that the solider is dead with "rats [eating] his thumbs" (l. 24), the context of death changes the word's implication. If the solider is dead, his whiteness may be explained by his being deprived of colour. This is due to a stage of death called livor mortis or lividity, which is "the discoloration of the body after death due to the gravitational settling of blood which is no longer being pumped through the body by the heart" (Dix and Graham 4).
The negation of "would not" in line three points at the fact that this chum cannot grow paler, which is logical in the context of livor mortis: since there is no more blood current, there is no possibility of colour change. The soldier cannot grow whiter, but the accumulated and dried blood shows as black (cf. 5), reconnecting to the chum who "grew blacker" in line 2.
A mandrake is a plant with a short stem, a forked root and whitish flowers.
"The mandrake is poisonous, having emetic and narcotic properties, and was formerly used medicinally.
The forked root is thought to resemble the human form, and was fabled to utter a deadly shriek when plucked up from the ground. The notion indicated in the narrative of Genesis xxx, that the fruit when eaten by women promotes conception, is said still to survive in Palestine."
The mandrake's forked root, roughly resembling the human body, was valued in antiquity as an aphrodisiac and an enhancer of female fertility. But impregnating a mandrake root would be an impossibility (Mueller 494).
"intr. To divide, split, cleave."
An imaginary species of beings, more or less human in character, supposed to inhabit the sea, and to have the head and trunk of a woman, the lower limbs being replaced by the tail of a fish or cetacean.
"mermaids" could refer to the sirens of classical mythology, which seduced men with their singing and killed them subsequently. Thus teaching someone to hear the mermaids' singing without being killed serves as an impossible task (Ray 305).
"stinging" (OED): The action of wounding with a sting; an instance of this.
This sentence can be interpreted as a personification: to keep off envy's stinging means to stop the feeling of desiring a quality, possession, or other desirable thing belonging to someone else.
This line is ambiguous. By connecting this phrase to the semantic field of impossibility it can be read as a criticism on the more general human nature not being able to be content with what they already have and always desiring more. Due to this fact, this sentence presents another impossible task. By connecting this sentence with the underlying semantic field of love between a man and a woman, this line can have a different and more paradoxical reading: Since there is no women that is true and fair (see annotation true and fair) then there is no need to feel envious of women about their alleged "truth and fairness", too.
The OED defines "wind" in two different ways:
1. used to express various kinds of rapid or forcible motion;
2. to go on one's way, take oneself; to proceed, go.
A further definition:
"The noun is ambiguous between two homonyms: 'air in motion' and 'curved or twisted form'" (Mueller 494).
Since the noun is ambiguous on the basis of several homonyms ( e.g. "air in motion" , "curved or twisted form", "to go on one's way, take oneself; to proceed, go"), there are several possible ways of interpreting it. We decided to annotate the noun based on the meaning "air in motion". However, it could also be referred to as "curved or twisted form", since this meaning would rather fit into the rhyme scheme (due to its pronunciation), which would establish a contrastive connection with the following line ("honest mind" as something straightforward). The "curved or twisted form" fits to the a reading that suggests the underlying semantic fields throughout the poem consisting of negativity in combination with femininity.
Since wind can be a metaphor from sailing, e.g. favourable wind (the wind which is leading the ship in the right direction), the meaning 'air in motion' seems to be the most relatable (Craik 235).
In the context of the poem (especially in the first stanza), the lyrical I is reflecting on several impossible tasks. One of them is to "find what wind serves to advance an honest mind". Therefore, the context of the poem justifies the interpretation of "wind" as "favourable wind" which leads to the fulfilment of the task.
The phrase "serves to advance an honest mind" is ambiguous: A possible reading could be that the lyrical I is looking for something that gives honest people an advantage. A different reading suggests that the reader is asking about something that encourages people to be more honest.
"The objective case of the pronoun thou, representing the Old English accusative and dative."
Referring to the line above (Line 12) "Ride ten thousand days and night" is another statement to point out that it takes a lifetime to find someone who is "true and fair" - namely until one's hair is white like that of an old person.
"The subjective case of the second person singular pronoun."
Second person singular of the verb "return" in the present tense.
"Archaic second person singular of "will"."
"Beautiful to the eye; of pleasing form or appearance; good-looking."
"Loyal or faithful" (OED).
True in the sense of "not lying".
The ambiguity between true in the sense of "not lying" vs true in the sense of "loyal or faithful" was a common field to be explored by early modern poetry (cf. Shakespeare's SON 138)
In a different version of the poem the line says "go see" instead of "to see". In that case the second line would no longer be a specification of the „strange sights" mentioned in the line above but an appeal to the addressee to go and look for invisible things (Redpath 119).
In the version with "go see" instead of "to see",the theme of giving the addressee tasks impossible to fulfill is continued in the second stanza.
These two lines can be read in two different ways. They could either refer to the feeling of being "carried away by an urge to see strange sights" (Ray 119) or the ability to perceive things that are strange (Ray 305). However, that Interpretation may change,
Second person singular of the verb 'find' in the present tense.
"A journey (usually of a long distance) to a sacred place undertaken as an act of religious devotion" (Brewer's Dictionary 550). It can also refer to the place to which a pilgrimage is made.
The speaker compares the finding of a woman "true and fair" to the religious concept of pilgrimage, thereby presenting that said woman as something divine and almost otherworldly. Donne's love poetry, in general, is permeated by religious concepts and language and "either representing religious myths or mythologizing the real" (Cruickshank 49). Though the conjunction of sexuality and religion might seem contradictory at first, for Donne, those were not mutually exclusive. Thus,the love for a woman or a wife led to love for God (Bennet 141). By remarking that "such a pilgrimage were sweet", the speaker admits that he would actually like to go through the lengths of such a pilgrimage (i.e. ride then thousand days and nights) in order to find a woman that is "true and fair" and, by extension, hasn't lost all hopes when it comes to genuine love. This short remark seemingly breaks, even if only for a short amount of time, with the bitter and cynical tone of the poem and reveals the conflicting emotions of the speaker.
During Donne's lifetime, a shift of values occurred by which sexuality was now sanctified by marriage. Before that, sexuality in and outside of marriage was considered sinful by doctrines of church and contemporary morality (cf. Bennet 139). Judging by the recurring themes of love and lust in Donne's works, sex outside of marriage was unproblematic as long as a "union of soul and body" would be achieved (ibid. 145).
In nineteenth-century literature, the replacement of v by w was usually associated with the Cockney dialect spoken in London (cf. Gerson 263; cf. Matthews 181). Dickens (and other authors) often used the v-w replacement in order to show that a speaker is uneducated (cf. Brook 223).
The association of the v-w- replacement with Cockney started as early as the sixteenth century and was used in literature until the 1890s (cf. Gerson 263; cf. Matthews 70; 181).
In Dickens's complete works, there are more than 1000 instances in which he spelt words with a w instead of a v (cf. Gerson 259-62.). It occurs most often in The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (approx. 400), but there are also many instances in Master Humphrey's Clock, Martin Chuzzlewit, Great Expectations, and in Our Mutual Friend (cf. 259-62).
Cockney was one of the most common dialects in nineteenth-century literature; thus, there was a literary convention that determined how it should be presented in texts (cf. Matthews 41; cf. 156f.). Dickens followed this literary convention when he wrote Cockney speech; he did not want to create an accurate reflection of the dialect spoken in his time (cf. 156f.). Sometimes, he even used it for characters who did not live in London to "represent general vulgarisms" (157).
Dickens did not use all characteristics of Cockney dialect in his texts, since this would have made his writings very hard to understand (cf. Page 340f.). However, readers were familiar with the literary convention, so a few hints (like the v-w replacement) were sufficient (cf. 340). According to Page, other hints Dickens used in The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club include:
(a) the substitution of –in' for –ing (waitin',shillin', etc.) . . . (b) the omission of t and d after certain consonants (mas'rs, gen'lm'n, etc.) ; (c) the omission of certain unaccented syllables (reg'lar, b'longs, etc.) ; (d) indicators of established uneducated pronunciations, such as the vowel changes suggested by waggin, biled, babby, etc. (341)
Other nineteenth-century authors who replaced v by w to imply that a character is speaking Cockney dialect were Charles Dibdin, Thomas Holcroft and William Makepeace Thackeray (cf. Gerson 267).
The replacement of v by w was a common trait of Cockney in the Elizabethan age, but when The Chimes was published in 1844, this pronunciation was no longer used by Cockneys in actual conversation (cf. Matthews 180-181.). Several Cockney speakers relate that it was only used by them to create a comic effect in Dickens's time (cf. 181). It has even been suggested that nineteenth-century Cockneys jokingly imitated the v-w replacement they read in Dickens's works, even though they knew it to be outdated (cf. Wyld 292).
The fact that Toby confuses v and w might show that he is not educated, because Dickens often uses the v-w replacement and other features of Cockney in order to show a speaker's lack of education. However, it is not clear whether Cockney was really only spoken by uneducated people (cf. Brook 223; cf. Matthews 157). On the one hand, the dialect was used by the people living in the East End of London, or more precisely, those "born within the sound of the bells of St. Mary-le-Bow Church, Cheapside" (Santipolo 415). The East End was a slum in the nineteenth century, so it is possible that there was seen a connection between poverty, a lack of education, and Cockney (Brown n.p.). In Anecdotes of the English Language, it is stated that Cockney expressions were regarded as "evidence of vulgarity and want of education" (Pegge v.). In 1909, The Conference on the Teaching of English in London Elementary School also claimed that the
Cockney mode of speech, with its unpleasant twang, is a modern corruption without legitimate credentials, and is unworthy of being the speech of any person in the capital city of the Empire. (qtd. in Matthews 157)
On the other hand, several authors contradict these opinions: Samuel Pegge tries to defend the dialect by claiming that Cockney can be seen as a continuation of the English of former centuries (Pegge 19-20). Wyld differentiates between the "typical Cockney English of London, as spoken by educated Middle Class people", and the Cockney of the streets (7). Walker states that the v-w replacement could also be observed in people "not always of the lower order", although it is "a blemish of the first magnitude" (xii-xiii). It is also suggested that the stereotype of the uneducated Cockney was created in burlesques like Bickerstaffe's The Hypocrite, in which characters were ridiculed "for vulgarity of mind as well as vulgarity of speech" (Matthews 30).
Saying "Nor' Wester" instead of "North Wester" when referring to wind coming from the north-west is traditionally associated with seamen (cf. Gerson 248).
Wind from the north-west is usually said to be very strong (cf. "north-wester, n." Def. 1).
It is possible that the narrator uses a term that is associated with seamen because it is mentioned in the context of a woman thinking about her husband at sea.
The whole passage emphasises the benign (and possibly supernatural) qualities of the chimes: In order to console and encourage the despondent, they chime loud enough to drown even the noise of a "blustering Nor' Wester". Thus, the sound of the chimes is portrayed as having exceptional powers, as this wind is usually associated with a very strong gale (cf. "north-wester, n." Def. 1). For further aspects relating to this power, see "Toby Veck"
"To live like fighting cocks" means "to have a profusion of the best food, to be supplied with the best", because fighting cocks were highly fed to increase their strength and endurance ("cock, n.1"; "to live like fighting cocks."). By this statement, Mr. Tugby accuses Meg and Richard of living beyond their means and taking advantage of him and his wife.
Given the miserable conditions Meg and Richard have to live in and the fact that Meg works night and day in order to support her family, Mr Tugby's statement is clearly not true. Rather, it is Mr. Tugby who is living like a fighting cock: At the beginning of the fourth quarter, he is depicted as a fat man, who eats muffins, crumpets, andfor dinner (cf. Dickens 146).
Meg and Richard clearly do not live like fighting cocks. Dickens here uses irony in order to expose Mr. Tugby's cold-heartedness and hypocrisy.
Although the idiomatic expression "to live like fighting cocks" is used in order to describe a worriless and luxurious life, real fighting cocks did not have such a life. Their fights were bloody and sometimes ended with the death of one of the cocks (cf. Egan 149; 153). In the 1835 Cruelty to Animals Act, cock-fights were banned in order to stop this mistreatment ("Cruelty to Animals Act, 1835."). However, cock-fighting still remained popular in Dickens's time and was held quite openly (cf. "cock-fighting"). Thus, readers knew how fighting cocks were treated and might have made a connection between the cocks' life and Meg and Richard's daily struggle to survive: They do live like fighting cocks, but in the literal rather than the idiomatic sense.
"Sally Lunns" is an abbreviation for "Sally Lunn buns". It is a baked good, similar to the French brioche. Sally Lunns are yeast-raised, white wheat flour bread buns made with added egg and butter ("Sally Lunns").
There are numerous theories about the origin of Sally Lunns. The most prominent theory is displayed by Sally Lunn's Historic Eating House, a teahouse, museum and the oldest house in Bath. According to them, the Sally Lunn bun was created by Huguenot refugee Solange Luyon who came to England in 1680 and was called Sally Lunn due to her new environment's mispronunciation of French. She found work in the kitchen of a bakery in Lilliput Alley where she created those special buns and sold them on the street. They became very popular in Georgian England and since then many bakers all over the world tried to replicate the original recipe. However, Sally Lunn's Historic Eating House is said to be the only one that bakes according to the original secret recipe ("Meet Sally Lunn").
Another theory claims that Sally Lunn Buns are an anglicised version of the French breakfast cake "Solimemne". In 1845, Eliza Acton, cook and author of "Modern Cookery for Private Families", refers to "Solimemne - A rich French breakfast cake, or Sally Lunn" ("Sally Lunn"). Yet, one more theory combines even both and speaks of an anonymous French baker, around 1775, who sold her special buns on the street of Bath. Through her cries "solilem!" she was called Sally Lunn ("Sally Lunn").
Though the place of origin is known to be Bath, it is not possible to pinpoint the time in which Sally Lunns became common in England. However one of the earliest mentionings dates back to "a poem printed in ʽThe Caledonian Mercuryʼ on 9 August 1776 which says of Dublin; ʽSally Lun and saffron cake are thereʼ" (qtd. in "Sally Lunn"; "William Preston" 372). The Sally Lunn bun is often confused with the "London Bath Bun" (short: "Bath Bun") which was created in 1851 and is smaller, more doughy and sweeter in taste than a Sally Lunn ("Meet Sally Lunn").
On the basis of Carper and Attridge's system of indicating beats and offbeats (B – beat, o – offbeat, -o= - double offbeat, with a slightly more pronounced emphasis on the second part), the stress in these phrases can be indicated as follows (cf. Bauer 114):
Toby Veck, Toby Veck, keep a good heart, Toby!
B o B [o] B o B [o] B -o= B B o
As regards the distribution of vowel sounds, we come to the following:
Toby Veck, Toby Veck, keep a good heart, Toby!
[əʊ][ɪ] [e] [əʊ][ɪ] [e] [i:] [ə] [ʊ] [ɑ] [əʊ][ɪ]
The speech of the bells in The Chimes is a recurring motif that can be read as a leitmotif in the story. The bells call for Trotty and guide his way through the narrative. There is a total of seven speeches Trotty hears in their ringing.
As Matthias Bauer has noted, the "sound of the bells is both rhythmically and melodiously translated into human speech": "the bell notes appear […] as vowel sounds in a change of [əʊ] and [e], as well as [i:] and [ɑ]; the voice of the bells is thus founded on an alternation of back and front vowels (back/front // back/front // front/back // front/back); we note that this is a monotonous alternation but that it is rhythmically enlivened by the inversion of the back/front sequence in ‘keep […] heart"; if the offbeat vowels are included, we get an additional short [ɪ] and [ʊ] (another front/back pair) and perhaps a schwa in ‘a,' that is, a peal of between four and seven bells at all.
Toby's peculiar trot is one of "a regular alternation of beat and offbeat with variation" (116). According to the OED, the "combination of repetition and variation" is the definition of the expression "to ring the changes" (OED, "ring, v.1" 17.; Bauer 116). Toby is thus intricately linked to the chimes not only on the level of physiology and psychology, allegory and the supernatural (cf. Bauer 113), but also on the level of sound. The rhythmical patterns and sound patterns are accordingly not merely iconic, but they are "the meaning itself" (Bauer 122): "Dickens contrasts a world, a system, and a language ‘without a chance or change,' with a world marked by repetition and variation, that is, by rhythm or ‘change'" (Bauer 116). For further instances of repetition and variation, see the annotations on "… " and " … ".
It can be noted that Dickens, "although imitating the different bell note and their ups and downs, does not represent a systematic, full peal as in the art of change ringing (made popular in English literature by Dorothy Sayers's The Nine Tailors)" (Bauer 114). Rather, he links Toby's ability to recognize "verbal messages in the melody and rhythm of the bells" to Toby's "own existence" (114): "And this is not only because his usual place of abode is a niche of an ancient church but because his life is intricately connected with other rhythms, such as the rhythm of the weather. Toby's own rhythm fits in well here, for whenever he has a message to deliver, he moves in his own particular and peculiar trot, from which he derives his nickname" (Bauer 114) This peculiar trot is one of "a regular alternation of beat and offbeat with variation" (116). For more information on this trot, see
In this passage, Dickens again employs a specific speech rhythm:
He saw them young, he saw them old,
o B o B o B o B
he saw them kind, he saw them cruel,
o B o B o B o B [o]
For further examples of this rhythm in The Chimes see [Links einfügen]
This passage here has a special rhythm, which Dickens also uses in other parts of The Chimes.
He sat down in his chair and beat his knees and cried;
- o - B - o - B o B o B o B
he sat down in his chair and beat his knees and laughed;
- o - B - o - B o B o B o B
he sat down in his chair and beat his knees and laughed
- o - B - o - B o B o B o B
and cried together;
o B o B o
For other examples of a similar rhythm in The Chimes, see "
Anon is a temporal adverb and has several meanings. The most fitting meaning in this context is:
"Now at this time, in contrast to at that time, presently again; here again" ("anon, adv.").
A casuist is a "theologian (or other person) who studies and resolves cases of conscience or doubtful questions regarding duty and conduct" ("casuist, n."). In the present sentence, however, the word is used figuratively (
In this passage, the word is used in order to emphasise that Toby does not contemplate why he likes the bells but that he instinctively feels close to them.
Another spelling of "chant", which means: "To sing, warble. arch. or poet." ("chant, v. 1. a.").
The word also has religious connotations: "To recite musically . . . to sing to a chant, as the Psalms, etc., in public worship" ("chant, v. 4.").
As "chaunt" also has religious connotations, it is possible that the wind is imitating a priest singing psalms at the altar (cf. Dickens 87).
The tradition of ringing out the old year and in a new year was established in the early seventeenth century and was followed all over England (cf. Walters 141; cf. "The History of English Change Ringing"; cf. Baker 100). The proceeding varied from church to church, though the most prevalent practice seems to have been the following: Before midnight, bells that were muffled by caps were rung. After midnight, these caps were removed and one could hear the open peal (cf. Wright 18-21).
It seems to have been a secular rather than a religious tradition (cf. Walters 141). The ringing of muffled bells was said to symbolise the death of the old year, while the open peal welcomed the new year (cf. Baker 100).
This is what a half-muffled bell looks like: http://www.whitacrebells.co.uk/uploads/1/0/1/4/10146774/328889.jpg?275
And this is what half-muffled bells sound like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCVqfKU1HdM
The echo you can hear in this video is the sound made by the half-muffled bells.
The ringing of the bells in The Chimes is important for two reasons.
Firstly, given that it symbolises death and renewal, one could draw a connection between Meg's (imagined) death and her ‘rebirth' after Toby wakes from his dream or vision.
But more importantly, they represent how Toby's feelings towards the poor change. While he still thinks that poor people like him are useless for society and born bad, they sound fierce, impetuous, and haunting (cf. Dickens 144). When he is shown the future of his daughter, they are silent. After he has realised that poor people are not born bad, but that misery and despair drive them to commit crimes, the chimes sound like the "old familiar Bells [...] so merrily" (Dickens 157).
There is also a poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson about ringing the old year out, which was published six years later than Dickens's The Chimes, in 1850. In the poem, Tennyson refers to the symbolic power of the bells ringing at midnight: They represent not only the end of the year, but also the hope that the next year will bring a change for the better.
Ring Out, Wild Bells
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
Goblins are generally thought to be "mischievous and ugly demon[s]" that have a "small and grotesque" appearance ("goblin, n. 1"; Briggs 194). The name is derived from the medieval French word gobelin (cf. Simpson 146; cf. "goblin, n.1"). Dickens's description of the goblins in The Chimes might be influenced by the illustration (Fig. 1) by George Cruikshank for an 1823 translation of the brothers Grimm's story Rumpelstilskin (cf. Parker 142).
The mention of the goblin in the subtitle marks The Chimes as a ghost story. Around 1800, it became customary to tell ghost stories on Christmas (cf. Parker 104). Apart from The Chimes, Dickens also published other ghost stories for this time of the year: The most famous of them is A Christmas Carol (1843), but he also wrote The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain, A Fancy for Christmas-Time (1848) and others. For a collection of Dickens's ghost stories see the Wordsworth Classics edition titled Complete Ghost Stories.
Even though the telling of ghost stories at Christmas became increasingly popular only after 1800, the connection of goblins and winter is already mentioned in texts from the seventeenth and eighteenth century. In Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, one can read: "A sad tale's best for winter, I have one / Of sprites and goblins" (2.1.33-34.). Another example is James Thomson's poem The Seasons. In the Winter-Part it is written: "Heard solemn, goes the Goblin-Story round" (619). In the introduction to the sixth canto of Marmion, Sir Walter Scott forms a connection between goblins and winter, as well: "On Christmas eve a Christmas tale . . . To jostle conjurer and ghost/ Goblin and witch!" (134-141). Thus, The Chimes stands in the long tradition of texts that form a connection between goblins and winter.
In The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (1836), Dickens makes use of this tradition, as well. In the 29th chapter of The Pickwick Papers, a Christmas story is told in which a goblin appears. He is described as a "strange and unearthly figure" with "long fantastic legs", sinewy arms and a "short round body" (Dickens 398). The main character of this story is Gabriel Grub, a misanthropist who hates Christmas. Just like Toby Veck in The Chimes, he is called by mysterious voices. Another parallel to The Chimes is the following description of the apparition of the goblins:
As the goblin laughed, the sexton [Gabriel Grub] observed […] a brilliant illumination within the windows of the church, as if the whole building were lighted up; it disappeared, the organ pealed forth with a lively air, and whole troops of goblins […] poured into the churchyard. (400)
In the course of the story, the goblin king kidnaps Gabriel Grub and takes him into the earth, where he shows to him "misery and gloom, a few of the pictures from our own great storehouse" (401). Grub is shown several incidents in the life of a poor family and – just like Toby Veck – has visions of the miserable future of his own family. Like the goblin in The Chimes, the goblin in The Posthumus Papers of the Pickwick Club wants to teach an embittered man a lesson.
Ghost stories were not only popular on Christmas, but throughout the whole year. Some argue that this can be attributed to the "rise of positivistic science and decline of religion" (Puntner & Byron 27). Ghost stories are seen as counteracting this development by questioning science and reason (cf. 27). Secondly, the popularity of ghost stories might be linked to the emergence of new periodicals and literary magazines, which would feature these stories (cf. 27). Dickens, for example, published ghost stories in Household Words and All the Year Round (cf. 27). In Victorian Gothic fiction supernatural elements tend to be a part of the world of the contemporary reader, as opposed to earlier Gothic fiction, in which the supernatural only occurs in "exotic or historical settings" (26).
"Speechmaking" (usually spelled "speech-making") means the action of delivering speeches or an occasion on which speeches are delivered (cf. speech-making, n."). The word is rare and it was mostly used in the nineteenth century.
Will Fern criticises Alderman Cute and others for using poor people like him in order to demonstrate their charity in public, e.g. by inviting them to attend a "fine Speechmaking".
In The Chimes, there are two instances in which charity events are depicted as being more about improving the benefactors' public image than about helping the poor: Sir Joseph Bowley tells Toby that a poor man may once in his life "receive – in public, in the presence of the gentry – a Trifle from a Friend" (Dickens 111). In his vision, Toby also witnesses a banquet at which the poor first have to eat in a different hall than their benefactors and, at a given signal, have to enter and "flock[ing] in among their Friends and Fathers" (133). Also see the annotation about
A teetotum is a toy that is "spun round by twisting the upper part between the thumb and finger" (Cassell's Book 829).
By comparing the umbrellas to teetotums, Dickens might emphasise their fast and chaotic movement.
Teetotums were already used by Greeks and Romans in ancient times (cf. "teetotum"). The toy can have four, six or eight sides. Originally, its four sides were marked with T, H, N and P, meaning "Take all, Take half, Nothing and Put in again" (Cassell's Book 829). Later, the sides were numbered. The teetotum is used in games as a substitute for a dice. There are no games made especially for teetotums, but they are often used for gambling. Sometimes, these games are played in order to gain nuts or similar items (cf. ibid.).
In Dickens's time, the world had several meanings, but in this context it most likely means "[a] small ornament or fancy article, usually an article of jewellery for personal adornment" ("trinket, n.1.").
"Afore" is a regional variation of "before" (cf. Gerson 300-01). Here, it suggests that Fern is speaking Dorset dialect, but other dialects also used this form in the nineteenth century. The word also appears in Poems of Rural Life, in the Dorset Dialect (1844) – one of the most prominent examples of Dorset dialect in nineteenth-century literature. In this collection, William Barnes spells the word "avore" (cf. Barnes 285).
Even though the context makes clear that Fern is from Dorset, there is no evidence that "nowt" was used for "nothing" in Dorset dialect. In his Poems of Rural Life, in the Dorset Dialect, William Barnes uses neither "nowt" nor "nawt". Bertil Widén only records / nɔ́þən / as "nothing" in Dorset dialect (cf. 71). Dickens here mistakenly uses a Yorkshire dialect word (cf. Gerson 104) for a speaker from Dorset.
"Afeard" is a regional variation of "afraid". Here, it is used by a speaker from Dorset. In one of the most prominent examples of nineteenth-century Dorset dialect in literature, this word is spelled "afeärd" (cf. Barnes 209).
"Afeard" was common in Old and Middle English, but was later replaced by "afraid" (cf. "afeared, adj.").
The words (mis)fortune, creature, and nature, which Fern uses in these passages, are of French origin, which means that they were originally pronounced with a [t] (cf. Gerson 253). Later, the plosive [t] in these words became the affricate [tʃ] in standard English but remained [t] in the dialects (cf. Wright §285). Thus, the standard pronunciation would be /ˈkriːtʃə/, while Dickens's spelling suggests the pronunciation /ˈkriːtə/ (cf. Gerson 251). Dickens often uses this pronunciation for uneducated characters.
The development from [t] to [tʃ] in words derived from French dates back to the early eighteenth century and might have begun as a "stage affectation" (Gerson 255). Webster suggests that the pronunciation with [tʃ] was introduced by the actor David Garrick (1717-1779) and that people then started to imitate the pronunciation of the famous actor (cf. 148; cf. 30). It is also argued that the pronunciation with [tʃ] was later used by "refined" speakers (cf. Gerson 253).
Despite the alleged use by "refined" speakers, this pronunciation drew criticism. In the 1780s, it is called an "anomaly of our language" (Nares 131) and a "modern corruption in the English language" (Webster 146). Nares also states that in some plays and novels the "proper" pronunciation with [t] is even ridiculed as "low-lived" (130), an observation that is shared by Webster (cf. Webster 158). It is possible that Dickens, writing eighty years later, still uses the pronunciation with [t] instead of [tʃ] in order to indicate that a speaker is "low-lived".
While it is likely that in The Chimes the pronunciation with [t] indicates that Will Fern is not educated, this pronunciation is used to create a humorous effect in other works by Dickens. Among the other characters created by Dickens who often use this pronunciation are the Cockney Sam Weller who works as a valet (The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club), Mrs. Gamp, an alcoholic midwife (Martin Chuzzlewit), and Captain Cuttle (Dombey and Son). Furthermore, this pronunciation is sometimes used by the Americans in Martin Chuzzlewit (cf. Gerson 252f.).
For information about Will Fern's pronunciation see the annotation about
For information about Will Fern's pronunciation see the annotation about.
For information about Will Fern's pronunciation see the annotation about.
This lack of concord between verb and subject is a feature of the grammar used by uneducated or poor characters in Dickens (cf. Brook 242).
This lack of concord between verb and subject is a feature of the grammar used by uneducated or poor characters in Dickens (cf. Brook 242).
This lack of concord between verb and subject is a feature of the grammar used by uneducated or poor characters in Dickens (cf. Brook 242).
Unlike many of the other words used in this paragraph that deviate from standard spelling, "'em" is not an indicator of social status in Dickens. In his works, users of the colloquial "‘em" belong to "all kinds of social classes" (Gerson 251). Among other characters created by Dickens who often use " ‘em" are Sam Weller (The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club), Tapley (Martin Chuzzlewit), Boffin (Our Mutual Friend), Blackpool and Bounderby (Hard Times) (cf. ibid.).
‘Tan't here means "it is not" (cf. Gerson 32).
While the omission of the i of the word "it" is very prevalent in Shakespearean texts, this spelling/pronunciation was "clearly dialectical" in the nineteenth century (Gerson 33). Thus, Dickens's omission of the i is "mainly restricted to provincial characters" (ibid.). ‘Tan't also occurs in The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, David Copperfield, and Hard Times (cf. ibid.).
Saying "somewheres" instead of "somewhere" is either a sign of dialect or of vulgar speech (cf. "somewhere, adv. and n. derivatives.").
From the context, we can gather that Will Fern was an agricultural labourer before he came to London and that he mainly worked as a thresher (he "sift[ed] grain from husk", Dickens 116).
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, agricultural labourers were the "poorest strata of the English rural population" and their work no longer enabled them to make a living (Hobsbawm & Rudé 34; cf. Kerr 93). Their poverty had many reasons, including enclosures (and the labourers' subsequent loss of independence), rural overpopulation, the farmers' unwillingness to pay sufficient wages, the invention of machines that made labourers superfluous, and the general economic situation after the end of the Napoleonic wars (cf. Hobsbawn & Rudé 30-55; Hammond & Hammond; Kerr 90-119; Snell). (Seefor more detailed information on these issues.) These problems led to widespread protests, for example during the so-called .
The dire situation of nineteenth-century agricultural labourers had several reasons:
From 1750 to 1850, land that was originally open to be cultivated by all was turned into the private land of big farmers (cf. Hobsbawm & Rudé 27). This means that smaller farmers could no longer plant and reap their own food; they became mere agricultural labourers and lost their economic independence (cf. Hobsbawm & Rudé 27; 35; cf. Okeden 76). Thus, by the beginning of the nineteenth century, many farmers had become "landless proletarian[s] relying almost exclusively on wage labour or on the Poor Law" (cf. Hobsbawm & Rudé 35).
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the population of Britain grew not only in the cities but also in the country (cf. Armstrong 96). However, labour demand in agriculture did not rise correspondingly, which caused high rates of unemployment in rural districts (cf. Hobsbawm & Rudé 42). Even if no tools like threshing machines were used, there was often not enough work for everyone (cf. Kerr 105). Furthermore, non-agricultural work did not develop in agricultural counties (cf. Hobsbawm & Rudé 42-43; Boyer 5; 231). It is debated whether many among the rural poor were able and willing to migrate to more urban counties in order to find work (see). Those who did migrate most often went to London, which is also what Will Fern does in The Chimes (cf. Boyer 176).
In The Chimes, Will Fern asserts that the never refused to do any work "however hard, or poorly paid" (Dickens 116).
The agricultural labourers' low income was mainly due to the farmers' unwillingness to raise their wages (cf. Kerr 99; cf. Snell 376). The farmers were able maintain (or even lower) the wages for two reasons: Firstly, it is often argued that overpopulation and a high rate of unemployment ensured that farmers could always find men who were in need of work and who would accept low payment (cf. Snell 94; Armstrong 97). This view is, however, contested by Boyer, who argues that labourers were willing to migrate to other counties if their wages were too low (cf. 209). (For more information on this debate see).
Secondly, the farmers could rely on the poor rates [link to "poor rates" annotation] to support their labourers (cf. Kerr 99). This means that farmers deliberately paid wages that were so low that they did not enable their workers to feed their families, as they knew that the labourers would receive aid through the poor rates. Thereby, employers cut costs by forcing rate-payers to finance a part of their workers' income (cf. Boyer 5). Even though all farm owners were rate-payers themselves, they rather paid increasing poor rates than raise the wages of their labourers (cf. Kerr 99). As a consequence, the "Poor Law [...] became the general framework for the labourer's life" and no matter how much they worked, their income and poor rate support only provided them with a minimum to survive (Hobsbawm & Rudé 47). This made it impossible for the labourers to make provisions for times of unemployment and their old age, as they could not save any of their earnings (cf. Hobsbawm & Rudé 53).
Furthermore, the wages were not only low, they were also not even guaranteed: Often, agricultural labourers were not paid on days when work was impossible (e.g. due to rain), so when someone started to work in the morning, he could not be sure that he would receive any money in the evening (cf. Hobsbawm & Rudé 44).
Will Fern's assertion that he "could sift grain from husk here and there" hints at the fact that he did not have a permanent occupation when still in his home county and when Trotty meets him, he has just come "up to London […] to look for employment" (Dickens 116; 112; my emphasis). One reason for his unemployment during winter could be the "deterioration of social relations [between farmer and labourer] in southern agriculture" (Snell 68).
Until the middle of the eighteenth century, unmarried agricultural labourers like Will Fern were hired for a whole year and lived under the same roof as the farmer (cf. Snell 73; 101). (Married labourers usually lived in their own house and were hired for shorter periods; cf. Snell 73). As farmers became richer and more powerful from the second half of the eighteenth century onwards (and especially during the Napoleonic Wars), they grew apart from their workers (cf. Hobsbawm & Rudé 45; cf. Snell 87). This resulted in an "alienation of master and employed and a segregation of class interest and cultures" (Snell 68).
From this time onwards, agricultural labourers were only hired on a weekly or even daily basis and – like Will Fern – had to live in their own cottages (cf. Snell 67-103; Hobsbawm & Rudé 43-44). Thus, "the farmhand became essentially a causal labourer, hired and dismissed at will" (Hobsbawm & Rudé 44). For the labourers, short-term hiring was especially problematic during winter. When hired for a whole year, he could be assured that he would have an occupation and income even when the season made agriculture impossible (cf. Hobsbawn and Rudé 98). This security was lost when the worker was only hired for a week or day. Thus, unemployment during winter dramatically increased. The situation was aggravated by the fact that less and less non-agricultural work was available for agricultural workers due to the Industrial Revolution – goods were no longer manufactured at home but in the factories of industrial centres far away from rural areas (Snell 222; see also below).
Boyer, however, contradicts this view and argues that "because of the high cost of indoor relief, […] most farmers preferred full-employment contracts to contracts containing seasonal layoffs and indoor relief for unemployed labourers" (Boyer 215; cf. 222). Thus, according to him, farmers preferred hiring labourers for a whole year rather than pay for their poor relief.
Three economic changes that took place around 1800 also added to the agricultural labourers' dire situation. Firstly, machines like the threshing machine made many labourers superfluous, which often caused them to, as "threshing was one of the few kinds of works left that provided the labourer with a means of existence above starvation level" (cf. Kerr 105; Hammond & Hammond 221). Threshing was usually done in winter, when labourers were otherwise out of work; thus, the threshing machine "displaced a precious source of winter employment" (Shave 73)
Secondly, before the industrial revolution, many farm labourers also manufactured goods during their times of unemployment, especially in winter (cf. Hobsbawm & Rudé 36). Due to the revolution, most goods started to be produced in factories, which left less and less work to rural villagers (cf. Hobsbawm & Rudé 36).
Thirdly, around 1800, cereal crops became more widespread, which minimised "all-the-year-round work and maximise[d] the seasonal fluctuations of labour demand" (cf. Hobsbawm & Rudé 44).
During the Napoleonic war, little food was imported to Britain, thus British farmers could sell their corn at high prices. After the war, however, the prices collapsed (cf. Hobsbawm & Rudé 33) (also see "Corn Laws"). Hence, "in the years from 1815 to 1850 the British farming community saw itself under extreme pressure" and farmers cut costs "at the expense of their labourers" (Hobsbawm & Rudé 30). As a consequence, "unemployment [in agriculture] dramatically increased post 1815" (Shave 68).
When discussing the living conditions of nineteenth-century agricultural labourers, scholars are mainly divided over two questions: (1) whether rural labourers were prone to migrate to more industrial counties and (2) whether wages declined after the introduction of the New Poor Law in 1834.
Regarding the first question, Hobsbawm and Rudé argue that even labourers who could not find work in agriculture seldom migrated to urban areas (cf. Hobsbawm & Rudé 42-43). It is asserted that the main reason for this unwillingness to migrate was that one could only receive aid through the poor rates [link to "poor rates" annotation] in one's settled parish and that until the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 [link to "Poor Law" annotation] those who applied for aid in another parish would be sent home under the Poor Removal Act of 1795 (cf. Kerr 97). In The Chimes, Will Fern relates how he tried to move away from his village in order to find work, which led to him being treated as a vagabond [link to vagabond annotation] (cf. Dickens 137). In some urban areas (especially London), migrants could be stranded without employment, poor relief and the hope to be brought back to their home parish, because these areas were "increasingly disinclined even to remove, and the pauper was left entirely to his or her own devices" (Snell 73). However, after 1834, migration from the agricultural south to the industrial north was endorsed by the so-called migration scheme (cf. Redford 95-96). Nevertheless, it is argued that "the number of labourers and their families who actually made the move was small" and Redford contends that many southern labourers still preferred to remain in their county (Edsall 52; cf. Redford 96)
Boyer, however, contradicts this view and asserts that rural labourers were very mobile and frequently migrated, especially (like Will Fern) to London (cf. 5, 176, 209-10, 230). This view is shared by Lindert and Williamson (cf. Lindert & Williamson 22).
The question whether agricultural wages (and wages in general) rose, fell, or remained stable after the introduction of the New Poor Law in 1834 is even more contested. On the one hand, scholars argue that "agricultural wages had not increased with the cost of living" (Okeden 76) and Snell and Clark argue that these wages even fell after 1834 (cf. Snell 124, 126, 129-30; cf. Clark 27). Snell contends that fear of the workhouse induced labourers to accept even "precarious employment at low wages" rather than being unemployed, because able-bodied workers who were unemployed could no longer hope to receive outdoor relief (i.e. outside the workhouse) after 1834 (cf. Snell 124; 126; 129).
On the other hand, Boyer argues that Snell did not take into account the falling cost of living and asserts that "in contrast to Snell's conclusion, agricultural labourers' income did not decline throughout southern England after 1834" (cf. Boyer 207, 210, 220). Nevertheless, Boyer concludes that the New Poor Law did not have a positive effect on living standards (cf. Boyer 193). Lindert and Williamson are even more optimistic than Boyer; they argue that the real wages of farm labourers rose after 1834 and that "the average worker was much better off in any decade from the 1830s on than in any decade before 1820" (Lindert & Williamson 12, cf. 13).
Feinstein opts for the middle way and concludes that "[m]ost British workers and their families did not experience an actual deterioration in their standard of living during and after the Industrial Revolution. But neither did they enjoy the rapid progress which the super-optimists have discerned" (Feinstein 652).
Dorset (formerly: Dorsetshire) is a county in southern England. During Dickens's time, it was "agricultural and pastoral", as it had not been affected by the industrial revolution and was therefore comparatively backwards (Fripp & Wragge 229; cf. Crick 325; cf. Kerr 161-62). Dorset was a "by-word for agrarian poverty and wretchedness" and the cottages of agricultural workers often were "of the poorest description" (Page 257; Fripp & Wragge 258).
In Dickens's manuscript, Fern is an inhabitant of Hertfordshire. Later, however, Dickens changed the location to Dorset. Page and Slater argue that he chose Dorset because this county was so infamous for its poverty (cf. Slater 266n30; cf. Page 257).
Around 1750, Dorset agricultural labourers already lived in poverty, but not to such an extent as during Dickens's time (cf. Kerr 161-62). In 1842, it was reported that the family of a Dorset agricultural labourer, consisting of eleven people, earned only 16s 6d [link to currency annotation] a week and had to live in a cottage with just two rooms (cf. Buckle 285).
There were two main reasons for the poverty of the Dorset agricultural population, namely overpopulation and low wages (cf. Kerr 162). The farmers' practice of paying labourers less than they needed in order to survive [link to Agricultural labourers L2 "low wages"] and depend on the poor rates [link to poor rates] to compensate the low wages was very prevalent in Dorset (cf. Kerr 167). In many areas of Dorset, this led farmers to employ mostly unskilled labourers and pay them as little as possible, knowing that they would be supplemented through poor relief (cf. Fripp & Wragge 259). Women and children in Dorset often contributed to the meagre family income by making buttons, but by the 1840s this occupation was "threatened by the industrial manufacture of pearl button" (Shave 74).
In 1834, ten years prior to the publication of The Chimes, Dorset also became known for the so-called Tolpuddle martyrs. These martyrs were six agricultural labourers who were tried and transported to Australia for trying to form a trade union in order to protest against a reduction of their wages (cf. Fripp & Wragge 259). Trade unions were still illegal then and the men were convicted for swearing an oath never to tell any of the union's secrets (cf. 260). The case gained nation-wide notoriety (cf. 259).
For the problems of nineteenth-century agricultural labourers in general.
It is likely that not only Will Fern is from Dorset but that the Bowleys are as well. In the third quarter, Will Fern interrupts a meeting at Bowley Hall, during which he says that its inhabitants can see his "cottage from the sunk fence over yonder", i.e. that his home is close to the Bowleys' (Dickens 136-37). This could indicate that the Bowleys are directly connected to – and even partly responsible for – Will Fern's dire situation.
Slater's and Page's assertion that it was especially Dorset that was associated with poverty in the nineteenth century is, at least for the most part, correct (cf. Slater 266n30; cf. Page 257). Snell explains that the "Dorset agricultural labourer was associated with about the most squalid and depressed living standards to be found in England, and the most embittered class relations" (Snell 387). Furthermore, in Dorset "[c]ottage building was far behind by the 1830s, and remained so until very late in the nineteenth century" (Snell 380). In a similar strain, Shave states that the county was notorious for its "severe labouring conditions" and "below average agricultural wages" (Shave 73).
However, two examples can be used to partly qualify the impression that Dorset was seen as the poorest agricultural county in Britain: In 1830 Vincent Stuckey argued that agricultural labourers in Somerset are "considerably worse off than in Dorsetshire and Devonshire" (qtd. in Poole 169). Furthermore, articles from The Times suggest that in 1844 (when The Chimes was published) Norfolk and Suffolk rather than Dorset were at the centre of attention as poor agricultural counties. This was due to the frequentin these parts of Britain.
It is nevertheless undeniable that Dorset was one of the poorest agricultural counties during Dickens's time and that it was also perceived as such by many contemporaries. However, it is impossible to ascertain whether Dickens shared this opinion and whether this was the driving force behind his decision to make Will Fern an inhabitant of Dorset rather than of Hertfordshire.
In the following paragraph, Will Fern uses non-standard grammar and pronunciation. On the basis of his language we can discern two things:
Firstly, it is implied that he is uneducated (see, for example, "
Secondly, he is from
Dickens's spelling of the words "", " " and " ", which are supposed to be dialect words, is misleading. "Afore", and "afeard" were prevalently used in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire in the nineteenth century (cf. "afore, adv., prep., and conj."; "afeared, adj."). Furthermore, there is no evidence that "nowt" was used for "nothing" in Dorset dialect. However, it was used with this meaning in Yorkshire dialect (cf. Gerson 104).
Thus, readers are not able to infer Will Fern's origin from his dialect alone. Other passages in the story, however, makes clear that he is from Dorset (see
Even though the dialect words used by Will Fern are found in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire dialect as well, the context makes clear that he is from
One of Dickens's closest friends, the actor William Macready lived in Sherborne House, Dorset, from 1851 to 1860 (cf. Barker n.pag.). Dickens and his family often paid visits to him (cf. Schlicke 367). However, as The Chimes was already written in 1844, it is unlikely that Dickens had much first-hand knowledge of Dorset dialect at this time.
Arson was a common means of protest forat the beginning of the nineteenth century, especially during hard winters (cf. Hobsbawm & Rudé 98; Hammond & Hammond 219). Thus, Will Fern here implies that he will purposely set fire to something, presumably a building. The main targets of so-called rick-burners were hay barns and threshing machines, i.e. machines used for the separation of grain that rendered many labourers superfluous.
Before 1837 arson was punishable by death; in 1830, for example, "a small farmer and two agricultural labourers" were hanged for this crime (cf. Hobsbawm & Rudé 259-60; Poole 164). At the time when The Chimes was published, rick-burners were usually imprisoned or transported to Australia (cf. Hobsbawm & Rudé 259-60).
Michael Slater notes that there was an increase in arson in 1843, one year prior to the publication of The Chimes (cf. Slater 265n26). Furthermore, in 1844, newspapers reported on an epidemic of incendiary attacks in Norfolk and Suffolk (see e.g. The Times 7th, 11th, 14th, 21th, 24th, 28th June and 4th, 6th, 10th, 12th, 16th July).
The most prominent cases of arson as a means of protest took place during the so-called Swing Riots [link to L3] of 1830-32, fourteen years prior to the publication of The Chimes. Alderman Cute's fear that the "frightful and deplorable event" in the third quarter might be something "revolutionary" suggests that the fear of riots still resonated years later (Dickens 134). Indeed, rick burners still occupied a place in the public mind in 1844 (the year in which The Chimes was published), as this illustration from the same year shows:
"The Home of the Rick-Burner": Cartoon by John Leech from 'Punch', London, February 1844. Vol. 7. Taken from Williams, Plate 11.
In this illustration, one can see a brooding man surrounded by his children, two of whom are crying. His wife seems to be sick, and the empty shelves, as well as the general appearance of the room, suggest that the family is very poor. A devilish-looking figure offers the man a burning torch. Even though the illustration condemns rick-burning as a fiendish act, it also provides an explanation why people are driven to such actions, namely poverty and despair.
It is possible that Will Fern's implication that he will commit arson reminded many Victorian readers of the so-called Swing Riots.
The Swing riots began in East Kent and later spread to many agricultural counties in England, including Dorset, which is Will Fern's home in The Chimes (cf. Hobsbawm & Rudé 97). The main reason for them was the, who by rioting tried to get their wages increased (cf. Okeden 77). Beside committing arson, the rioters also destroyed agricultural machines, assaulted overseers, parsons, and lords, and sent letters containing their demands and threats, which were signed with "Captain Swing", from which the riots got their name (cf. Hobsbawm & Rudé 195-98; cf. Okeden 93; cf. Hammond & Hammond 233). Even though the destruction of machines was the most common action taken during the riots, the distribution of these letters and "incendiary attacks on farms, stacks, and barns" were most memorable for many contemporaries (Hobsbawm & Rudé 198).
As farmers hoped that the riots would result in them having to pay less rent and tithes (i.e. ten percent of their annual produce to be paid for the support of religious establishments), they often did not object to the destruction of their machines (cf. "tithe, adj.1 and n.1."; Hammond & Hammond 231-33; 241). Furthermore, the rioters attacked overseers, justices, and parsons much more frequently than farmers (cf. Hobsbawm & Rudé 197).
The government feared that industrial workers would join the riots (cf. Hobsbawm & Rudé 257). Thus, it adopted severe measures: Troops of cavalry were dispatched to defeat the rioters and volunteers united in order to form "mobile units" to occupy villages "that were already rioting or likely to do so" (cf. Hammond & Hammond 231; Hobsbawm & Rudé 258; 256). "Among 1,976 Swing rioters brought to trial, 7 were fined, 1 whipped, 644 gaoled, and 505 were sentenced to transportation. Another 252 were sentenced to death, and execution was actually carried out in 19 cases" (Armstrong 108).
Despite its extreme poverty Will Fern's home Dorset was less affected by the riots than other counties, e.g. Suffolk, Essex, and Bedfordshire (cf. Okeden 81; cf. Hobsbawm & Rudé 175; 125). Barbara Kerr states:
the agricultural riots in Dorset were mainly spasmodic outbursts of local resentment against unpopular farmers and parish officials, but in Wool and Winfrith an attempt was made to raise wages by an organised strike. (Kerr, "Dorset Agricultural Labourer" 165; cf. also Hobsbawm & Rudé 259)
Only ten machines were destroyed in Dorset, a rather small number in comparison to other counties (cf. Hobsbawm & Rudé 199). Furthermore, there are recorded twelve cases of arson during the Swing riots in Dorset, which is more than in many other counties, but much less than e.g. in Kent (61 cases) or Lincolnshire (28) (cf. Hobsbawm & Rudé 202).
It is impossible to ascertain whether Dickens knew that Dorset was not as much affected by the riots as other counties and whether he would have made Fern come from another county if he had known it.
Both of these words refer to the decorating of leather or cloth; ‘to pink' means to "cut a scalloped or zigzag edge on (a piece of fabric)" ("pink, v.1."). In this context, ‘eyelet' means a small round hole "worked for decorative effect in a piece of embroidery, knitting, etc." ("eyelet n.1. a.").
Photograph of a pinked pincushion. Victoria and Albert Museum: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O166264/pin-cushion-unknown/#
In Dickens's time, needlework such as pinking and eyelet-holing was only done by women (cf. Kortsch 30-31). The only exceptions were professional tailors, which were usually male (cf. Kortsch 31). Furthermore, fancy sewing such as pinking and eyelet-holing (i.e. sewing that was not functional but decorative) was primarily done by upper-class women, while middle- and lower-class women were mostly concerned with plain sewing (e.g. "constructing garments, mending, and darning") (Kortsch 6; cf. 31).
Thus, Lady Bowley tries to make lower-class men and boys adopt the employment of upper-class women and girls.
It was mostly upper-class women who produced needlework that was decorative (like pinking and eyelet holing) rather than functional (cf. Kortsch 6; 31). Thus, contemporary readers would have been highly amused at the idea of male rural workers and boys performing the task of upper-class women and girls.
Will Fern shows the same reaction: He objects that he is no "great girl" and makes clear that, unlike Lady Bowley, he does not consider pinking and eyelet holing a "nice evening employment" for boys and men (Dickens 112). This passage demonstrates how little Lady Bowley understands of the needs of poor people like Will Fern [link to Lady Bowely's song annotation Level 1 – Interpretation]. It is possible that she already expected some kind of opposition from the village men and boys, as she makes them sing a song while working that starts with the line "O let us love our occupations" (Dickens 112)
Lady Bowley's misguided charitable activities run contrary to what Dickens himself advised: Paupers' children should get a "sound ‘industrial' training", which would later help them to find a job and prevent them from remaining poor throughout their life (Collins 81). Thus, for boys it would have been much more helpful and practical to be introduced to farming or a trade than doing needlework (cf. Collins 81).
Lady Bowley's attempt to get men and boys interested in needlework is only one example of how The Chimes satirises the rich characters' misguided attempts to understand and improve the living conditions of the lower classes. Throughout the story, Alderman Cute, Joseph Bowley, and Lady Bowley are presented as patronising the poor and ignorant of their real problems and needs. Furthermore, all three of them are shown to act from ulterior motives rather than from wanting to help the poor.
Lady Bowley does not only try to force her idea of a "nice evening employment" on others, but she also supports afor her own "excitement" rather than for supporting those in need (Dickens 112; 110).
Alderman Cute often behaves very condescendingly towards his inferiors. He believes that there "is not the least mystery or difficulty in dealing with this sort of people" and he explains to Toby that he must not tell him that he has not enough to eat, "because I know better" (Dickens 102). Cute also claims that it is his "place to give advice" to Meg, because he is a Justice [link to Justice annotation] (Dickens 104).
Sir Joseph even goes a step further and asserts: "You [Toby] needn't trouble yourself to think about anything. I will think for you; I know what is good for you; I am your perpetual parent [link to paternalism annotation]" (111).
Alderman Cute and the Bowleys never try to learn anything about the actual living conditions of the poor. The three are convinced that they know everything about the lower classes and that they have to put their own views into practice, no matter how unhelpful or even harmful they may be to those in need. Their charitable work is not driven by benevolence and compassion, rather, they see it as a way to assert their own superiority.
Lady Bowley is here referring to the votes cast by the subscribers of so-called voting charities.
A voting charity allowed its donors to choose the people that would receive aid through their institution. This means that those in need applied to a charity and the subscribers of this charity decided which candidates would be supported (cf. Kanazawa 358). The five pounds Lady Bowley has to donate in order to have two votes in such an election are a large amount of money when compared with the average wages in the 1840s. However, this sum was not unusually high for a donation to a voting charity (
In voting charities, donors were given a certain number of votes in accordance with how much they donated – the more money they gave, the more votes they had. In order to get the right to vote one could either donate an annual fee or make a one-time donation (cf. Kanazawa 359). One-time donors, however, had to spend much more money in order to get a vote (cf. Kanazawa 359) The number of votes one would get for a certain amount of money varied from charity to charity and could change over time (cf. Kanazawa 359).
Charity votes could be cast "regardless of the subscriber's sex, age or property", which was rather innovative as – for the most part of the nineteenth century – workingmen, agricultural labourers, and women were not allowed to vote in political elections (Kanazawa 359; cf. Everett n.pag.). It is, however, unlikely that any labourer was able to afford the subscription rates of voting charities .
Charity elections were held once or twice a year (cf. Kanazawa 362). The process usually went as follows: "Applications for relief were handed to the committee of the institution, which then eliminated" those who did not match the criteria specified by the institution (Kanazawa 359). Then, a list of candidates was formed and those who made it on the list, as well as their supporters, went canvassing [link to canvassing annotation] for votes (cf. Kanazawa 360). For this, they wrote letters to the subscribers of the charity or paid them visits at home (cf. Kanazawa 360). Applicants (and their supporters) often spent much time and money on canvassing. A great amount of this money would go to the printers of their canvassing letters and the post office (cf. Kanazawa 371).
On the polling day, the location of the election would be very crowded (as can be seen in Hicks' painting below). Candidates and their supporters would try to "attract last-minute votes" by persuading charity members to increase their subscription (thereby purchasing new votes) or to change their mind and vote for them instead of the applicant(s) they favoured (Kanazawa 363). Subscribers would use the opportunity "to judge the merits of the candidates" or to support the candidates they had pledged their votes to (Kanazawa 363).
Most of the candidates were not elected, as each charity only had a very limited amount of money and other benefits to confer (cf. Kanazawa 363). Those who were chosen to become recipients of the charity usually came from the lower-middle and upper-working classes (cf. 360). Thus, the poorest often did not benefit from voting charities.
Dickens himself subscribed to several of the "leading voting charities", e.g. the Royal Hospital for Incurables (cf. Pope 37; cf. Kanazawa 362n37, 366n50). Nevertheless, he thought that this system was humiliating for the applicants and very time-consuming for subscribers, who were constantly beleaguered by "anxious suppliants" (Pope 78). However, at the time when The Chimes was published criticism of voting charities was rare –(cf. Kanazawa 383). Despite this criticism, some voting charities existed until the beginning of the Second World War (cf. 370).
The conversation regarding charity voting characterises both Lady Bowley and her husband. Both characters are presented as indifferent to the applicants' desperate situation and only interested in the power and "excitement" one can derive from being a charity voter (Dickens 110). Even though criticism of voting charities only became prevalent after 1870 (cf. Kanazawa 383), it is possible that here Dickens does not only attack the two characters but the charity voting system as a whole.
Neither Lady Bowley nor her husband are interested in benefitting the poor but in entertainment and "oblig[ing] one's acquaintance" (Dickens 110). The latter was often a driving factor when deciding who to vote for in a charity election, which means that in many cases the applicants with the best contacts and richest friends won rather than those who needed help most (cf. Kanazawa 375-76).
It does not become clear why Lady Bowley finds it "monstrous" to have only two votes. One possible reason could be that she has to pay a rather high sum for these votes (). Furthermore, having only two votes means that she is most likely not among the more powerful and sought-after voters. Thus, she is presented as not being interested in the poor but in her own power. In the Victorian age, playing an important role in charity was considered a sign of high social status (cf. Kanazawa 362). It is probable that Lady Bowley shares this opinion and is annoyed that she can exert only little influence over the charity she subscribes to.
The passage also makes clear that Sir Joseph is not "the Poor Man's Friend" (Dickens 110): He thinks that deciding applicants' fates is exciting and(110). This is only one of many instances in The Chimes in which Sir Joseph is shown to be a hypocrite [links to other annotations about Sir Joseph].
In Bleak House (1852-53), Dickens again criticises that some charity voters only have their own excitement and social standing in mind rather than the plight of the poor (cf. Kanazawa 366n50):
Ada told me afterwards that Mrs. Pardiggle […] had for two or three years waged against another lady relative to the bringing in of their rival candidates for a pension somewhere. There had been a quantity of printing, and promising, and proxying, and polling, and it appeared to have imparted great liveliness to all concerned, except the pensioners—who were not elected yet. (Dickens, Bleak House 97-98)
In the 1870s, thirty years after the publication of The Chimes, voting charities began to draw widespread criticism (cf. Kanazawa 383). Here are the main arguments against and in favour of voting charities that were discussed from this time onwards. Even though the discussion of these issues began decades after the publication of The Chimes, it is likely that certain problems (see 1 and 2 in the following passage) were already prevalent during Dickens's time.
(1) One issue many people took offence at was that votes could be treated like property. Subscribers could sell their votes or exchange them for votes of other charities – people even advertised the sale of their votes in newspapers (cf. Kanazawa 373). Some subscribers also gave their votes "to dubious brokers who pretended to want them for a particular case and then sold them at fluctuating prices to the friends of candidates" (Alvey 150). Such practices were seen as irresponsible and voting charities were perceived as "a greedy, private business in a field which they [the critics] believed should be characterised by disinterested motives" (Kanazawa 374).
(2) Furthermore, it was often criticised that the applicants with the most (and richest) supporters won elections rather than those who were in dire need of help (cf. Kanazawa 375-76). Thus, critics believed most voters unable to choose appropriate candidates (cf. 377-79). According to them, charities should have a committee of experts instead of voting subscribers. Such committees were deemed to be better at deciding who should receive aid and how (cf. 378-79). The demand for giving experts greater power can be seen against the backdrop of the "new focus on science and ‘scientific' approaches to social problems" in the nineteenth century (356).
(3) Some also disapproved of the fact that women were allowed to vote in these charities (cf. 377).
(1) Those in favour of voting charities argued that the ability to participate led more people to subscribe to a charity, which in turn meant that the organisation had more money to distribute among the poor (cf. Kanazawa 373).
(2) Proponents of these charities contradicted the assertion that subscribers did not choose the most deserving applicants and maintained that those in need usually "secured ample voting power" (376).
(3) Furthermore, they asserted that even the applicants who did not win at the election benefitted from the system, because the canvassing brought them in contact with people who might help them independently from the charity organisation (cf. 376).
(4) The supporters of charity voting also argued that this system was the most democratic way of choosing recipients of charity and feared that the instalment of committees would lead to "backroom politics" and abuse of power (378-79).
Until the end of the nineteenth century, the voluntary and individual nature of charity was stressed (cf. Kanazawa 380). Then, a shift from privately financed charities to public welfare provided by the state took place (cf. 375). The controversy over charity voting should be seen against this background:
The major difference between the critics and supporters of voting charities lay in their ideas as to the true foundation of charity: whether it should be based on public-spirited bureaucratic administrators and top-down planning, or on the individual subscriber's free exercise of good will. (382)
The price of five pounds for two votes in ais not unusually high. For example, a one-time donor to the Infant Orphan Asylum of Dalston even had to pay five guineas (i.e. slightly more than five pounds) for only one vote (cf. (Kanazawa 359). (One pound had the value of 20 shillings, while one guinea had the value of 21 shillings, cf. [link to currency annotation]).
A man with an average income in the 1840s had to work approx. 33 days in order to earn five pounds, an agricultural labourer, earning less than the average income, even had to work approx. 54 days. (cf. Clark 6). This shows how much money Lady Bowley is able to dispense of.
In this context "canvassing" means to "solicit votes or support previously to an election" ("canvass | canvas, v." Def. 6). Here, it refers to poor people trying to make subscribers ofcast their vote for them.
Dickens indirectly characterises Sir Joseph as being ignorant of the poor people's needs by making him praise canvassing for "reduc[ing]" them to a "wholesome state of mind" (Dickens 110). Sir Joseph does not seem to notice the stark contrast between "reduce" and "wholesome" and he apparently believes that having to beg others to vote for oneself in order to receive aid is "wholesome". As he does so often in The Chimes, Sir Joseph shows himself to be the exact opposite of the "Poor Man's Friend" he claims to be (Dickens 111).
The mean duration of life in London during the 1840s was 37 years (Fifth Annual Report xxiv). The life expectancy of poor people like Toby was even lower (cf. Picard 180).
Using the information gathered in the Fourth Annual Report on the population of London, one can calculate that men aged from 60 to 65 years accounted for only ca 2.5 % of the total male population (cf. 13).
In the 1840s, mostwere old men. Henry Mayhew explains that "some are very old, and none are under 40" (366). The reason for this was that, from the 1830s onwards, no new ticket porters were admitted into the Fellowship of Ticket Porters and Tacklehouse Porters as their business ceased to be profitable.
As Toby does not work near the wharves, he is a so-called uptown ticket porter. They "carried, loaded, and unloaded miscellaneous burdens, above all in the City markets, and acted as express letter carriers and messengers" (Stern 59).
Ticket porters were appointed by the City of London and were the only workers allowed to transport goods from one place to another, provided they carried out their work within "the precincts of the city [London]" (Mayhew 364). Thus, people were obliged to use licensed porters instead of their own servants or other unlicensed workers (so-called "foreigners") to deliver their goods and letters (cf. Stern 11).
Being a ticket porter had never been a prestigious occupation, but at the time when The Chimes was published, the situation of ticket porters was still worsening (cf. Stern 7; 120-95; Mayhew 364-6). In the 1830s, the number of ticket porters was reduced and it was decided that no new porters would be appointed (cf. Mayhew 365-66; Stern 186-87). Thus, Toby can be seen as belonging to the last of his trade.
Ticket porters were poor (cf. Stern 11). In 1838, a former ticket porter even considered this work as a "calling to starvation" (Stern 194). Most of them were unskilled workers, but there was also a minority of "skilled craftsmen fallen on bad times and resorting to porterage as a measure of despair" (Stern 6; cf. 43). As ticket porters had to carry valuable goods, they occupied a position of trust, however, they were not well-esteemed by society (cf. Stern 160; 7). Stern argues that ticket porters were always trying to find work that was more profitable and reputable than porterage (cf. 169-70).
Uptown porters wore white aprons and were obliged to display their ticket openly (cf. Stern 178). In 1838, it was decided that the metal shield had to show the wearer's name, his number and date of admission to the Fellowship of Ticket Porters, and the stand he occupied (cf. Stern 178-9). A ticket porter could only work at the place for which he had taken up his ticket (cf. Stern 56). It is possible that Toby's stand is in Fleet Street, which is often identified as the setting of The Chimes and in which a real stand for ticket porters was located (cf. Stern 57; Douglas-Fairhurst 426).
This is an illustration of Toby Veck from "Character Sketches from Charles Dickens, Pourtrayed by Kyd", in which you can plainly see his metal badge and white apron.
Despite their low standing in society, ticket porters enjoyed several privileges. As mentioned in Level 1, ‘foreigners' (people with no ticket allowing them to work as a porter) could only be employed by merchants when no ticket porter was available (cf. Stern 60). Furthermore, the badge uptown ticket porters like Toby had to carry with them made them relatively trustworthy (cf. Stern 160) and they were seen as strong workers who were willing to work from midnight onwards (cf. Stern 160-1). Additionally, the Fellowship of Ticket Porters and Tacklehouse Porters supported blind or aged porters and the widows of porters (cf. Stern 52). In the 1840s, however, this was not possible anymore, as the profitability of their trade decreased (cf. Stern 188). Thus, despite being old and frail, Toby would not be supported by his fellowship.
Ticket porters had no regular wages, but were paid by their respective employer, who often tried to drive down the price (cf. Mayhew 367).
In 1823, the Common Council of London set down the following rates for ticket porters:
(Taken from Cruchley's Picture of London, p. 254).
[Link from "He would have got a shilling, too" to this annotation]
As the wages of ticket porters were set according to the weight they carried, it is likely that Toby does not earn much, because we learn that he is very weak (cf. Dickens 90).
Ticket porters had their heyday in the seventeenth and eighteenth century (cf. Stern 15). In the 1820s, work for uptown porters began shrinking and in 1842 the porters had little work left in the market (cf. Stern 180). Especially old porters like Toby "found themselves less and less able to make a living" (Stern 175).
The reasons for this are manifold. From the beginning of the nineteenth century onwards ticket porters met with several problems, which would lead to the end of their trade in the course of the century. During this time, their privileges were being more and more infringed (cf. Mayhew 366). This was partly due to the fact that the acts that defined the privileges of ticket porters were "carelessly drafted and obscurely worded", making it hard to decide when their rights were violated (Stern 158-9). Furthermore, more and more merchants became opposed to ticket porters. Innkeepers and meat salesmen petitioned to be allowed to employ their own servants instead of uptown ticket porters to carry their goods (cf. Stern 153-6; 159; 161). Merchants complained that they charged much more than non-licensed porters and that they were inefficient and expensive (cf. Stern 177; 122). Indeed, throughout the centuries their productivity had not much increased and they were superseded by "mechanical handling devices" (Stern 172). Furthermore, ticket porters were seen as ill-behaved workers, who often damaged goods out of laziness and carelessness (cf. Stern 177). Another problem was that railways carried goods to outlying places in London, where porters were not to be found, so the railway servants carried the goods (cf. Stern 174; Mayhew 366). Stern concludes: "Time and economic thought had overtaken the Porters" (120).
In 1835, the Society of Tacklehouse and Ticket Porters was limited to a number of five-hundred members by a Common Council Act (cf. Stern 186-7). This act "spelt gradual extinction for the Society" (Stern 188). Mayhew gives 1838 as the year, but it is possible that he is referring to a different class of ticket porters (cf. Mayhew 365-6). He also states that it was decided that no new ticket porters would be appointed (cf. Mayhew 365-6). Innkeepers took most of the porter's work in the markets and uptown porters had to try to become regular employees of bankers, warehousemen, and merchants (cf. Stern 188). Their fellowship could no longer support their poor members and did not have much money left for pensions (cf. Stern 188). In 1844, it gave up keeping its minute-book and after 1853, their Courts only met irregularly (cf. Stern 195).
Toby is not the only ticket porter to appear in Dickens's works. Often, they are merely entrusted with the characters' letters (e.g. in A Tale of Two Cities). Some ticket porters, however, are described in a more detailed way.
The porter in David Copperfield, for example, is portrayed as follows: He was "taking his time about his errand, then; but when he saw me on the top of the staircase [...], he swung into a trot, and came up panting as if he had run himself into a state of exhaustion" (Dickens, Copperfield 311). Unlike the naive and amiable Toby, this porter seems to be rather sly. A little bit later, David meets the ticket porter again, who disguises himself so he can work at a dinner party, "assisting the family servant" (Dickens, Copperfield 317). In this porter's case, Stern's assertion that they often tried to find work outside of their usual occupation is true (cf. Stern 169-70).
In Bleak House, the ticket porters are described having "nothing to do beyond sitting in the shade there [Lincoln's Inn Hall], with their white aprons over their heads to keep the flies off" (Dickens, Bleak 232). It is possible that this is an allusion to the growing expendability of ticket porters.
In the Pickwick Papers, ticket porters are also characterised by their white apron. In this work, they do not carry letters or parcels as they should, but harass passers-by and act as "[t]outs for licenses", e.g. marriage licenses (Dickens, Pickwick 98). Furthermore, it is described how Sam Weller has to "rescue [his] luggage from the seven or eight porters who flung themselves savagely upon it, the moment the coach stopped" (Dickens, Pickwick 392). Later in the novel, a bagman tells the Pickwickers of a similar occurrence that happened to his uncle:
When a porter had put his luggage in the coach, and received his fare, he turned round and was gone; and before my uncle had well begun to wonder what had become of him, half a dozen fresh ones started up, and staggered along under the weight of parcels, which seemed big enough to crush them. (Dickens, Pickwick 549)
In contrast to the righteous and trustworthy Toby, the ticket porters in the Pickwick Papers are either criminals or a nuisance to their employers.
As in the Pickwick Papers and Bleak House, the ticket porter's main characteristic in Nicholas Nickleby is his white apron. The narrator describes the following scene:
The ticket porter leans idly against the post at the corner: comfortably warm, but not hot, although the day is broiling. His white apron flaps languidly in the air, his head gradually droops upon his breast, he takes very long winks with both eyes at once; even he is unable to withstand the soporific influence of the place, and is gradually falling asleep. But now, he starts into full wakefulness, recoils a step or two, and gazes out before him with eager wildness in his eye. Is it a job, or a boy at marbles? (Dickens, Nicholas 444)
Again, the porter is described as being without occupation. Another instance in this novel hints at the decline of porters: When Nicholas hires one, he observes that the man had "from the appearance of his other garments, been spending the night in a stable, and taking his breakfast at a pump" (Dickens, Nicholas 42).
While ticket porters are criticised and ridiculed in the Pickwick Papers (1837), later novels show an awareness of their plight. The Chimes (1844) can be seen as the climax of Dickens's preoccupation with the decline of ticket porters. While the novels only briefly mention unemployed ticket porters, the Christmas story features one of them as its protagonist, highlighting his every-day struggle to support his family.
The fact that the trade of the ticket-porter is on the decline is also mentioned by Alderman Cute, who claims that one should look "into Strutt's Costumes, and see what a Porter used to be, in any of the good old English reigns" (Dickens 101).
In order to become a ticket porter, a man had to become a member of the Fellowship of Ticket Porters and Tacklehouse Porters (cf. Stern 9-10). For this, he had to pay a fee, procure securities for good behaviour from his neighbours, relatives, and acquaintances, and enter into a bond, from which compensations for lost or damaged goods were paid (cf. Stern 9-10; 12; 42).
Apart from ticket porters, there were other classes of licensed porters, as well. (For information on them see Stern passim, esp. 13-21). Sometimes, the term ‘ticket porter' is applied to all licensed porters.
Sleeping during a sermon was considered very disrespectful. An American newspaper article of 1845 calls sleeping during church-service "disgraceful" and an "insult to that Master whom they [the sleepers] profess to serve and honor" ("Sleeping in Church").
Neither Opie & Tatem, nor Simpson & Roud record a superstition that is connected with sleeping in churches at night. In The Chimes, the night-wind is given as the reason why no one would like to spend a night in a church. Other reasons could be the church's proximity to the graveyard and its gloomy atmosphere at night.
The narrator of The Chimes explains that the night-wind is the reason why people do not want to sleep in a church at night. One the one hand, the wind poses a very worldly problem: In a "gusty winter's night", the church would be freezing cold, as the wind constantly "seek[s] out crevices by which to enter" (Dickens 87). On the other hand, it creates a very gloomy and "dismal" atmosphere. The wind is personified and presented as "ghostly" rather than a natural phenomenon: It wanders round the church moaning and howling, and "creeps along the walls, seeming to read, in whispers, the Inscriptions sacred to the Dead" (87). Thus, people are deterred by both the sinister atmosphere and the cold.
In addition to the reason given in The Chimes, Dickens's novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood offers two further explanations for people's reluctance to spend a night in a church:
The cause of this [fear of churches at night] is not to be found in any local superstition that attaches to the Precincts […] but it is to be sought in the innate shrinking of dust with the breath of life in it from dust out of which the breath of life has passed. (Dickens, Mystery 105)
Old churches are usually built near a graveyard, so people would have to spend their night in proximity to the dead. Furthermore, the novel argues that people are afraid of encountering ghosts in such a place: They reflect that
[i]f the dead do, under any circumstances, become visible to the living, these are such likely surroundings for the purpose that I, the living, will get out of them as soon as I can. (Dickens, Mystery 105)
In "City of London Churches", Dickens again associates churches with the dead. The congregation inhales the "decay of dead citizens in the vaults below" and it "cough[s] and sneeze[s] dead citizens, all through the service" (Dickens, "City" 191-92).
The examples from Dickens's texts show that even though there was no specific superstition concerning spending a night in a church, most people would have been repelled by the gloomy atmosphere and the thought that they would have to stay near the dead or even undead.
It is likely that the narrator's suggestion that some people sleep during church-service is only a humorous remark. However, it might also hint at two more serious issues: The comment could either be connected to people being indifferent towards religion in general, or to poor church-goers feeling left out because the sermon does not address their interests and needs.
The first case occurs in Dickens's "Sunday Under Three Heads", in which a church-service primarily aimed at the upper class is described: The "fashionable members of the congregation" do not listen to the preacher but "inspect each other through their glasses" and at the end of the sermon "those who have been asleep wake up, and those who have kept awake, smile and seem greatly relieved" (Dickens 8). Here, attending church is not a sign of religiousness but a social obligation; it is one's presence that counts, not one's behavior or faithfulness.
At the other end of the social strata, many poor people objected to certain characteristics of Victorian church service. Their problems were discussed in a 1867 conference concerning "Working Men and Religious Institutions" to which churchmen, dissenters, and workers contributed (cf. Helmstadter & Phillips 225). Many poor people did not feel welcome at churches (cf. 229; 233). The preachers were usually college-educated, hence workers felt that they could not talk to them "in a familiar manner on common topics", which placed a barrier between the preacher and part of his congregation (229). Furthermore, people from the lower classes perceived men of religion to be hypocrites who did not "carry their teaching into practice" (230). It is possible that not understanding the sermon or thinking it hypocritical induced some people to sleep during it.
The passage in The Chimes does not make explicit which class of people might sleep during a sermon. Thus, it is impossible to decide whether it could allude to people's indifference towards religion or to poor people feeling left out during church-service. As stated in the beginning, it is also possible to read the passage only as a humorous remark and not as alluding to Victorian religious problems.
"To gambol" means to "run and jump about playfully; to play, dance, or move about in a lively, happy way" ("gambol, v. 2. 1.").
Embroidery is "[t]he art of ornamenting cloth and other fabrics with figures of needlework" ("embroidery, n." 1.).
By saying that Meg has "often, often" worked "at the same kind of embroidery," the narrator emphasises that this scene of Meg sitting and working does not appear out of the ordinary to Trotty when he is confronted with it in his vision. The repetition of "often" highlights just how frequently Meg must be occupied with this kind of needlework in their everyday life. The mention of "the same kind of embroidery" further stresses the repetitiveness of Meg's work.
In the 1840s, women who had to support themselves often turned to needlework and became seamstresses because this work had flexible hours, could be done from home, and "virtually all women had the necessary experience for needlework" (Harris, "Slaves of the Needle"). Women "found employment with the needle as milliners and dressmakers, [...] embroidered shawls and sewed the men's shirts and trousers" (Harris, Famine and Fashion 3). Not all seamstresses were from the working classes, but some middle- and upper-class women also relied on needlework to support themselves financially (Harris, "Slaves of the Needle"). These women of different backgrounds often worked from home or in small workshops and were paid per piece (cf. Burman). One reason why employers got away with paying seamstresses a small amount of money for a lot of work (see Inder) was the high number of women who could do this work and had to do it because they had no alternative (cf. Burman). However, Beth Harris also points out that "the needle trades supported many women, as both employees and business owners," thus also offering promising opportunities for some (Harris, Famine and Fashion 3).
Dickens made use of the common trope of the distressed seamstress, which underlines the poor living conditions Meg and Lilian have to endure in Trotty's vision. The statement is introduced by the narrator describing the room in which Meg works in Trotty's vision as "poor" and "mean." After having introduced the grim atmosphere and living conditions, the narrator emphasises that Trotty has "often, often" seen her working on "the same kind of embroidery," highlighting that Trotty's grave vision does not much differ from their real life in this respect. When this passage is read in the light of its contemporary context (see), the reader understands the wider implications of Meg's occupation and is reminded of the contemporary social debate and frequently occurring scandals involving the occupation of the seamstress or needlewoman. It is hence rather likely that the contemporary reader would have read this sentence as implicit social criticism of the cruel treatment of working-class women.
The statement that Meg is presented to Trotty "working at the same kind of embroidery which he had often, often seen before her" is ambiguous. That this is not a scene which appears unusual or new to Trotty may be explained as follows: either Meg is embroidering a piece of fabric that is her own to fix it and save money, or she is embroidering fabric to sell it and make a little extra money to keep them afloat. If one follows the second interpretation, one can assume that Meg has already embroidered many fabrics for different clients based in the "demand for cheap, ready-made clothes (. . .) by a widening middle class" (Harris, Famine and Fashion 5). To Trotty, all these different pieces of needlework must look very similar for the narrator to call them "the same kind" in his vision. Tand are also referring to this second reading.
The Second Report of the Children's Employment Commission, which was published in the spring of 1843, shocked the public because it depicted the exploitation of needlewomen and the cruel working conditions they had to endure (Harris, "Slaves of the Needle"). Although "approximately half of the statements from witnesses were favorable" (Harris, Famine and Fashion 3), the public was scandalized to find that some "young women lived, worked, and died, in such miserable conditions" (Harris, "Slaves of the Needle"). One account that was especially shocking to the general public was the case of the needlewoman Mary Furley, who tried to drown herself alongside her small child to escape her dire living conditions and the prospect of the workhouse. While her child died during the suicide attempt, she survived and was then sentenced to death for infanticide (Gates). This case is more explicitly referred to in The Chimes a few pages earlier, when Trotty reads a shocking account in the newspaper "of a woman who had laid her desperate hands not only on her own life but on that of her young child" (Dickens 122). Trotty considers this a terrible and revolting crime, attributing it to the wickedness of the working-class (122). Later on, this passage and the case of Mary Furley are again mirrored when Meg is about to drown herself and her toddler in Trotty's vision (156). Many contemporary commentators found that "the cruel irony of the Mary Furely case represented the worst of the government's abuse of the poor (McDonagh 119).
The shocking conditions some seamstresses endured became a topic of popular discourse: "newspaper articles, pamphlets, novels, short stories, poetry" dealing with the exploitation of needlewomen were published (Harris, "Slaves of the Needle"). The character of the desperate seamstress became a trope that appeared in various different works of literature throughout the 1840s, as for instance Charles Kingsley's Alton Locke and Cheap Clothes and Nasty, Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna's The Perils of the Nation and The Wrongs of Woman (Harris, "Slaves of the Needle"). While "the seamstress narrative, which leads by necessity to death and/or prostitution, was not the only narrative on seamstresses that was produced during this period, [...] it was by far the dominant one" (Harris, Fashion and Famine 3). Although the Second Report of the Children's Employment Commission showed that roughly half of the women working in needle trades were treated favourably, "most authors [...] wrote only about the darker side of the evidence offered" in the report (Harris, Famine and Fashion 3). This depiction of the "impoverished and exhausted woman sewing at home reduces the complexity of women's work" (Harris, Famine and Fashion 3).
The term "review" describes "the action or an act of looking over or inspecting" ("review, n." I.). The addition of the adjective "formal" suggests the contextual meaning of "review" as "a ceremonial display and formal inspection of troops or the fleet by a monarch, commander-in-chief, or high-ranking visitor" ("review, n." I.1.a.).
The term "field day" is ambiguous and can either be understood figuratively as describing "a day noted for remarkable or exciting events" ("field day, n." 1.b.), or it can also evoke military associations when seen as referring to its original meaning of "a day on which troops are assembled for a manoeuvring exercise" ("field day, n." 1.a.). Since "formal review" refers to a military inspection, this latter meaning of "field-day" with its military associations readily suggests itself.
The narrator's statement that Toby does not "[hold] any formal review or great field-day in his thoughts" contains two terms which strongly suggest a military meaning. Through the negation of the sentence, the phrase suggests that Toby does not evaluate this connection as commanders would examine their troops. These terms' references to military practices are, accordingly, used as a metaphor to illustrate that Toby's connection to the bells is unplanned, unconscious, and not analysed by him. Following the characterisation by the narrator that Toby was not a, this phrase emphasises once more that Toby's connection to the Bells developed unconsciously rather than being something he instigated deliberately.
Lilian is referring to Meg's work as a seamstress. Seamstresses often worked under particularly hard conditions and only made little money (cf.
The phrase "not to live upon enough" is inverted. The reader would expect the expression "not enough to live upon". This inverted expression contains a contradiction and is contrasted by the phrase "just enough to toil upon", which follows shortly after and whose syntactical structure is unmarked and not inverted. This contrast emphasises the difference between "live" and "toil": Trotty and Meg have "just enough to toil upon" but not enough to (really) live.
The first part of the sentence "not to heap us riches, not to live grandly or gaily, not to live upon enough, however coarse" depicts a listing from rich to poor living conditions and brings forth a parallelism of the individual phrases through anaphoric expressions with „not to" while making them become worse and worse. This first listing is a tricolon diminuens because it is made up of three clauses of similar length. This listing is followed by another such listing that is, however, contrastive to the first, introduced by "but": "but to earn us bread; to scape together just enough to toil upon, and want upon, and keep alive in us the consciousness of our hard fate." The repetition of "to" connects the second phrase with the first. The living conditions are first described as increasingly worse, to be followed by that which is required for the sustenance of the poor. This whole passage is pleonastic in that it is used to convey one single idea, namely utter poverty.
The form of the sentence underlines and emphasises the dire living and working conditions Meg and Lilian experience in Trotty's vision (cf.).
A "rasher" is a "thin slice or strip of bacon, or (less commonly) of other meat, intended to be cooked by grilling, broiling, or frying" ("rasher, n.1." 1.a.). The word probably originated from the now obsolete verb "rash", which meant "to cut, to slash" ("rash, v.3." 1.).
Dickens used the word "rasher" quite frequently. It also appears in The Seven Poor Travellers ("and sometimes one buys a rasher of bacon" (The Seven Poor Travellers 7)), as well as in Barnaby Rudge ("a few savoury trifles in the shape of great rashers of broiled ham" (Barnaby Rudge 165)), in David Copperfield ("I sat down to my brown loaf, my egg, and my rasher of bacon" (David Copperfield 55)), and in Bleak House ("the broiling of a rasher of bacon at the fire in the rusty grate" (Bleak House 313)). That Toby and Meg can afford rashers might suggest that this was a food consumed mainly by the lower classes. However, this does not seem to be the case. Although working-class people could afford rashers, they were also consumed by other classes. This is suggested by the works of Dickens mentioned above, in which characters with different class backgrounds are shown to be eating rashers. The usage of the word in the different works also suggests that rashers were not eaten for specific meals but could be served at any time of the day.
Rashers of bacon were a type of meat also (although not solely) affordable for and consumed by the working classes in Dickens's time. This is suggested by the fact that A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes by Charles Elme Francatelli from 1852 contains a recipe for "Fried Eggs and Bacon" (cf. Francatelli 60). The Book of Household Management by Isabelle Beeton from 1861 also contains a recipe for "Fried Rashers of Bacon and Poached Eggs" (cf. Beeton paragraph 802).
When Toby covertly sends Meg to buy rashers for Will Fern and Lilian and then pretends not to like bacon anyway and to be glad to have found someone who will eat it, he shows great kindness towards Will and Lilian and tries to prevent them from feeling guilty about the expenses they cause him. Although rashers were affordable, they were not solely working-class food. Toby's serving them to Will and Lilian and declining them himself is, thus, a very generous gesture. The rashers in this passage serve to highlight Toby's selfless and kind character and underline one of the book's main moral principles, i.e. that everyone can be good no matter their social or financial background.
"Sifting grain from husk" describes the separation of the grains of wheats from their "dry outer integument" ("husk, n.1." 1.a.). The grains can then be processed to make flour while the husks are useless for the consumer.
Will Fern states that he "could sift grain from husk here and there," which implies that he worked as a thresher before he came to London, but that this was not a safe employment. "Here and there" further implies that he had no fixed abode. In the nineteenth century, agricultural labourers often lived in dire conditions, see. Before the invention of the threshing machine in 1786, agricultural labourers were employed to separate the husk from the grain by hand, using a flail (cf. Macdonald 63).
After the invention of the threshing machine, the increase in the unemployment rate of farm workers during the winter months led to growing frustration among labourers and resulted in social unrest. The invention of the threshing machine and the consequential unemployment is said to have been one of the main causes of the Swing Riots which started in southern England in August 1830 (cf. Caprettini and Voth passim, esp. 3-13). Rioters showed their frustration with the technical development by destroying threshing machines. During the riots "over 200 [threshing machines] were destroyed in central southern England alone" (Collins 18). But while "[m]achine-breaking in response to technological unemployment was a key part of the riots, […] it also spilled over into other forms of unrest, such as arson, blackmail, and attacks on Poor Law administrators" (Carprettini and Voth 3). For more information on the Swing Riots, see.
Since the invention and spread of the threshing machine and the Swing riots had only quite recently passed when The Chimes was written, one can imagine that this statement by the financially and socially struggling character of Will Fern is supposed to remind contemporary readers of these recent developments and how these led to farm labourers no longer having stable incomes or workplaces, but instead living and working "here and there". The statement highlights the injustice with which agricultural labourers were treated and the struggles they had to face due to the increasing mechanisation and industrialisation. The high unemployment rate caused by the implementation of the threshing machine is one example of the effects of mechanisation and industrialisation on the working-class. In The Chimes, we can find frequent criticism of the idea that people's worth is dependent on their income. Like Trotty, Will Fern too thinks that he is responsible for his own "misfortun'," while the reader, who knows the historical context, can see that he is not at fault for his unemployment.
The word "woof" is a term used in the context of weaving and describes "the threads that cross from side to side of a web" ("woof, n.1." 1.a.). In this context, "woof" can also simply refer to "a woven fabric" ("woof, n.1" 3.).
Toby's relationship to the Bells is described as having developed into a rather intimate, complex, and strong connection, as he "knit[s] up his first rough acquaintance with them into something of a closer and more delicate woof" (Dickens 91). His life is highly influenced by the Bells as "they were very often in his ears, and very often in his thoughts, but always in his good opinion" (Dickens 92).
The word gait means a "manner of walking or stepping, bearing or carriage while moving, walk" ("gait", n. 1. a).
The word mufflers is not in use anymore, according to the OED. Today, the term "a glove, [or] a mitten" is more common ("mufflers", n. 3. b).
The word worsted describes "a fine, smooth fabric made from closely-twisted yarn spun of long-staple wool combined to lay the fibres parallel" ("mufflers", n. 1. a).
"[B]uoyant" is an adjective that literally means "to have the power of floating, tending to float" ("buoyant, adj." 1.a.). The denotation of floating is also reflected in the figurative meaning of the English word: it describes both "spirits: Easily recovering from depression, elastic, light" and "persons: Light-hearted, cheerful, hopeful" ("buoyant, adj." 3.).
In The Chimes, the adjective "buoyant" is used in its figurative meaning to characterize the extraordinary nature of Meg's hope that is expressed through her eyes. Despite the hardships she has suffered, her "spirits" (cf. "buoyant, adj." 3.), i.e., her outlook on life, still remain "buoyant, vigorous, and bright" (Dickens 94).
In ancient Greek myth, Heracles (or Lat.: Hercules) is a demigod, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, a mortal princess ("Heracles" 201). Hercules is deemed one of "the most famous of Greek heroes, noted for his strength, courage, endurance, good nature, and compassion" ("Heracles" 201).
The strength of the mythical hero Heracles materializes in particular when he has to perform twelve labours as a punishment for his unfortunate past: Because Hera, the wife of his father Zeus, disapproves of the illegitimate child, she sends a madness upon Heracles that makes him kill his wife and children; to atone for this deed, he is sent into exile to serve the king Eurystheus for twelve years ("Heracles" 202). Eurystheus then makes him solve the abovementioned twelve impossible tasks, each of which is a mythological story of its own.
The first part of the phrase ("a weak, small, spare old man, he was a very Hercules" 90) constitutes a paradox: the reference to Hercules evokes notions of strength and endurance, which are the direct opposite of Toby's fragility. More on the implications of this paradox can be found.
The paradox (see) that is established by the contrast "a weak, small, old man, he was a very Hercules" (Dickens 90) closes with the information that Toby is not physically like Hercules, but "in his good intentions" (Dickens 90). This emphasizes that, at heart, Toby is just as valiant, determined and hard-working as the Greek demigod, focusing on his inner strength and compassion rather than physical features. Therefore, the Heracles metaphor serves two purposes: first, the paradox it creates through its opposition of physical and mental strength reminds readers not to judge a person merely by external impression, and second, it characterizes the seemingly weak Toby as heroically strong, not in terms of physical strength, but at heart.
Because the phrase occurs only three pages into the novel, this description essentially contributes to Toby's character exposition. It instates him as a selfless, hard-working man, who, as becomes more and more obvious as the narrative progresses, does not let unfavourable circumstances stand in the way of being compassionate with those around him; i.e., the phrase foreshadows the love he is later shown to have for his daughter (cf. Dickens 93), and the selfless help he offers Will Fern and Lilian (cf. Dickens 116-17).
A "Justice of the Peace" was "a magistrate who deal[t] with less serious crimes" ("Justice of the Peace." Cambridge Online Dictionary). Officeholders supervised towns or local districts, and being a justice did not require any legal qualifications ("Justice of the Peace, n." OED). They were "men elected out of the nobility, higher and lower […] the ideal justice of the peace ought to combine title, wealth, and legal training" (Sipek 9).
The word "Justice" is used ambiguously in this passage. Whereas Alderman Cute superficially refers to his office as a Justice of the Peace ("You know I'm a Justice, don't you" 104), the narrator then uses Cute's position to characterize the way he constantly judges his surroundings, especially poor people: "O dear, so active a Justice always!" (104). Thus, the repetition of the word in different contexts reveals Cute's peculiar understanding of what being a Justice entails; it shows how he thinks that his position entitles him to lecture other people (e.g., "It's my place to give advice, you know, because I'm a Justice" 104).
The long version of "" (Dickens 118). First appearing in the sixteenth century, the name "Lilian" can be a derivative of "Elizabeth", which translates from the Hebrew "Elisheva" to "my God is abundance" (Hanks). The name underwent a change in connotation when "Lily" gained popularity at the beginning of the nineteenth century in England, then signifying the flower rather than the Christian name (Hanks). Thus, the name was already fashionable when Dickens wrote The Chimes in 1844; fittingly, "Lilly" is Lilian's nickname in the book (118, 132).
"Lilly" is the short version of "Lilian". Further information on the latter can be found.
In floriography, the lily is a symbol of "purity; virginity; the purified soul; heavenly bliss; peace; … innocence" (Olderr 127). Because of these attributions, it is often used in Christian contexts as "the flower of the Virgin [Mary]," serving as a symbol of chastity and innocence; saints are also often depicted carrying the lily to signify their holiness (Ferguson 33).
In The Chimes, Lilian's nickname is "Lilly" (Dickens 118, 132), which has both the floral connotation and the symbolism connected to it. Like the flower that the name stands for, Lilian's character is depicted as innocent, pure and peaceful: she is repeatedly described as beautiful ("beautiful face", 117; "pretty", 118; "so pretty and so young", 132; "sweet", 141), which refers to her youthful innocence and to the notion that she is not only outwardly pretty but also pure at heart. This link is reinforced by the encouraging, almost angelic effect she has on the adults around her (e.g., "She has a beautiful face […] I've thought so, when my hearth was very cold, and cupboard very bare", 118; "so peacefully and happily", 123). Therefore, Lilian not only embodies the abstract virtues of purity and peace that the lily signifies, but she also lives up to the Christian values that the flower's symbolism insinuates: her saint-like depiction is corroborated as she prays for the people around her (Dickens 121). Therefore, Lilian's character indeed personifies the symbolic traits of the lily as they are described in Olderr: "purity; virginity; the purified soul; heavenly bliss; peace; […] innocence" (127).
John Donne (1571-1631) was one of the leading metaphysical poets.
He is known for both his love poetry and religious verse, and often used complex conceits, such as extended metaphors, with startling impact.
We have to keep in mind that most works by Donne "circulated in manuscript, remaining within Donne's private circle for years after they were written," and that his poems were published posthumously. Especially love poems like this one may have sprung from personal experience and may be addressed to one of his female lovers. (Bell 202)
the time of day when sunlight first begins to appear
This poem consisting of three stanzas with six lines each is written entirely in rhyming couplets. The first two couplets of each sestet are in iambic tetrameter, while the last couplet of each sestet follows an iambic pentameter. As a result the addition of syllables to the last two lines of each stanza slows them down and gives them more weight.
"Break of Day" is an aubade. It is a love poem or a song which welcomes the arrival of the dawn or complains about it. Often they are adulterous or illicit lovers, who don't want to separate but don't want to get caught either.
"Break" is an ambiguous term in the context of this poem. While the break of dawn is the start into a new day, it also brings with it the breaking apart of the couple sheltered by darkness during the night.
Break of Daye.
perhaprs by John Dowland
Stay, O sweet, and do not rise,
The light that shines comes from thine eyes;
The day breaks not, it is my heart,
Because that you and I must part.
Stay, or else my joys will die,
And perish in their infancie.
In the 1669 edition and some MSS., the stanza attributed to Dowland (in a different meter and spoken by a man, and probably not written by Donne) precedes the three stanzas of this poem (Donne/Clements 11).
It is unknown when the poem was written but presumably during the early 1590s. (Robbins 141)
First printed with music in W. Corkine's "Second Book of Airs" (1612). (John Donne The Complete English Poems; ed. Albert J. Smith. London, Lane, 1974)
"Break of Day" was set by William Corkine and appears in his Second Book of Ayres, 1612. It is set for voice and viol. (John Donne: The Elegies and The Songs and Sonnets, Appendix B. Ed. Helen Gardner. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965.)
archaic, 2nd person sing. of "will".
obj. thee; poss. thy or thyne; pl. ye or you
second person singular pronoun, now replaced by "you" except in some formal, liturgical, dialect, and poetic uses.
"hither": adv. & adj., formal;
adv.:to or towards this place
"All eye" is a metaphor for the sun. This singular eye donning the sky is watching and, through its gaze, symbolized by the light, disturbing the lovers.
"‘All eye' is energised here as a threatening ‘spy'." (Robbins 142)
"All eye" was also an emblem of the deity, e.g. on the title-page of Ralegh's 1614 History of the World. (Robbins 142)
In this context "all eye" could have a religious meaning since the expression was also used as a synonym of "god". It is not only the sun and the light that spies for the lovers but also god who may look down upon them. This may result in an interpretation of the lovers as knowing that their affair is not appropriate, and therefore they feel observed/spied upon.
Personification of "light" which is a metaphor for "day". "Light hath no tongue, but is" means that the day itself is unable to speak, but the light at daytime is able to make things visible, therefore light = day is able to spy but not to speak.
"darkness" is introduced in opposition to light and day
The sun and its light is the antagonist in this poem. The "" marks the rising of the sun, and hence the light is breaking up the lovers' intimacy as the man has to leave his woman behind to pursue his business. However, while it is true that in the first stanza of the poem the sunlight threatens to split up the lovers whom its counterpart "darkness" had brought together, it changes into being personified by "having no tongue" and being " " in the second stanza.
"fain": adj. & adv., archaic;
here: adverb: gladly (esp. "would fain").
Paraphrase: "That being well I gladly would stay."
The speaker in this poem is probably a woman who speaks as the day breaks. (One can assume that it is a woman by the use of the pronoun "him.") During the night she and her lover can be together but when the sun comes out, they must part.
The fact that the speaker of this poem is female is striking because in most Renaissance love poetry "the male poet/lover formulates and speaks the words", which could suggest that the Renaissance speaker "inevitably subordinates the woman to his ‘masculine persuasive force'" (Bell 202). Giving voice to a female speaker may represent a different attitude towards gender matters or just an allusion to the tradition of the aubade.
Considering gender matters, Donne has often been wrongly described as misogynist, but the literature today has come to the conclusion that it is "impossible to identify an abiding or systematic view of women and gender" in his poetry; it rather "echoes and challenges the gender stereotypes of his day" (Bell 201) by focusing and "satiriz[ing] individuals" (204).
This passage varies in some manuscripts and prints of the poem. According to Albert J. Smith, some versions print the line as "him that hath them," while several others print it as "her that hath them" and one edition in 1669 offers it as "her, that had them". Nevertheless, the 1612 first print (in William Corkine's Second Book of Ayres) gives the line with the male pronoun "him."
"hence": adv., archaic: from here; from this place.
Paraphrase: "Must business thee from here remove"
The phrase is potentially ambiguous: "disease of love" may either refer to venereal diseases ("morbus veneris" was an early name for what later became known as syphilis; the Latin expression appeared first in 1527) or the topos of love as a sickness (going back to ancient philosophy, for example in Lucretius' De Rerum Natura and Cicero's Tusculan Disputations; it was well-established as a literary topos by the time of Donne).
In the case of this poem, the allusion to (actual) diseases of love (as in venereal diseases) is used for a comparison: what the female speaker goes through is worse than that. The forcefully parted lovers and the pains of the disease of love is analogous to, for example, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The lovers are torn apart by vis major (a larger power) that neither can do anything about, and what remains is the disease of a broken heart.
(adjective) grossly offensive to the senses, physically loathsome; primarily with reference to the odour or appearance indicative of putridity or corruption.
(adjective) busily occupied or engaged; actively employed.
(verb) to receive or accept (a person or thing)
According to Albert J. Smith, this line's "when [...] doth," was in some manuscripts printed as "when [...] should" or "if [...] should."
1. court; seek the hand or love of (a woman).
2. try to win (fame, fortune, etc.).
3. seek the favour or support of.
4. coax or importune.
The complaint of lovers parted by the dawn was popular with the Provençal poets in the twelfth century, who frequently put speeches or whole lyrics in the mouth of the women. Donne does it in only one other poem, "Self Love" (Smith, however, in his edition states that "modern editors have not felt confident" about the authorship attribution to John Donne) (Donne/Smith 399, note to "Self Love").
"Break of day" is spoken by a woman and this is in the tradition of popular not courtly, song. It descends from the Provençal "aube," the dialogue of lovers parted by the dawn (see Donne/Gardner 158).
In Greek mythology, the amazons were a class of female warriors living either in Scythia or Africa, fighting with bow and arrow. These communities consisted of women only who had their right breasts burnt off in order to make it easier to draw the bow; the word ‘amazon' accordingly derives from the Greek a- (not) and mastos (breast). The term is also used to describe women with traits traditionally ascribed to men, such as physical strength and a talent for warfare.
The "tyrant's love" may refer to the Governor that is mentioned in the legend of St. Margaret the Virgin. He asked for her hand in marriage, expecting her to renounce Christianity. Upon her refusal to become his wife and give up her faith, he had her tortured and eventually executed.
The tyrant might also be connected to the dragon mentioned in the poem as the ‘drake of hell' (l. 11) and therefore refer to the devil himself. In the legend of St. Margaret according to de Voragine, the dragon is presented to Margaret whilst in prison as the true enemy, and therefore exposing the devil, and not the Governor, as her actual opponent (de Voragine 369). The referential underspecification may, however, also refer to a link between governor and dragon, making them both symbols of the devil.
"St. Margaret" may refer to various different saints. Based on the biography of Henry Constable and intertextual references, the most likely candidates are either St. Margaret the Virgin, also called Margaret of Antioch or Saint Marina the Great Martyr, or St. Margaret of Scotland.
- St. Margaret the Virgin (c. 289 - 304) is famous for refusing to renounce Christianity and slaying a dragon in the process. She was beheaded at age 15 and is the patron saint of women in labour. Her Saint's Day is the 20th of June.
- St. Margaret of Scotland (c. 1045 - 1093) was an English princess and Scottish queen. As the wife of Malcolm III, she adjusted the ways of the Scottish church to those of the Roman Catholic church under whose influence she had grown up. After losing her husband and her eldest son to the Battle of Alnwick, she died of grief. She was declared a saint in 1250. Her Saint's Day is the 16th of November.
However, the context of the poem strongly suggests that the poem refers to St. Margaret the Virgin (despite the fact that Constable had strong Scottish connections and converted to Catholicism).
St. Margaret the Virgin is mentioned by Blessed Jacobus de Voragine in his hagiography, Golden Legend (Legenda Aurea). She was born in 289 in Antioch, Pisidia (today Turkey), to a Pagan priest father and was raised by a Christian nurse. Upon embracing Christianity and pledging her virginity to God, she was disowned by her father. Refusing to renounce her faith following a marriage proposal, she was tortured by her suitor. Thrown into prison, Margaret asked God to show her the demon she was fighting against. When it came to her in the shape of a dragon, she signed a cross at it, and it vanished. Upon her second refusal to renounce her faith, Margaret was tortured again, of which she emerged unharmed once more, which caused bystanders to convert. Afraid of more people following this example, the authorities sentenced Margaret to death.
The dragon is a common metaphor for the devil going back to Revelation 12:9: "And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him." (KJV, see also). Through this biblical connection of the devil with a dragon, the latter became a common symbol of sin and paganism in the Middle Ages (Brewer 413). In religious contexts, the terms ‘dragon' and ‘serpent' are often used interchangeably (Brewer 413).
There are different versions of how St. Margaret the Virgin slayed the dragon. One version states that she signed a cross at the dragon, which caused the beast to vanish. Another version claims that Margaret was swallowed by the dragon and she was able to save herself by making the sign of the cross, upon which "the dragon burst open and the virgin emerged unscathed" (369). However, de Voragine comments on the latter version that it is to be considered "apocryphal and not to be taken seriously" (369).
The dragon also features in the legends ofand .
"St Michael" refers to the archangel Michael. He is explicitly mentioned in both the Old and the New Testament (Da 10:13, 21; 12:1, Jud 9; Rev 12:7-9). He is also often associated with the angel that led the Israelites through the wilderness (Ex 23:20, 21, 23; 32:34; 33:2, cf. de Voragine 587). The most relevant Bible verses for the poem are probably Revelation 12:7-9 where he is depicted as leading the angels into the battle against the . In art, Michael is mostly represented as slaying a dragon or weighing souls (Farmer 309).
Based on both the Old and the New Testament, in Christian tradition four roles are assigned to the archangel Michael: "to fight against Satan; to protect the souls of the faithful from Satan and his minions, especially at the hour of death; to defend God's chosen people […] and to call away souls from earth and bring them to judgement" (Johnson 105). The figure of St. Michael is strongly linked to the final judgement, mainly through these named functions (weighing the souls and slaying the dragon). Additionally, he announces the end of time with a blast from his trumpet (Johnson 104). From these various roles, Johnson concludes a duality of his character: He is both "the ruthless commander of the celestial troops who smites the enemies of the Lord, and the merciful angel who intercedes on our behalf" (107). According to the Legenda Aurea, "Michael receives the souls of the saints and leads them into the paradise of joy" (de Voragine 587).
Michael is most commonly represented in art as a young man, dressed in white or armour, bearing a lance and a shield and fighting the dragon (Brewer 901). In images of the final judgement, he is represented with scales to weigh the souls of the risen dead (Brewer 901). This representation was frequent in medieval art but became less common with time. Still, this image appears again and again in (early modern) religious poetry, however, often without Michael being explicitly mentioned (e.g. in John Donne's "Thou hast made me and shall thy work decay", l. 8). This might be due to the fact that although England became predominantly Protestant, elements of earlier creed did not disappear and were still part of the culture and the religious beliefs of many (see also).
The poem seems to focus on Michael's role as the dragon slayer since Michael and the titularare frequently pictured with dragons, just like the third saint mentioned in the poem, (Brewer 413). Furthermore, the poem explicitly mentions Margaret's fight against a dragon in line 8 while comparing her to St. Michael and St. George. Through the symbolic function of the dragon in the bible, it is usually identified with the devil. Consequently, in Christian art (and therefore arguably also in Christian writing) the dragon may also symbolise sin in general. Hence, the depiction of a Christian figure slaying a dragon may allegorically represent the triumph of the Christian hero over evil (Brewer 569).
Like the titularand the archangel Michael, St George is considered a dragon slayer. According to the Legenda Aurea, he killed a dragon that was terrorising the city of Silena. As a condition for his help against the dragon, he told the people of Silena to believe in Christ and be baptised, which led to "twenty thousand [being] baptized, not counting the women and children" (204). The Legenda Aurea also chronicles his death as a martyr in Lydda during the reign of Diocletian and Maximilian (cf. Farmer 181).
The verb ‘to wink' means "to close one's eyes"; a meaning that is now obsolete (OED 1a). ‘To wink' can also be used as a synonym for "to blink" which describes the action of "open[ing] and shut[ing] one's eyes momentarily" (OED 2). Possible other meanings also are "to sleep", "to slumber" or to "have the eyes closed in sleep" (OED 3).
A possible interpretation is that ‘to wink' was used as a synonym for "to blink" (OED 2). One could suggest that the speaker is able to see better when blinking more often. This could be compared to looking into the sun or a bright light, and being able to see better when blinking rapidly. Because of the explicit mentioning of sleeping and dreaming in line 3 of the poem ("But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee"), a different interpretation would be more fitting.
The use of the word ‘to wink' can also be interpreted as having the eyes closed in sleep which would suggest that the speaker is able to see the clearest when he is asleep or has his eyes closed. This, however, is a paradox since one cannot physically see with one's eyes closed. The reader may assume that the speaker of the poem is asleep and dreaming which is also confirmed in line 3. The word ‘most' in this phrase indicates that the speaker is able to see best when he sleeps deeply. Booth suggests that ‘wink' in this context means to shut one's eyes or to sleep (203). This reading is also corroborated by Evans who paraphrases the passage as: "when I sleep most deeply" (144).
The adjective ‘unrespected' describes something that is "not held in respect or regard" (OED 2). Other annotations of ‘unrespected' in previous editions paraphrase the term as "unvalued" (Duncan-Jones 196), "ignored" (Booth 203), or "unnoticed" (Hammond 194).
The speaker describes how he "view[s] things unrespected" (l. 2) all day. These things seem to be less important to the speaker than the sight of the addressee. The line can be interpreted in two different ways, depending on the paraphrase chosen. In the first interpretation, the reader is aware of his surroundings, in the second he is not.
First, ‘unrespected' can be substituted with "ignored" (Booth 203), which would suggest that the speaker observes his surroundings, but deems the things to be unimportant and actively chooses to ignore them. Evans supports this reading, paraphrasing ‘unrespected' as "not worthy of respect" but also as "unregarded, not carefully observed" (144).
Second, ‘unrespected' could be substituted with "unnoticed" (Hammond 194). This reading would indicate that the speaker does not even observe or notice the things around him.
The emphatic repetition "shadow shadows" in this line is an example of both a polyptoton and an antanaclasis. A polyptoton (Gr. for "word in many cases") is a form-related figure of repetition where the repeated word varies in terms of word class or inflection ("Polyptoton" 1086). Antanaclasis (Gr. for ‘reflection') is a semantic-related figure of repetition where the repeated word "shift[s] in meaning" ("Polyptoton" 1086).
The two rhetorical figures, polyptoton and antanaclasis, overlap in this line. The repetition "shadow shadows" (l. 5) is a polyptoton in that the two, otherwise identical, nouns differ in grammatical number. However, on the level of their semantic meaning, the antanaclasis becomes relevant. Although ‘shadow' and ‘shadows' share much in their connotations, they actually refer to two different things: the shadow of the addressee as opposed to the shadows (or darkness) that the addressee makes bright. Polyptoton and antanaclasis are closely related figures and, whenever a word is repeated in a different form and with a different meaning, they are often used interchangeably ("Polyptoton" 1086).
According to The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Shakespeare was quite fond of such playful devices, as they "[increased] patterning without wearying the ear", and lines 4-7 of Sonnet 43 are cited as an illustrative example of his deliberate and diligent use thereof ("Polyptoton" 1086).
‘Form' may generally refer to the visible shape of something (OED 1a), or, more specifically, to a bodily frame "considered in respect to its outward shape and appearance" (OED 3). In the seventeenth century, the term could also be used to refer not only to a material body, but also to "an image, representation, or likeness" thereof (OED †2). In Platonic philosophy, a form is the ideal state of a thing or a concept (cf. Bruce n.pag.; OED 4a).
The distinction between shadow and form was quite popular in the Renaissance as Platonic thought was re-discovered and re-interpreted at the time. Plato's theory of forms, evoked in a number of his works, assumes that there is a world or a dimension beyond human reality that contains "the ideal or archetypal forms of all things and concepts" (Bruce n.pag.). In Book 7 of The Republic, Plato elaborates on this idea and comes up with an allegory known as ‘the allegory of the cave'. According to this conception, human beings are inhabiting a cave and what they perceive as their immediate reality is just a shadow of the outside world reflected on the illuminated walls of their confined abode. The cave represents the world of senses and the outside represents the world of forms. It is only through "true knowledge" achieved by philosophical contemplation that one can "[perceive] the forms directly, with [one's] mind's eye" (Bruce n.pag.).
In Neoplatonic thought, the notion of contemplation is broadened to include the intense contemplation of sensible things, such as a "person of rare beauty", which would then lead the way up to the world of forms (Jones 10). Under these premises, imagining or dreaming about a beloved constituted "the first step towards a higher form of love" (Wickert 283, my translation).
‘Form' in this phrase is ambiguous. On the one hand, it could refer either to the shape of the addressee's actual shadow in the literal sense, or to the outline of the shadow image appearing in the speaker's dream. On the other hand, ‘form' could refer to the original substantial body of the addressee of which the shadow is but a reflection.
The latter interpretation is favoured both by Evans ("your real, physical shape (‘form') which produces this mental image (‘shadow')" (144n6)) and by Booth ("the model for the image, the reality of which the shadow is an image, body, self" (204n6)). Similarly, Catherine Duncan-Jones paraphrases "thy shadow's form" (l. 6) as "the substance behind your imagined image" (196n6), yet ‘substance' itself is an ambiguous term. Substance could either refer to the physical "material of which a body is formed" (OED 7a), as Booth and Evans suggest, or it could refer to the immaterial "essence of a thing" (OED 6b) that could be associated with the Platonic form.
Duncan-Jones, perhaps undeliberately, identifies this inherent ambiguity of the word ‘form' that becomes even more complicated when combined with the ambiguous ‘shadow'. While the context of the "clear day" (l. 7) suggests that "thy shadow's form" (l. 5) most probably refers to the addressee's real bodily presence, the Neoplatonic context still implies that this presence could be compared to a Platonic ideal.
In this context, shade is what the OED describes as "[a]n unsubstantial image of something real […]" (Def. II.5.b). Here, the ‘shade' is the image of the beloved. However, the same OED definition also indicates that this image has the qualities of "an unreal appearance; something that has only a fleeting existence, or that has become reduced almost to nothing". ‘Shade[s]' and ‘shadow[s]' repeatedly occur in the poem and contribute to the permanent play on bright and dark elements (cf. l. 5 "shadow shadows", l. 8 "shade shines" and l. 11 "fair imperfect shade").
Though unsubstantial and associated with darkness, it can be argued that a shade is not as dark as a shadow (ll. 5, 6). In this respect, there is a tendency towards brightness with the change from shadows (ll. 5, 6) to shades (ll. 8, 11) which then culminates in "bright days" (l. 14).
Vendler also points out that lines 1-10 "all brighten as they end" (224), followed by the "only two lines in the body of the poem" (224) in which this dynamic works the other way around. She attributes both "desire and frustration" (225) to the couplet, and argues that after this downward progression, the sonnet ends with "the up-driven push of desire" (225) in the couplet.
According to the OED, ‘dead' describes night as a period of day "without animation, vigour or activity; quiet, dull; lifeless" (16a). Therefore, the expression "dead night" can refer to a part of the night of the most intense quietness, darkness, etc. The Farlex Dictionary of Idioms suggests that the phrase "in/at the dead of night" means "in or during the middle of the night".