NOTES ON ISSUE 10: HISTORICAL GLOSSARY
PART 2 OF 2
Rescued by a savage old postillion
who happened to be up early, kicking a horse in a fly
A postillion is a guide for a coach or other hired conveyance;
a fly was a one-horse carriage, available for hire.
A Grand Morning Performance
by the Riders, commencing at that very hour
A "morning performance" did not necessarily mean that
it took place before noon; at the time, "morning"
often was used informally to mean the part of the day before
dinner, and thus a morning performance took place in the afternoon.
The word now used for such a performance is matinee, derived
from the French word matin (morning).
The Emperor of Japan, on
a steady old white horse stenciled with black spots
At the time that Hard Times was written, Japan was entirely
closed to foreigners. The Emperor of Japan was thus a suitably
exotic and unknown personage for the subject of a circus act.
Several such performances at the time made reference to Japan
and the Japanese. Later in the century, as Japan opened somewhat
and the British became more interested in trade with the country,
a craze for Japanese art and design would take place, but in
the 1850s this was still years away.
if you don't hear of that
boy at Athley'th, you'll hear of him at Parith.
Astley's Royal Amphitheatre was the best-known circus of the
day in England, having been established in 1768. Although it
changed venues and names several times, it was extremely influential
in changing the modes of performance in the English circus,
incorporating entertainment of all sort, from clowns to equestrian
acts. There were several well-known circuses in Paris, among
them the Cirque d'Été and the Cirque d'Hiver.
Our Children in the Wood,
with their father and mother both a-dyin' on a horthe—their
uncle a-retheiving of ‘em ath hith wardth, upon a horthe—themthelvth
both a-goin' a-blackberryin' on a horth—and the Robinth a-coming
in to cover 'em with leavth, upon a horthe
This horseback act is a faithful rendition of the plot of a
traditional English ballad, the story of the Babes in the Wood,
which was the basis for pantomime and circus acts throughout
the nineteenth century.
"Thath'th Jack the Giant-Killer—piethe of comic infant bithnith"
"Jack the Giant-Killer" was a popular fairy tale and thus the
basis for an act in Sleary's Circus.
"Your brother ith one o' them black thervanth."
Performances in blackface, considered comic at the time, were
fairly common in nineteenth-century circuses and other entertainments.
"There'll be beer to feth.
I've never met with nothing but beer ath'll ever clean a comic
Beer was indeed used to clean the faces of those who worked
in blackface. Originally burnt cork was used for blackening
the face, but by the mid-nineteenth century boot-blacking was
frequently used. The derogatory term "blackamoor" dates from
the sixteenth century and derives from the use of the term Moor
for a black person.
Had he any prescience of
the day, five years to come, when Josiah Bounderby of Coketown
was to die of a fit in the Coketown street, and this same precious
will was to begin its long career of quibble, plunder, false
pretences, vile example, little service and much law?
Lawsuits and disagreements over wills were often extremely protracted
in the nineteenth century, owing to the intricacies of the Court
of Chancery, which handled estate law. Dickens had made this
problem the major theme of his previous novel, Bleak House.
At the time he wrote, however, Chancery was undergoing a series
of reforms that simplified court procedure in an attempt to
address the problem.