NOTES ON ISSUE 3: ALLUSIONS
Altogether, the Old Bailey, at that date, was a choice
illustration of the precept, that “Whatever is is right”; an aphorism
that would be as final as it is lazy, did it not include the troublesome consequence,
that nothing that ever was, was wrong.
The phrase “Whatever is, is right” comes from the first Epistle of Alexander Pope’s 18th-century poem An Essay on Man (1735), the first part of an “ethic work” in which he hoped to “vindicate the ways of God to man” (Norton 2263). The First Epistle is chiefly concerned with accounting for the existence of evil in the world created by a benevolent deity, and “Whatever is, is right,” forms the last line of the first Epistle, the closing portion of which runs as follows:
Cease then, nor ORDER imperfection name:
Our proper bliss depends on what we blame.
Know thy own point: this kind, this due degree
Of blindness, weakness, Heaven bestows on thee.
Submit. – In this, or any other sphere,
Secure to be as blest as thou canst bear:
Safe in the hand of one disposing Power,
Or in the natal, or the mortal hour.
All Nature is but art, unknown to thee;
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil, universal good;
And, spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite,
One truth is clear: Whatever is, is RIGHT. (ll. 279-92)
Your lighter boxes of family papers went upstairs into
a Barmecide room…
“Barmecide” is the “[p]atronymic of a family of princes ruling at Baghdad just before Haroun-al-Raschid, concerning one of whom the story is told in the Arabian Nights, that he put a succession of empty dishes before a beggar, pretending that they contained a sumptuous repast – a fiction which the beggar humorously accepted. Hence, [a Barmecide is] one who offers imaginary food or illusory benefits” (Oxford English Dictionary). A “Barmecide room” would be a room in which such figments of the imagination or illusory benefits are supposed to appear. It is interesting to note that the OED uses a passage in Dickens’ American Notes (1842) – “It is a Barmecide Feast; a pleasant field for the imagination to rove in” – to illustrate the use and meaning of the word Barmecide. The story of the Barmecides in the Arabian Nights was one of Dickens’ favorites (Maxwell 449).
…as the ocean is one day to give up its dead.
This is an allusion to Revelations 20:13, which describes part of St. John’s vision of Judgment Day: “And the sea gave up the dead that were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.”
…one of the greatest scoundrels on earth since accursed Judas – which he certainly did look rather like.
The accursed Judas is, of course, Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrayed Christ (see, for an account of the betrayal, the gospels of Matthew 10:4 and 26:14-56; Mark 3:19 and 14:10-50; Luke 6:16 and 22:3-53; John 6:71, 12:4, 13:2-30, and 18:2-11 for the story).