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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Puns and Paradise



My friend Deb Barnum brought forward today in Austen-L a link to an article about an 1860 English pictogram puzzle:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/9877243/Can-you-solve-a-Victorian-puzzle-promising-Earthly-Paradise.html

I responded that it was kind of spooky to me that (as explained in the Telegraph article) the final pictogram, showing two dice, stood for "pair o' dice", or "paradise", in light of my posting, just last night, an entry at my blog including in my title "Bard of Paradise"!:


As you will see if you read through the rest of this post, puns on paradise have both been on a lot of people's minds for a very long time, in some very interesting ways.

I first noted, as to the spookiness of  the coincidence, that "Bard of Paradise" first popped into my head at virtually the same moment as the Telegraph article was readied to go online in the UK.. Plus...."Bard of Paradise" is punny, and so is "Pair o' dice"!  PLUS... my friend chose to bring a puzzle that had no apparent connection to Jane Austen to Austen-L, where I would read it, otherwise I'd never have known about the coincidence.

Enough about the spookiness. I dug around on the Internet a bit, and first I verified, here....


...that the "pair of dice"  pun was linked, a half century ago, to John Milton (as I linked the "Bard of Paradise" to Milton) in the coolest way. I.e., a now deceased bluesman, Little Milton....


...put out a 45 vinyl record in 1953 which very cleverly played on the "pair of dice" pun on Side A, and then confirmed that it was intentional on Side B by the word "Infernal"!

I remained curious to know what JA's attitude was toward dice games, and I found the following fascinating discussion in David Selwyn's 1998 book Jane Austen and Leisure, at p. 263-4:

“By the 1790s, dice were generally regarded as undesirable since they encouraged gambling (the Johnsons, in another early Jane Austen story, though they have ‘many good Qualities’, are ‘a little addicted to the Bottle & the Dice’)...”

So it seems that dice had, by JA's time, taken on a symbolic meaning, as the quintessence of the sinfulness of games of chance, even when not involving gambling for money. Fascinating--I think JA probably found this extreme reaction funny, even as I think she also found the grotesque gaming of the elite contemptible.

I also ascertained that the pun on "pair of dice" = "paradise" was in circulation in print long before that 1860 pictogram puzzle. In 1750, a comparison of Milton and Shakespeare included this witticism:  "...some men's paradise is a pair of dice", and an 1823 joke book, exactly  asked "On what do many of our nobility place their paradise ? A pair of dice.

And I found two usages of "Pair of Dice" with literary connotations. First, here is the Riddle written by Jonathan Swift, entitled "On a Pair of Dice":

We are little brethren twain,
Arbiters of loss and gain,
Many to our counters run,
Some are made, and some undone:
But men find it to their cost,
Few are made, but numbers lost.
Though we play them tricks for ever,
Yet they always hope our favour


I can't help wondering if Swift, a known trickster, had something more up his sleeve with this little Riddle--like Garrick with his Riddle, recalled by Mr. Woodhouse--but I can't suss out an alternative answer. Anyone want to take a stab at it?

The other very funny instance I found was in Alexander Dyce's 1844 edition of Beaumont & Fletcher's early 17th century play, Wit at Several Weapons:

Guardianess. Such a mock-beggar suit of clothes as led me Into the fool’s pair of dice, with deuce ace°, He that would make me mistress Cun, Cun, Cunnie,— He 's quite out of my mind ; but I shall ne’er Forget him while I have a hole in my head...

Dyce (who was a good friend of Jane Austen’s nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, by the way), adds this disapproving footnote:  "It may be necessary to observe that here the Guardianess is making a wretched quibble-“pair of dice,” —paradise."

Dyce appears to me to have been a humorless sort, and I wonder if part of his "quibble" with B&M's witty "quibble" with B&M's "quibble"--which by the way preceded Milton's writing career--was that his own surname, Dyce, was inadvertently caught up in the wordplay!

And I conclude now with the irreverent speculation that perhaps Milton meant his poem's title to suggest an entirely different interpretation of  his two epic poems, representing the delirium of a compulsive gambler who has lost his pair of dice, but who then is restored to sanity when he regains them and can gamble again!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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