Rita LAMB wrote in Janeites: Arnie, all you have shown - and
shown very well - is that Nokes read it wrong. It was poor
innocent Mrs Stent doing the ejaculating, not the cocks. Nobody
is indulging in ribaldry - Mrs S. least of all. The poor woman
just didn't have many conversational gambits that didn't include
the word 'hen-house'. Poor worthy Mrs Stent. She must be
spinning like a top in her blameless grave.”
Jane FOX wrote in Janeites: “OED has 1927 for the first recorded
usage of ejaculate in connection with "seminal fluid."
Speaking of barnyard humor, it’s my rare privilege this morning to be responding to both a Lamb and a Fox, who are uncharacteristically allied, at the same time. ;)
Rita, your argument is with the late David Nokes, as I always maintained that it was Jane Austen who was making the dirty joke, not Mrs. Stent. And your simply saying “nobody is indulging in ribaldry” proves only that….you just deny it! And I add (as I argued a few years ago), it’s not just “ejaculate” and “cocks”, it’s also “the French grammar” (with its suggestion of oral sex) that is the third part of JA’s dirty joke.
And Jane, re the date of the supposed earliest OED listing, my Subject Line is a prominent stand-alone quote of a chapter title from near the very end of Tristram Shandy (written 1759-61), which, if the OED included (which it does not) literary usages of words with thinly veiled sexual innuendoes, would be at the very top of the list of the use of the word “ejaculation” as referring to what happens at male orgasm.
After all, Tristram Shandy famously begins with the protagonist describing the interruption of his father’s orgasm by his mother’s asking him if he wound the clock, and then Tristram goes on to refer to his post-conception self as a “homunculus”, an image of the fluid cellular processes underlying conception. So, when Sterne refers to “ejaculation” so prominently at the end of his sexual innuendo-drenched novel, there could be no doubt in the mind of any sophisticated reader of that era as to what he was winking at.
But there’s more in that same vein (or should I say, vesicle?)…..
Nancy wrote in Janeites: “Also, you can't use twentieth century critics interpretation of Sterne to prove anything about how the words were used and understood in ordinary houses in the late 18th century.”
To rebut the above, Nancy, all I need to do is quote passages containing words containing the syllable “coc-“ or “cock-“ in Tristram Shandy and various of Austen’s texts. As my Subject Line indicates, a reasonabley attentive and sophisticated reader during JA’s era of both Sterne and Austen, could readily spot the parallels. To suggest otherwise, to suggest this is a coincidence, is, well……nothing less than a true cock and bull story!
So, without further introduction, here are the seventeen ‘cocks’ of Tristram Shandy, and their Austenian counterparts:
STERNE: “…Nay, if you come to that, Sir, have not the wisest of men in all ages, not excepting Solomon himself,—have they not had their Hobby-Horses;—their running horses,—their coins and their COCKLE-SHELLS, their drums and their trumpets, their fiddles, their pallets,—their maggots and their butterflies?—and so long as a man rides his Hobby-Horse peaceably and quietly along the King's highway, and neither compels you or me to get up behind him,—pray, Sir, what have either you or I to do with it? Nay, if you come to that, Sir, have not the wisest of men in all ages, not excepting Solomon himself,—have they not had their Hobby-Horses;—their running horses,—their coins and their COCKLE-SHELLS, their drums and their trumpets, their fiddles, their pallets,—their maggots and their butterflies?—and so long as a man rides his Hobby-Horse peaceably and quietly along the King's highway, and neither compels you or me to get up behind him,—pray, Sir, what have either you or I to do with it?”
AUSTEN: Admiral Croft: “What queer fellows your fine painters must be, to think that anybody would venture their lives in such a shapeless old COCKLESHELL as that?”
STERNE: In the second year my uncle Toby purchased Ramelli and Cataneo, translated from the Italian;—likewise Stevinus, Moralis, the Chevalier de Ville, Lorini, COCHORN, Sheeter, the Count de Pagan, the Marshal Vauban, Mons. Blondel, with almost as many more books of military architecture, as Don Quixote was found to have of chivalry, when the curate and barber invaded his library.
STERNE: What a SHUTTLECOCK of a fellow would the greatest philosopher that ever existed be whisk'd into at once, did he read such books, and observe such facts, and think such thoughts, as would eternally be making him change sides!
STERNE: Of all the tracts my father was at the pains to procure and study in support of his hypothesis, there was not any one wherein he felt a more cruel disappointment at first, than in the celebrated dialogue between Pamphagus and COCLES, written by the chaste pen of the great and venerable Erasmus, upon the various uses and seasonable applications of long noses…..'Nihil me paenitet hujus nasi,' quoth Pamphagus;—that is—'My nose has been the making of me.'—'Nec est cur poeniteat,' replies COCLES; that is, 'How the duce should such a nose fail?'
STERNE: Vespera quadam frigidula, posteriori in parte mensis Augusti, peregrinus, mulo fusco colore incidens, mantica a tergo, paucis indusiis, binis calceis, braccisque sericis COCCINEIS repleta, Argentoratum ingressus est….Peregrinus mulo descendens stabulo includi, et manticam inferri jussit: qua aperta et COCCINEIS sericis femoralibus extractis cum argento laciniato (Greek), his sese induit, statimque, acinaci in manu, ad forum deambulavit….Quod ubi peregrinus esset ingressus, uxorem tubicinis obviam euntem aspicit; illico cursum flectit, metuens ne nasus suus exploraretur, atque ad diversorium regressus est—exuit se vestibus; braccas COCCINEAS sericas manticae imposuit mulumque educi jussit.
STERNE: Reason is, half of it, Sense; and the measure of heaven itself is but the measure of our present appetites and CONCOCTIONS.—
STERNE: then with poultices of marsh-mallows, mallows, bonus Henricus, white lillies and fenugreek—then taking the woods, I mean the smoak of 'em, holding her scapulary across her lap—then DECOCTIONS of wild chicory, water-cresses, chervil, sweet cecily and COCHLEARIA—and nothing all this while answering, was prevailed on at last to try the hot-baths of Bourbon
STERNE: It is not like the affair of an old HAT COCK'D—and a COCK'D old HAT, about which your reverences have so often been at odds with one another—but there is a difference here in the nature of things—
AUSTEN [Henry Crawford: "I really believe," said he, "I could be fool enough at this moment to undertake any character that ever was written, from Shylock or Richard III down to the singing hero of a farce in his scarlet coat and COCKED HAT.]
STERNE: Avicenna, after this, is for having the part anointed with the syrup of hellebore, using proper evacuations and purges—and I believe rightly. But thou must eat little or no goat's flesh, nor red deer—nor even foal's flesh by any means; and carefully abstain—that is, as much as thou canst, from peaCOCKS, cranes, coots, didappers, and water-HENS—
AUSTEN: "With such a provision on my part, if you will do your's by repeating the French Grammar, & Mrs. Stent will now & then ejaculate some wonder about the COCKS & HENS, what can we want?”
STERNE: Such it was—or rather such would it have seem'd upon any other brow; but the sweet look of goodness which sat upon my uncle Toby's, assimilated every thing around it so sovereignly to itself, and Nature had moreover wrote Gentleman with so fair a hand in every line of his countenance, that even his tarnish'd gold-laced hat and huge COCKADE flimsy taffeta became him; and though not worth a button in themselves, yet the moment my uncle Toby put them on, they became serious objects, and altogether seem'd to have been picked up by the hand of Science to set him off to advantage.
AUSTEN [Emma: “…Here is my sketch of the fourth, who was a baby. I took him as he was sleeping on the sofa, and it is as strong a likeness of his COCKADE as you would wish to see.”]
STERN: A COCK and a Bull, said Yorick—And one of the best of its kind, I ever heard.
And anyway, Nancy, you will agree that any house that Jane Austen lived in was no “ordinary house”, so who cares what people who were, as Henry Tilney put it, “intolerably stupid”, did not understand in Sterne’s and Austen’s writing?
Bravo, Laurence and Jane! (he ejaculated in closing)
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