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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Tysoe Hancock’s IMpolite Conversation With MISS Freeman

I did a little more digging last night, as I remained intrigued by Tysoe Hancock's elaborate epistolary conceit on a clearly fictitious attempt by two young ladies to hang him with the garters that Miss Freeman sent him. Was he being salacious, sharing a moment of mutual flattery with a fellow valetudinarian, or sharing a bit of Shakespeare with a fellow Bardolater?

My further digging presented yet another possibility. I found the following snippet of “polite conversation” in a book published and then widely read in England when Tysoe Hancock was still a young man still living in his native country, long before he left for India:

MISS: I defy you, Mr. Neverout; nobody can say. Black's my Eye.
NEVEROUT: I believe, you wish they could.
MISS: Well ; but who was your Author? Come, tell Truth, and shame the Devil.
NEVEROUT: Come then, Miss; guess who it was that told me; come, put on your Considering-cap.
MISS: Well, who was it?
NEVEROUT: Why, one that lives within a Mile of an Oak.
MISS: Well, go hang yourself in your own Garters; for I'm sure, the Gallows groans for you.
NEVEROUT: Pretty Miss, I was but in Jest.
MISS: Well, but don't let that stick in your Gizzard.

Of course, as you might have guessed from my hint about a book widely read in England during the 1730’s, containing “Polite Conversation” that was anything but polite, the book I believe Tysoe Hancock might well have not only read, but perhaps had taken with him to India and kept in his home library there, was by the author whom I have long believed was Jane Austen’s most significant allusive touchstone for her own subversive, ironic put-ons:

“Wikipedia: A Complete Collection of genteel and ingenious Conversation, according to the most polite mode and method now used at Court, and in the best Companies of England, commonly known as A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation, or more simply as Polite Conversation, is a book by Jonathan Swift offering an ironic and satirical commentary on the perceived banality of conversation among the upper classes in early-18th century Great Britain written in the form of a reference guide for those lacking in conversational skill. It was completed in 1731, but may have been conceived of as early as 1704.”

So, when Miss ____ tells Mr. Neverout to go hang himself in his own Garters, because the Gallows groans for him, it begins to sound to me as if Shakespeare and Swift gave birth to a spicy insult which readers like Tysoe Hancock helped spread through their network of friends and correspondents into the pool of idioms in use among literate English folk who liked to spice up their conversation—literati like (as Diane pointed out yesterday) Jane Austen herself!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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