Thomas Hardy's "The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion": Necessary Vocabulary

Philip V. Allingham, Contributing Editor, Victorian Web; Faculty of Education, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario

1a. midden heaps = small repositories of refuse or garbage around an encampment.

1b. impedimenta = (Latin) soldier's equipment or baggage.

2. epaulettes = ornamental shoulder-piece of an officer's uniform.

3. breeches = 18th-century trousers ending just below the knee (knickerbockers).

4. gaiters = cloth or leather covering for the leg between the knee and ankle.

5. divinity still hedged kings = The Divine Right of Kings, a theory of government espoused by absolutist monarchs such as Louis XIV of France.

6. sea-side watering-place = resorts such as Brighton and Bournemouth that gained popularity as vacation spots for the English aristocracy during the eighteenth century, when wars with France often denied them access to such traditional places to take mineral waters for their health such as Baden and Aix-la-chapelle.

6 sea-side watering-place = resorts such as Brighton and Bournemouth that gained popularity as vacation spots for the English aristocracy during the eighteenth century, when wars with France often denied them access to such traditional places to take mineral waters for their health such as Baden and Aix-la-chapelle.

7. Hussars = See the handsome, scarlet uniform of a nineteenth-century cavalry unit, complete with fur hat and sabre at http://members.aol.com/cassavant/york_hussars.htm .

8. box-tree = an evergreen shrub much used in garden borders.

9. attentuated shape = slender, thin (resembling the form of a young man, perhaps).

10. a buck = fashionable aristocratic young man of the 18th and early 19th century.

11. watering-place bourgeoisie = the middle-class residents (including lawyers, medical practitioners, and merchants) of such towns as Bath who provided the goods and services for the other classes.

12. Portland -- the Isle of the Slingers = the Portland Bill or peninsula south of Dorchester, Dorset, on the English Channel; the setting of Hardy's short novel The Well-Beloved, it also features prominently in several scenes of The Trumpet Major (1880).

13. Desdemona = the tragic heroine of Shakespeare's Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice (1608-1612) fell in love with the martial Moor when he recounted his adventures in exotic foreign locales. In the play, she is the victim of Iago's plot to destroy her husband's reputation, Iago tricking Othello into believing that his wife is having an affair with a handsome young officer named Cassio.

14. rank and file = enlisted men of an army or navy, above whom are the non-commissioned officers (sergeants) and commissioned officers (lieutenant and higher).

15. melancholy = habitual or deep despondency; marked tendency to sadness or depression; pensive sadness; gloominess of disposition; from Greek "melagkholia" (black bile, one of the four humours of the blood thought by mediaeval physicians to control human temperament).

16. "if there was one proverb which expressed the matrimonial aspect of that family well, it was "Love me little, love me long.'" = A reference to John Heywood's Proverbs, Part II, Chapter II, and Robert Herrick's Cavalier lyric "Love Me Little, Love Me Long."

17. tatoo sounded = indicating the hour at which all soldiers were to be back on base in the evening.

18. without the stripes = indicative of corporal's rank.

19. Hanover = one of the small German states or "electorates" of the Holy Roman Empire; the line of English monarchs from King George I through Queen Victoria, when the Salic law created a separate ruler ("Elector") for Hanover. Young men from this state often enlisted in the British Army, and Hanoverian troops were employed against American rebels during the American Revolution. Hanover was absorbed into Prussia in 1866, and into modern Germany in 1870, through the machinations of Chancellor Otto von Bismark.

20. Alsatian = adj., connected with Alsace-Lorraine, a border territory west of the Rhine variously assigned to France or Germany; Alsatians tend to be bilingual and bicultural. Its capital, Strasbourg, was seized by Louis XIV in 1681, and remaining territory annexed by France during the Revolution. Ceded to Germany after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, it was returned to France by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

21. Cherbourg = French port on the English Channel.

22. turnpike road = a private road upon which a toll was charged for its upkeep; such roads were common in eighteenth-century Britain.

23. Cleopatra of Egypt = fearing that her fleet had been defeated by Agrippa's Roman galleys, the Queen of Egypt fled the Battle of Actium in 31 B. C.Aside from being a classical allusion, this may be a reference to Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra (1606-1612).

24. Assyrians after the passage of the Destroying Angel = As recounted in II Kings, 18-19 of the Old Testament and alluded to by Lord Byron in "The Destruction of Sennacherib": "For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, / And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed" (lines 9-10).

25. repoussé silverwork = ornamental metal work in which a scene or design is hammered into relief from the reverse side.

26. tippet = a cape or muffler of fur covering the shoulders and coming down some distance in front; worn by women, and as part of their official costume by judges and clergymen.

27. belle = fashionable and beautiful young woman (from Latin "bellus," pretty).

28. canteen fires = cooking fires in a military encampment.

29. trysts = appointments, meetings, engagements.

30. dead march = march-like funeral music.

31. carbines = firearms with barrels shorter than those on normal rifles and muskets. They were usually carried by cavalry, whereas infantry used longer weapons. Note the obvious similarity of carbine (the weapon), carabin (a mounted musketeer), and carbinier (saddle bags)

32. Jersey = one of the Channel Islands owned by Great Britain; French was as commonly spoken there as English.

Related Materials


Victorian Overview Thomas Hardy

Last updated 7 September 2004