Saturday, 28 October 2006

c18 Jackasses

I've been thinking about this passage from Evelina

Before dinner came Mr. Coverley, and, before five o'clock, Mr. Lovel and some other company. The place marked out for the race, was a gravel-walk in Mrs. Beaumont's garden, and the length of the ground twenty yards. When we were summoned to the course, the two poor old women made their appearance. Though they seemed very healthy for their time of life, they yet looked so weak, so infirm, so feeble, that I could feel no sensation but that of pity at the sight. However, this was not the general sense of the company; for they no sooner came forward, than they were greeted with a laugh from every beholder, Lord Orville excepted, who looked very grave during the whole transaction. Doubtless he must be greatly discontented at the dissipated conduct and extravagance of a man, with whom he is soon to be so nearly connected.

For some time, the scene was truly ridiculous: the agitation of the parties concerned, and the bets that were laid upon the old women, were absurd beyond measure. Who are you for? and whose side are you of? was echoed from mouth to mouth by the whole company. Lord Merton and Mr. Coverley were both so excessively gay and noisy, that I soon found they had been free in drinking to their success. They handed, with loud shouts, the old women to the race-ground, and encouraged them by liberal promises to exert themselves.

When the signal was given for them to set off, the poor creatures, feeble and frightened, ran against each other: and, neither of them able to support the shock, they both fell on the ground.

Lord Merton and Mr. Coverley flew to their assistance. Seats were brought for them; and they each drank a glass of wine. They complained of being much bruised; for, heavy and helpless, they had not been able to save themselves, but fell with their whole weight upon the gravel. However, as they seemed equal sufferers, both parties were too eager to have the affair deferred.

Again therefore they set off, and hobbled along, nearly even with each other, for some time; yet frequently, to the inexpressible diversion of the company, they stumbled and tottered; and the confused hallooing of "Now, Coverley! " "Now, Merton! " run from side to side during the whole affair.

Not long after, a foot of one of the poor women slipt, and with great force she came again to the ground. Involuntarily, I sprung forward to assist her; but Lord Merton, to whom she did not belong, stopped me, calling out, "No foul play! No foul play!"

Mr. Coverley then, repeating the same words, went himself to help her, and insisted that the other should stop. A debate ensued; but the poor creature was too much hurt to move, and declared her utter inability to make another attempt. Mr. Coverley was quite brutal: he swore at her with unmanly rage, and seemed scarce able to refrain even from striking her.

Lord Merton then, in great rapture, said it was a hollow thing; but Mr. Coverley contended, that the fall was accidental, and time should be allowed for the woman to recover. However, all the company being against him, he was pronounced the loser.


Ampersand Duck said...

And I bet they all held their hands up to their foreheads in the shape of an 'L' at the same time.

jacqueline said...

Old lady racing. I had no idea. My money's on Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

Mindy said...

It's a shame in some ways that the stories of Ancient Egyptian idiots, Roman fools etc have largely been lost to history. I suspect that this sort of rubbish has been going on since time immemorial.

Kate said...

It's all fun and games until someone breaks a hip.

lucy tartan said...

Yep, funny how the boys who get together to torture the weak, poor, female, and defenceless for their own amusement and homosocial showing off are still around.

galaxy said...

And here I thought there'd been some progress since c18th.

I saw a poster for Jackass 2 at the cinema today. After Werribee, it's even less appropriate than it was before (and why is Johnny Knoxville still going to the ARIAs?)

lucy tartan said...

Very good question Galaxy.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Jacqueline, I'll see your Lady Catherine de Bourgh and raise you a Miss Betsey Trotwood.

Nothing like a little Fanny Burney. After I read this I finally took the plunge and found her account of the mastectomy that she had, with no kind of anaesthetic alcoholic or otherwise, in 1810 or 1811 and then wrote about. It's online somewhere. I suppose you'd call it an autopathography. Argh argh argh.