In Proper Order

Reviewing The Elements Of Eloquence by Mark Forsythe in The Spectator, Christopher Howse notes:

The shiniest piece of information I picked up is that, in English, adjectives go in this order:

Opinion – size – age – shape – colour – origin – material – purpose – noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac.

This knowledge is implicitly mastered by all native speakers; to see it made explicit is an enjoyable revelation, like learning to carry a tray on the flat of your hand.

The Odd Family

In the reign of William III, there resided at Ipswich a family which, from the number of peculiarities belonging to it, was distinguished by the name of ‘the Odd Family’. Every event remarkably good or bad happened to this family on an odd day of the month, and every member had something odd in his or her person, manner, or behaviour. The very letters in their Christian names always happened to be an odd number; the husband’s name was Peter, and the wife’s name Raboh: they had seven children, all boys, viz, Solomon, Roger, James, Matthew, Jonas, David, and Ezekiel. The husband had but one leg, his wife but one arm. Solomon was born blind of one eye, and Roger lost his sight by accident. James had his left ear bit off by a boy in a quarrel, and Matthew was born with only three fingers on his right hand. Jonas had a stump foot and David was hump-backed. All these, except the latter, were remarkably short, while Ezekiel was six foot one inch high at the age of nineteen The stump-footed Jonas and the hump-backed David got wives of fortune, but no girls in the borough would listen to the addresses of their brothers. The husband’s hair was as black as jet, and the wife’s remarkably white; yet every one of the children’s hair was red. The husband was killed by accidentally falling into a deep pit in the year 1701; and his wife, refusing all kinds of sustenance, died five days after him, and they were buried in one grave. In 1703, Ezekiel enlisted as a grenadier; and although he was afterwards wounded in twenty-three places, he recovered. Roger, James, Matthew, Jonas, and David, it appears by the church registers, died in different places and were buried on the same day, in 1713; and Solomon and Ezekiel were drowned together in crossing the Thames in the year 1723. Such a collection of odd circumstances never occurred before in one family.

John Timbs, English Eccentrics And Eccentricities, Volume II (1866)

In Gorse He Shook

In gorse he shook, panting. There was a crocus in his buttonhole. It was wilted now. The morning was a damp one, and he had no hat, for it had snagged on a thorn-bush a mile back, and in his hurry he could not stop to retrieve it.

Like King James I, his tongue was overlarge for the mouth that contained it, and he was forever slobbering. Overhead, the flak from fighter jets drowned out birdsong. As it was, he could never tell the call of one bird from another. His ears simply did not have the ability to distinguish.

Often, as now, he thought of the custards of his childhood suppers, thoughts that made him slobber all the more, shaking in the gorse, hatless and ignorant. He came of good family, ruined by peculation, grumblers all, moaning at their misfortune. But he did not moan. He had a different bent.

I shall follow my own star, he had said, almost his first words, rendered barely intelligible by that too big tongue. Follow it he did, even when it was invisible in the morning mist. Shaking in the gorse, he scanned the sky for portents, but could see aught but the blur of milky half-light. He struck a match and set fire to a flare. Up it went, fizzling orangely.

They came for him before noon. The mist had dispersed, and the fighter jets had long passed.. Birdsong could be heard again. They interrogated him about his hat. There was no question but that he must retrace his steps as far as the thorn-bush. Hatless, his petition would never be heard. He stumbled back the way he had come, before dawn. Everything looked so different in the blaze of noon. So different that soon he was lost, so lost, and instead of the thorn-bush he came upon a blue and splendid lake upon which thousands of swans were arrayed, all gazing directly at him.

He slumped to the ground and took from his pocket a Brazil nut. Would he pop it into his mouth or plop it into the lake? What would you have done, in his place? Your answer should be roughly two hundred words in length, on one side of a sheet of paper.

‘Twas Brillig

‘Twas brillig, and I babbled guff
Until my listeners cried “Enough!”
And stopped my gob with a plug of dough
And then it was that I knew woe.

A woe such as I’d never known
Not e’en when I was skin and bone
In starveling days of pimply youth
Before I grew so fat forsooth

Fat and loud and babbling guff
All roister doister swagger and puff
Puffed up like one of those eerie toads
That leap at you from beside the roads

Well, at least, they leap at moi
I wrote of them in my memoir
The text of which is what I brayed
Hoping to make my listeners afraid

Instead they plugged my gob with dough
And brought me down so very low
That now my life is full of woe
And it is time for me to go

Go where? To the seaside I suppose
To my seaside chalet o’ prose
To thump my typewriter’s leaden keys
And write of hornets, wasps, and bees

Snigsby And The King

So fatuous, Snigsby, preening in his periwig and epaulettes. Fatuous, too, his fat friend the king, standing on the pier, beckoning gulls. His royal hand is raised, palm upwards, and on the palm a scattering of millet. When the gulls swoop, the fatuous fat king will chuckle and call to Snigsby to execute a hurried pencil sketch which can later be worked up into a huge oil painting for the king’s gallery.

But no gulls swoop, today, for it is one of those birdless days in the kingdom. The sky is empty of birds, as happens on the birdless days, which alas the king’s prognosticators can never predict with any accuracy. Where the birds go, on these days, has not yet been ascertained, though several philosophers are hard at work in the king’s tower trying to account for the circumstance.

The philosophers’ previous task was to explain the workings of railway timetables, a job they performed so well that the king presented every man jack of them with periwigs and epaulettes and special coins to keep in their pockets. They were toy coins, not legal tender, but they glistened brightly and pleased the philosophers, who were easily pleased by kingly gifts.

Snigsby was too fatuous to be a philosopher or prognosticator and to be frank he was something of a butterfingers with his sketching pencil. But so fatuous was the fat king that he thought Snigsby’s cack-handed scribbles were surpassing in loveliness.

When the king called him, Snigsby scampered forwards along the pier, but he tripped and toppled and plunged into the sea. Mermaids snatched away his pencil and his sketchpad, his periwig and his epaulettes, and poor poor Snigsby, flailing in the water under a birdless sky, was dragged below the surface by the mermaids’ pet scavenger fish. They fixed him with limpets to a seabed rock, there to perish.

The king, who had not noticed Snigsby’s fall, grew tired of calling, grew tired of holding out his upturned millet-scattered palm at the end of the pier on a birdless day. He tossed the millet into the sea and turned on his heel and minced back to the promenade where his horse waited with the immense patience of a horse. The king mounted his steed and galloped along the coast to an ice cream kiosk.

Would tomorrow be birdless too?


Dr John Watson’s chronicle of the career of Sherlock Holmes is far from exhaustive. In the course of his narratives, he makes passing mention of a number of cases of which no further details are forthcoming, to wit, Von Bischoff of Frankfurt, Mason of Bradford, the notorious Muller, Lefevre and Leturier of Montpellier, Samson of New Orleans, Van Jansen of Utrecht, the Ratcliff Highway murders, Dolsky of Odessa, the wills in Riga in 1857 and St Louis in 1871, Mrs Cecil Forrester’s domestic complication, the woman who poisoned three children for their insurance money, similar cases in India and Senegambia, the Bishopsgate jewels, the Trepoff murder, the Atkinson brothers at Trincomalee, the mission for the Dutch royal family, the Darlington substitution scandal, the business at Arnsworth castle, the Dundas separation case, that intricate matter in Marseilles, the disappearance of Mr Etheredge, the similar cases in Andover and The Hague, the adventure of the Paradol Chamber, the Amateur Mendicant Society, the loss of the barque Sophie Anderson, the Grice Patersons on Uffa, the Camberwell poisoning, the Tankerville Club scandal, two murders, the throwing of vitriol, suicide and a number of robberies associated with the Blue Carbuncle, Mrs Farintosh and the opal tiara, the madness of Colonel Warburton, the Grosvenor Square furniture van, the King of Scandinavia and similar cases in Aberdeen and Munich, the affair of the bogus laundry, the Tarleton murders, Vamberry the wine merchant, the old Russian woman, the singular affair of the aluminium crutch, the club-footed Ricoletti and his abominable wife, Baron Maupertuis and the Netherland-Sumatra Company, the Worthingdon bank robbery, Adams and the Manor House, the tired captain, the French Government case in Nîmes and Narbonne, the Scandinavian royal family, the Vatican cameos, Wilson of the district messenger office, the Grodno blackmail and others, Little Russia, the Anderson murders in North Carolina, the Colonel Upwood card scandal at the Nonpareil Club, Madame Montpensier’s murder charge against her daughter, the Molesey Mystery, Morgan the poisoner, Merridew of abominable memory, Matthews who knocked out Holmes’s left canine in the waiting room at Charing Cross, the murder of Mrs Stewart in Lauder, the papers of ex-President Murillo, the Dutch steamship Friesland, Bert Stevens the murderer, the persecution of tobacco millionaire John Vincent Harden, Archie Stamford the forger, the Ferrers documents, the Abergavenny murder, the death of Cardinal Tosca, Wilson the canary trainer, the dreadful business of the Abernetty family, the Conk-Singleton forgery, Crosby the banker and the red leech, the contents of the Addleton barrow, the Smith-Mortimer succession case, Huret the Boulevard Assassin, Arthur H Staunton the forger and Henry Staunton, the Randall burglars of Lewisham, the Margate woman, Colonel Carruthers, Brooks, Woodhouse, Fairdale Hobbs, the Long Island cave mystery, Abrahams in mortal terror, Rotherhithe, old Baron Dowson, the disappearances of James Phillimore and of the cutter Alicia, the madness of Isadora Persano, the ship Matilda Briggs and the giant rat of Sumatra, the forger Victor Lynch, Vittoria the circus belle, Vanderbilt and the Yeggman, Vigor the Hammersmith Wonder, Sir George Lewis and the Hammerford Will, Wainwright, the Duke of Greyminster and Abbey School, the Sultan of Turkey’s commission, two Coptic patriarchs, the St Pancras picture-frame maker, and a coiner, not to forget the case of the politician, the lighthouse and the trained cormorant.

English Heads

The following is a comparative estimate of the dimensions of the Head of the inhabitants in several counties of England.

The male Head in England, at maturity, averages from 6 and a half to 7 and five-eighths inches in diameter; the medium and most general size being 7 inches. The female head is smaller, varying from 6 and three-eighths to 7 or 7 and a half inches, the medium male size. Fixing the medium of the English head at 7 inches, there can be no difficulty in distinguishing the portions of society above from those below that measurement.

London – The majority of the higher classes are above the medium, while among the lower it is very rare to find a large head.

Spitalfields Weavers have extremely small heads, 6 and a half, 6 and five-eighths, 6 and three-quarter inches being the prevailing admeasurements.

Coventry – Almost exclusively peopled by weavers; the same facts are peculiarly observed.

Hertfordshire, Essex, Suffolk, and Norfolk contain a larger proportion of small heads than any part of the empire; Essex and Hertfordshire particularly. 7 inches in diameter is here, as in Spitalfields and Coventry, quite unusual. 6 and five-eighths or 6 and a half are more general; and 6 and three-eighths, the usual size for a boy of six years of age, is frequently to be met with here in the full maturity of manhood.

Kent, Surrey, and Sussex – An increase of size of the usual average is observed; and the inland counties, in general, are nearly upon the same scale.

Devonshire and Cornwall – The heads of full sizes.

Herefordshire – Superior to the London average.

Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cumberland, and Northumberland have more large heads, in proportion, than any part of the country.

Scotland – The full-sized head is known to be possessed by the inhabitants; their measurement ranging between 7 and three-quarters and 7 and seven-eighths even to 8 inches. This extreme size, however, is rare.

John Timbs, Things Not Generally Known (1860)

Sheep Markings

I thought it would be useful, this Sunday, to provide you lot with a comprehensive list of the names given to the different markings of Shetland sheep. Please note that an individual sheep can have more than one type of marking.