Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

I'VE found two bits of evidence recently of how much fun life could be for children in a Victorian family - quite unlike the dark mahogany and mutton fat atmosphere that period pieces on telly so often suggest.

One very different account comes in the biography by Wilfrid Ward of his father W.G. 'Ideal' Ward, a heavyweight intellectual, but in private life never happier than when playing charades with his children or pretending to be a bear.

The other is from an even less likely background - the home life of Gladstone, than whom none could be more earnest. But Philip Magnus in his entertaining biography (1954) gives a telling example of how the Gladstone children and their cousins made fun of the most serious affairs. Visitors at Hawarden would be surprised, for example, to find Gladstone interrupted by a piping voice shouting 'A lie! A lie!', if he said something inconsistent.

But the real test is the private language, named (after Mrs Gladstone's family) Glynnese. Quite an old shoe meant `an old friend', bathing-feel meant `nervousness before a formidable undertaking' (such as Gladstone's in 1841 on becoming vice-president of the Board of Trade), and there was even over the moon meaning, as in the parlance of today's footballers, `in high spirits'. …

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