J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Burgoyne Returned to Parliament

Don Hagist of the British Soldiers, American War blog unearthed this item from the Cumbria Packet, a regional British newspaper, on 9 June 1778. It turns on the aftermath of the Battle of Saratoga, and how British politics uses the word “returned” as a synonym for “elected.”

Bon Mot.

A day or two after General [John] Burgoyne arrived, a large party being at dinner, the conversation turned upon the propriety, or impropriety, of his taking his seat in Parliament, previous to a court of inquiry:

“Poh, poh, (says a gentleman of the party) independent of his borough here, he has a right to take his seat in the House.”

“How will you make that out?” said the company,

“because (says the other) he’s returned by America.”
Ha ha! Well, maybe one had to be there.

(Burgoyne’s image above comes courtesy of the University of Houston’s Digital History site.)

3 comments:

Robert S. Paul said...

This was discussed a few weeks back on RevList but I can't remember why it was supposed to be funny. Something to do with the double-meaning of 'returned'.

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, I grabbed it off Revlist. I think the best translation into American English would be to replace the last line with:

“Because in the returns from America he came in first.”

Peter Ansoff said...

This reminds me of the time that we were reading Dickens "A Christmas Carol" in school. We came to Dickens' comment that Bob Cratchit's salary was "fifteen copies of his Christian name." I had been to England the previous summer, and had heard the street vendors hawking strawberries for "Two boxes, two bob." I was very proud of myself for understanding the joke.