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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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Parsing “The Jelly-House Maccaroni”

I included this image, titled “The Jelly-House Maccaroni,” in one of my postings on bundling over the past month. Published in London in 1772, it was actually three thousand miles and nearly a full generation distant from the Rhode Island newspaper essay I used it to illustrate, but it had the right libertine air.

Joe Bauman asked me about the slang in the title. A “jelly-house” was a type of London restaurant that gained a reputation in the eighteenth-century as being an place where young rakes met prostitutes.

For example, the London Magazine’s 1766 summary of a play called Neck or Nothing says:
...Slip’s confusion very nearly discovers him; But hearing only the former marriage is mentioned, he gains courage, and with great effrontery treats this tale as a stratagem of Bellford and Jenny, who, he says, notwithstanding her master took her for an innocent girl out of the country, was a Covent-garden-bred wench, who had lived at a jelly-house, and had two children. . . .

Nothing now remained but to get the money from Stockwell, who, having met with Jenny, treats all her former story as a fiction, and upbraids her with the jelly-house.

This being an aspersion which she knew was groundless, she resolved to go to Bellford, and consult with him what was to be done. . . .
Sounds uproarious, no?

In 1771, one Richard King published a book titled The New London Spy: or, A Twenty-Four Hours Ramble through the Bills of Mortality. It promised readers:
…a true picture of modern high and low life; from the splendid mansions in St. James’s to the subterraneous habitations of St. Giles’s, wherein are displayed the various scenes of Covent-Garden, and its environs, the theatres, Jelly-houses, Gaming-houses, Night-houses, Cottages, Masquerades, Mock-Masquerades, Public-gardens, and other places of entertainments.
Gordon Williams’s three-volume Dictionary of Sexual Language and Imagery in Shakespearean and Stuart Literature, stretching out of period, quotes another book called The Stranger’s Guide from about 1800 as saying, “Procuresses…are to be met with at the jelly-houses, milliners, perfume-shops.”

As for “macaroni,” that was the eighteenth-century term for fancy Italian fashion, and then for the sort of young fop who would wear it. The slang survives most famously in “Yankee Doodle,” puzzling generations of American children. (I had a conversation with one puzzled American former child this summer.)

When the rustic American Yankee Doodle puts a feather in his cap and calls it macaroni, either the song is mocking him for thinking that’s fancy and fashionable, or he’s mocking the sort of English fops who chased after “macaroni” fashion. You can take your pick.


Martyn Cornell said...

And don't forget the macaroni penguin (the reason for the name being obvious when you see what it has on its head)


J. L. Bell said...

I may not be able to forget the macaroni penguin since I'm not sure I ever learned about it before.

Thanks for the link!