Sunday, 5 February 2012

Struck by lightning


Reading Graham Robb's The Discovery of France (a must-read for people who think they've already done so by living here) I come across the origin of that extraordinary expression The Postilion Has Been Struck By Lightning.

I discover that a certain Madame de Genlis in 1799 wrote a French-German phrase-book called Traveller's Manual for French Persons in Germany and German Persons in France. Clearly horse-drawn travel was not without risk. Here are a few excerpts:

Postilion, this horse is worthless. It is restive. It is skittish. I am decidedly loath to take it.

Postilion, can one place a harp in its carrying-case on the luggage rack?

What kind of road is it? It is strewn with rocks.

Postilion, I believe that the wheels are on fire. Please look and see.

Postilion, a man has just climbed on to the back of the coach. Make him get down.

Postilion, allow this poor man to climb on to the seat. He is so tired! Leave him alone. He is an old man!

Postilion, the king-pin has fallen out. The suspension has snapped.

The coach has overturned. The horses have just collapsed.

Is anyone hurt? No, thank God. The horse is badly wounded. It is dead.

The postilion has fainted. Gently remove the postilion from beneath the horse.

There is a large lump on his head. Should we not apply a coin to the lump in order to flatten it?

Poor man! Be assured I sympathize with your suffering.

* * *

And while I'm on the subject, I remember hearing many years ago about a certain none-too-literate policeman in the little town of Forres, in Morayshire, which wasn't far from where we used to live. A horse had collapsed and died in Urquhart (pronounced something like 'erkut') Street. The policeman arrived, took out his notebook and pencil and began his report. The spelling of 'Urquhart' was quite beyond him. Not without resource, he directed the crowd of bystanders to drag the dead horse round the corner into the High Street.

10 comments:

Z said...

I rather wish our friend John Farquharson would move from Towcester. Addressing letters to him is a regular challenge.

But it's the story of the fainting postilion that intrigues me. Did he faint as a result of the horse lying on him or did the animal choose to do so, thinking he looked a comfortable resting place. I've had many a dog go to sleep on my lap and quite a number of cats, but never a horse. Mind you, I've never fainted in front of a horse.

Vicus Scurra said...

Is Madame de Genlis still your neighbour?

Mike and Ann said...

"Oh Burgomeister, pray assist me. My aunt has fallen from our horseless carriage."
Ah, English as she was spoke!!!!!

Rog said...

Shouldn't there be something about my Grandmother's Ear-Trumpet being struck by lightning?

mig bardsley said...

How delightful that you're back!
I've just read The Night Music and I loved it.

A restive, skittish horse and a harp on the luggage rack sounds like a recipe for disaster even before you get to the rock-strewn road.

Mike and Ann said...

Ah, but you've got to remember that all these disaster happened ABROAD where you must expect that sort of thing to occur.

Christopher said...

Z: Have you ever met the Featherstonehaughs of Costessey? Or the Menzies of Wymondham? And I wonder if you've ever tried fainting in coils?

Vicus: Yes, she is still. Very still indeed. She died in 1830.

M and A: A very apt and pertinent observation, if I may say so.

Rog: Not in this phrase-book, alas. Did you manage to sell that ear-trumpet?

Mig: Very good to see you. SO pleased about The Night Music. Wherever did you get a copy from?

Christopher said...

M 'n' A: But it's you that live abroad, not me!

Z said...

I have been known to, but my preferred specialisms are reeling and writhing.

Vicus Scurra said...

I done a lol.