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Stout

Posted by John Pumphrey on May 06, 2001

I've been provided some material which constitutes descriptions made by British clerical staff of French Old Guard troops taken prisoner in 1815. These are described as "long", "fair" or "stout".
My interest is primarily in the word "stout". I've been told that stout first began to mean "corpulent" during the 19th Century, with the first recorded usage in 1804. I'm assuming that "corpulent" would not be the correct meaning to assign to the usage above, given the date, but on the other hand I'm not sure "proud", "fierce" or "brave" fit all that well either. Would it perhaps be the secondary meaning of "sturdy"?
Here is a typical description of them in 1814:
"More dreadful looking fellows than Napoleon's Guard I had never seen. They had the look of thoroughbred, veteran, disciplined banditti. Depravity, recklessness, and bloodthirstiness were burned into their faces...Black mustachios, gigantic bearskins, and a ferocious expression were their characteristics."
Does anyone have the first literary reference for "stout" meaning "corpulent"? When did the old primary meaning of "fierce" begin to die out? And what probabilities would you assign in respect of the above?
My apologies that this is a word not a phrase, but the query has more to do with subtleties of meaning and literary references and this forum seemed a better bet than any others I've visited.
Thanks,
John