Posted by Pdianek on October 21, 2003
In Reply to: "Tying a dish-cloth to your tail" posted by ESC on October 20, 2003
: : From that same (hyacinths) biography -
: : one of Darwin's sons remembers his childhood and the cook:
: : 'Francis remembered her kindness in spite of constant threats of "tying a dish-cloth to your tail",
: : which he never understood.'
: : ...and neither do I.
: : Does anyone here understand this threat? know where it comes from?
: : The child failing to understand the cook's words -
: : could it have to do with Victorian class differences?
: : Could she be threatening to spank him with a kitchen towel?
: : I'll be very thankful for any suggestion, information or guess!
: Well, people in the country (West Virginia) would talk about tying a tin can to a puppy's tail if it was too frisky and aggravating. Maybe a dish-cloth (dish rag) is a more humane version of that.
The idea of spanking is right on, I think. Instead of saying, "I'll beat you on the bum", the cook used this phrase, probably one she'd heard growing up. Francis didn't understand the phrase because the cook clearly never carried it out -- for a cook to strike the master's child would have been an offence punishable by immediate firing from employment, without good references, so that the cook would have been immediately unemployed. She could have then "fallen on the parish" and become a charity case, or prostituted herself, or sought shelter with a relative. These were hard choices. So despite being annoyed by a small boy who really had no business in the kitchens -- and probably more due to her inherently kind nature -- she never hit him.