Uncle Meleager's Will

page 36
Like primroses. The Beaconsfield touch.

As Dian de Momerie told us, primroses were the favorite flower of Benjamin Disraeli, Lord Beaconsfield. See below, Primrose League.

page 37

I.e., the lowest possible roll of dice, two aces. Snake-eyes. Hence, a term for bad luck.

indifferent cook ... Alfred

Alfred the Great, traveling incognito, stopped once at a peasant's hut. The mistress of the house, having to go out to perform some duty, told the stranger to keep his eye on the pancakes that were cooking; of course, Alfred was in a brown study pondering the next step in his campaign to keep the Danes from taking over all of Britain, and the pancakes burned. For this he was roundly scolded, and he took it like a man.

This just occurred to me: The only way we could know of such an event would be for Alfred to have told the story on himself. A pleasant thought.

Goyles plugged me in the shoulder.

In Clouds of Witness.

page 38
Primrose League

Thanks once more to Dian de Momerie, we know that this was a Tory organization founded in memory of Disraeli and named after his favorite flower. Or were they his favorite? The LPWC informs us that if they were, nobody but Queen Victoria, who sent them to his funeral, knew it.

page 40
probate and divorce wallahs

From Hindi -wala, a suffix meaning "pertaining to or connected with" according to the OED. Europeans, it goes on to say, have commonly apprehended it as a noun, "man" or "fellow".

page 43
Cave canem

Beware of the dog. There is in fact a famous mosaic at Pompeii in that pattern.

page 44
Johnny Head-in-Air

This is a cousin of Struwwelpeter, whom we met in CLOU, or anyway a creation of the same gentleman, Heinrich Hoffman. Mango gave us a URL for the text, http://home.earthlink.net/~mishal/Poem2.html which treats Johnny as a case of attention-deficit disorder, and a source for the original German at http://www.vcu.edu/hasweb/for/struwwel/guck.html.

page 46
Truth, poor girl...

Sylvia Marriott tracked down an impressive amount of data on this. Temporis filia veritas, "Truth is the daughter of time", was a popular saying in the 16th and 17th centuries, used by Bacon (in The Advancement of Learning) and Kepler and Erasmus. What source they were all following, though, seems not to be known. She goes on,

If DLS was thinking authorially rather than proverbially, she probably had Bacon in mind. Also from The Advancement of Learning: "The knowledge of man is as the waters, some descending from above, and some springing from beneath; the one informed by the light of nature, the other inspired by divine revelation." Come to think of it, that covers both the impluvium floor and the Vulgate.

The Clues:

Notes on the solutions are in the appendices.

page 51
those things they have at evening service

Not having been brought up religious, I attempt a gloss on this, aided by an explanation from Miss Murchison last year, as well as the notes that go with the story. The Canticles are texts sung at Evensong in the Anglican Church, and include the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis, which are taken from the New Testament; Versicles are said by the priest, with response from the choir (or the congregation). However you must--

look a little further back than that

because the Vulgate, the Latin version, uses Canticles as the name for the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament.

page 50
Revised Version

Thoroughly modern Miss Marryat would naturally have the Bible in the translation that was fixed up about the turn of the century with the idea of removing ambiguities and misunderstood archaisms and plain mistranslations. (It's notable, from a later perspective, that her not having a Bible at all was not a serious possibility.) Uncle Meleager, of course, would have stayed with the beauties of the Authorized (King James) Version of his childhood, as have many people since his time.

page 51
Black but comely

Song of Songs 1:5. I once saw it asserted on good authority (a science fiction story, maybe by Avram Davidson) that the Hebrew says black (or dark) and beautiful.

Anyway, it beats a translation from South Africa in the good old days, which said, so I read at the time, "Even though sunburned, you are beautiful." In all fairness, though, we have to note, as Jeffrey Smith said,

...the South African "sunburned", however motivated by racial politics, does have some support from the text itself--the very next verse speaks of the Lady of the Songs being darkened by the sun, and from being in the vineyards. But the Hebrew word used in both verses is the one that is used to denote the color we term in English "black".

South African quadruped

Quagga. Seems a bit unfair, though, as by that time the quagga was extinct.

APPENDIX I: The English crossword puzzle

Some people may want to try their luck with the crossword puzzle. Since the style is utterly different from the ones you find in American newspapers, here is an outline of how the clues work.

Spoiler alert: Before we get any further, note that I'll use as an example one actual line from the puzzle. If you're an expert in English-style crosswords, you will not need or want to read on. If not, though, the exposure of one word won't ruin either the puzzle or the mystery.

Your ordinary crossword has terse little clues to words which often are oddities known only to crossword fans. Some of these, especially the ones used to fill tiny spaces, have become clichés; as the college cheer goes,

Egyptian Sun God!
Ra Ra Ra!

The classic English competition crossword has cleverly obscure clues, with the solutions usually being much less obscure. (Relative to my semi-educated--very little Latin and no Greek--American non-Christian background, DLS does not do much to meet that latter condition.) The Economist publishes one of these every December as a competition.

Normally, a clue has two parts. One is a more or less direct clue to the meaning of the word, though it may be buried in misleading verbiage, puns, or other obfuscation. The other is likely to be an anagram, a pun, a selection of letters from successive words without a change of order, or some combination of these. Or something else. Of course, you don't know what part of the printed clue is an actual clue and what is just glue to hold the thing together in a pseudo-coherent sentence.

At their best, these clues resemble a notorious class of mathematical problems (such as prime factorization): finding the answer may be the very devil, but confirming that an answer is right is simple and sure.

I recall a few disputes over clues in The Economist, in which several days might be spent over a solution that seems to fit, but lacks the decisive double fit; the controversy ends, with luck, when a better solution is found or when someone finally figures out what the second clue was, and how the suggestion fits it. So I'm exaggerating when I say that confirming a clue is easy, but there is a moral certainty that comes upon you when you've got the answer and understood it.

Uncle Meleager's puzzle does not rigorously follow the pattern I've described. The clues are rhymes, and sometimes there's only a single significance to a clue, sometimes triple, and sometimes a number that can be debated forever. But there's no hope of solving the puzzle or even understanding the solution without applying these principles.

A concrete example is now in order.

Blow upon blow; five more the vanquished Roman shows;
And if the foot slip one, on crippled feet one goes.

The answer here is 'ictus'. (At this point some readers will understand my comment that DLS does not entirely fill the non-obscurity condition.)

Ictus is a blow, a smack upside the head or whatever. Here, with less concealment than usual, is the actual literal clue.

Now, if you affix the Roman numeral for five, namely V, you get victus, the Latin word for vanquished. This is quite typical.

But we are blessed here with yet a third clue. Ictus is also the beat, or stress, in poetry or music. And if you get the beat wrong in one foot of your poem, the poem limps along.

APPENDIX II: Solutions to the solutions

Here we attempt to explain how the clues relate to the solution given. There are, to be sure, notes in the book explaining some of the solutions; hence, in some of these cases we need merely explain the explanations of the solutions.

Does anyone know when, in what edition, those notes first appeared? Are they, as I'd suppose, attributed to Sayers herself? One could write a term paper analyzing her choices of what is so obscure as to require explanation, and a fortiori what is not!

I shall adopt the annoying practice of listing the clue numbers and my analyses, without listing the clues themselves. This is partly because I'm too lazy to type in all that material, and partly because typing it or scanning it would lead to such a massive quoting of the material as to put me perhaps not on the windy side of the copyright law.

I. 1

There were 5 wise and 5 foolish virgins in Matthew 25:1-12. The constellation Virgo stands between Leo the lion and Libra the scales.

XI. 1

The chink of gold ... defeat: Midas loved gold but could not tolerate the results of the golden touch.

To what ears: On another occasion, Apollo bestowed ass's ears on Midas, for voting against him in a musical contest.

I. 2

Of course you dress endive with oil and vinegar; that's simple enough. But is there a second clue of some punning sort, as is normal in the English crossword? The best I can do is to translate the first word in "of vinegar" into French, giving the anagram "de vinegar", from which we take the fist six letters as an anagram. If there were some hint of French in the clue, I'd almost believe in this labored derivation.

X. 2

A problem here: In what sense is "vanita" nothing? Elisabeth Sumpter answered that the word is meaningless, i.e., means nothing; and I guess this is the solution to the first half of the clue. The second half is easy: clearly, adding a little "s" to it gives vanitas, or vanity of vanities, all is vanity saith the Preacher (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

I. 3

The Royal Society (RS) may be a bunch of dusty academics, but they are Royal, after all.

IV. 3

We are looking for Uncle Meleager's Will and Testament; that's easy. But the New Testament (Matthew 9:16) tells us, parabolically, about putting new patches on old garments. But Ms Sumpter pointed out another layer of meaning:
"Yes, and then combined with the saying that X isn't a patch on Y, (a Britishism meaning that it can't hold a candle to it!) but referring to the parable by the emphasis...! That Uncle is a clever man!"

XIV. 3

"He would answer to 'Hi!' Or to any loud cry" in "The Hunting of the Snark". If there's a second clue here, I've missed it.

I. 4

Secant, from Latin secare, is a cut. But if you're not so mathematically inclined as to enjoy working with the reciprocal of the cosine of an angle (the secant), you may find this kind of cut as uncongenial as Antony found the one inflicted by Brutus (Julius Caesar, Act III scene ii).

X. 4

Little and concealed from mortal sight: Leaven, which a woman hid in a measure of meal. It does, of course, have the effect of lightening.

I. 5

The building of the tower of Babel gave us the need for translation. In the puzzle item the word is abbreviated, or cut off short, just as the tower was when the Lord confounded the languages to terminate the project.

XI. 5

Dian de Momerie provided the source of the quote

Even the scent of roses
Is not what they supposes,
But more than mind discloses
And more than men believe.
--G. K. Chesterton: "The Song of Quoodle"
along with the fact that pussyfoot refers to a teetotaler or prohibitionist, a species that definitely grieved Chesterton.

II. 6

You're supposed to observe the ant to obtain wisdom, provided you put more stock in Solomon (Proverbs 6:6-8) and Aesop than in Mark Twain; and she has to turn backward to fit in the puzzle here. This seems to be another single-meaning clue. Is there a nuance that I'm missing?

VII. 6

Well, now, there are two kinds of seg in the OED but neither applies. (An animal castrated when full grown, and a callosity, in case you're curious.) Sedge is obvious, and it does often grow by the water's edge, but this isn't completely satisfactory. Can anybody figure out a better connection between clue and solution?

XII. 6

Dian de Momerie again contributes:
"There's a rhyme that goes 'By Tre, Pol, and Pen, shall you know the Cornishmen.' As those three are the most common prefixes to names in Cornwall."

VI. 7

[From Appendix I] Ictus is a blow, a smack upside the head or whatever. Here, in "Blow by blow", with less concealment than usual, is the actual literal clue.

Now, if you affix the Roman numeral for five, namely V, you get victus, the Latin word for vanquished. This is quite typical.

But we are blessed here with yet a third clue. Ictus is also the beat, or stress, in poetry or music. And if you get the beat wrong in one foot of your poem, the poem limps along.

I. 8

Spinoza, philosopher of Jewish background, was a spectacle maker by trade. There is an incidental allusion here to I Corinthians: "For now we see through a glass, darkly."

IX. 8

The prices in an auction do grow (and the word has the same root as augment) until the hammer comes down to end it.

VI. 9

The Karroo desert is in southern Africa, and I suppose it supports elands as well as a noted fossil fauna--although those hoofed creatures definitely do not go heEL AND toe. Cruciverbic license, I suppose.

II. 10

Alt means a high pitch, in a voice or instrument. It also refers to a high pitch of excitement--such as induced by expectation to be rich?

VII. 10

Much Ado About Nothing is almost easy; but what's the second line all about? Simply filler to provide a rhyme?

XII. 10

The great flu pandemic of 1918 was still clear in people's memories. It spread so quickly that you might say it flew (nudge, nudge, get it?) on deadly wings. There is a bit of license in the clue: the 1918 flu was notable in how it carried away the young and robust, while often sparing older people, who had, we now believe, been exposed to a related strain of the virus at an early age.

I. 11

Pleas in court may be very long; but for common courtesy you need to lengthen the word a bit, with an e.

XI. 11

It was at the arena that Caesar was saluted by those about to die. In the second line, "and spear" contains an anagram of arena, but there seems to be no clue to suggest the removal of extra letters, so is it just coincidence?

I. 12

This seems to mean simply what it says, in reference to the opening of Antony's funeral oration in Julius Caesar; is there another clue buried here? (Or has it, at this late hour, been interred with my brains?)

X. 12

Again, we seem to have just a clever couplet as clue, not a double clue.

I. 13

Rachel Levy and Dian de Momerie, an unlikely pairing in any other context, contributed the identification of A. E. as the pen name of George William Russel (1867 - 1935), Irish poet, painter, and journalist, active in the Irish nationalist movement.

IV. 13

There are seven months with 31 days.

XIV. 13

In Latin, the language of Cicero, et is a conjunction; in astronomy or astrology there are conjunctions of planets.

I. 14

Another high-flying couplet with but a single clue, that one keeps a falcon hooded before releasing it; or am I missing something?

X. 14

Bezoar is an antidote. The obscurity of the word perhaps makes up for the straightforwardness of the clue.

I. 15

Damon might be considered in a horrid mess with his life pledged as bail so that his friend Pythias, condemned to death, could go home to settle his affairs; but since the tyrant Dionysius was so touched by this action and the return of Pythias to die honorably that he freed them both, can it be called an excess?

XI. 15

The skin should be all these things. Again I note the closeness of "dearest" to containing an anagram, but something's lacking.


1. I

The verst is a Russian unit of distance, of which the steppes encompass many, while one verst encompasses many steps.

11. I

The official explanation is that if you would laud (praise) someone, you should plaud (applaud). I suppose it's coincidence that if you deprive plaud of its head, you get Laud, an archbishop who I believe was also deprived of his head. (Can someone confirm or deny Laud's fate?) Anyway, put "it" on the hinder end, and you get plaudit; and the sense of praise or cheer is not much changed, whichever of the three words you take.

1. II

You do insert the thin end of a wedge, but I have the feeling of missing something here.

10. II

Rosalind: I'll have no worse a name than Jove's own page;
And therefore look you call me Ganymede.
But what will you be call'd?
Celia: Something that hath a reference to my state
No longer Celia, but Aliena.
--As You Like It, Act I scene iii

1. III

Refer to Drawer: This check bounced, so take it up with the person who drew (wrote) the check.

4. III

We noted above (p. 51) that the Nunc Dimittis and Magnificat are called the Canticles; but in the Vulgate the name refers to the Song of Solomon, which is further back than that: in the Old Testament.

14. III

His or Her Majesty.

1. IV

Gitana is indeed a female Gypsy in Spanish. It's probably a dance as well: Dian de Momerie says that gitâne is the name of a dance.

10. IV

Making a tattoo on the skin with a needle is a much slower business than beating a tattoo on the skin of a drum with a stick.

1. V

Phalaris of Agrigentum (ruled about 570-554 BC) performed executions by burning people alive in a hollow brass bull.

11. V

Nicely obscure, this, since the name is consistently spelled Sihon with an I in the Authorized Version. What little is known of him can be found in Numbers 21:21 and afterwards.

2. VI

"Bid on kai me on farewell."
I had heard that the line "bid oncaymaeon farewell" was from Marlowe's Dr. Faustus, but when I looked through the play for it (never having read it--for shame!) it didn't seem to be there. Project Gutenberg to the rescue: A quick text search, and there in his first speech is "Bid Economy farewell". Economy?? And, in drfst10.txt , the version with the footnotes, we find that in the later quartos following the first edition (which got it right) oncaymaeon was changed to economy. And for reasons that I am unable to fathom, this rendering has continued to appear in many later editions.

I suppose this act by some 16th-century publisher must be one of the classics of bad editing: Oncaymaeon is obviously gibberish, says the supervisor of the reprint, so we'll use the familiar word Economy. Never mind that the sense contradicts what the character is saying, which is that he's abandoning all that useless abstract learning, to pursue practical ends.

On kai me on means "is and is not" or "being and not being"--any Greek scholars here? Just the sort of thing philosophers talk about. Unlike Economy.

But Uncle says that the sterner Roman just says IS; or, in Latin, EST.

The subtle Frenchman, however, after Uncle Meleager had joined the heavenly choir (or was he just longing for the fjords?--see item 12.VI) fearlessly said,

But a being which constitutes itself as a lack can determine itself only there upon that which it lacks and which it is--in short, by a perpetual wrenching away from self toward the self which it has to be. ... Thus the foundation of negation is negation of negation."
--Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness

7. VI

I don't get it. It could be, I suppose, a protest against mindless coining of verbs with the suffix -ize; but was that practice, which I associate with the Eisenhower administration, established in the 1920s? And did an Englishman ever spell it other than -ise?

12. VI

The original name of Trondheim was Nidarus, which I suppose is connected with this, though once again the clue seems to have no hint that an abbreviation is called for. Meanwhile, the ebbing water is making quite a din, if only in reverse.

6. VII

La Scala, the opera house of Milan, means the ladder (taken from the Rossini opera La Scala di Seta).


Hyssop has flowers that are violet or pink, but Lady Susan informs me that one variety has red flowers. In any case, it's a kingly color. And the reference attaches some importance to the red tiles in the impluvium. Note, though, that the confusion about whether those tiles were words or stops must have been instantly resolved by the presence of clues IV 3, 4 III, etc.


In Euripides' play Alcestis, king Admetus has been saved from death by Apollo, but only on the condition that another person will die in his place. Only his wife Alcestis volunteers for this duty. His father Pheres has rejected the idea, and rejects the accusations of cowardice made by Admetus:

"Coward"? You call me a coward, you,
Less brave than the girl who died for you? A cautious hero!

But you know best:
A gallant road you've found to immortality!
Marry wife after wife, first making sure they'll die for you...

In the end, Alcestis is saved by Heracles, who physically overpowers Death. This is all very well for Admetus, but we are left with a problem: it is not Admetus but Pheres who sensibly refuses to go to Hades in the younger man's place. Uncle Meleager has got it backwards; and Lord Peter, by an odd coincidence, shares the error; or perhaps he is too busy to make a comment, which would be still more odd.

6. IX

Guano is dropped at Nature's call, and aids next year's crop, though the seabirds producing it probably gave the matter no thought.

2. X

Vel is Latin for "or"; but if the first line has any specific significance, somebody please tell me.

7. X

It seems that the first line of the clue, with its Macbeth allusion ("Double, double toil and trouble") is just fulfilling the obligation to use heroic couplets.

12. X

This is covered in the notes that accompany the puzzle in Lord Peter and other editions of the story: the story of Tobit and the fish is in the Apocrypha; the latter name comes from the Greek word for "hidden" ("hence of unknown authorship, spurious" as the OED says).

1. XI

The notes to the solutions in the book explain that Uncle Meleager is alluding to Faguet's work on the literature of the 17th century. Of course, the quotation is not translated for the benefit of any savages ignorant of French; it means, in relation to God knows what, that a lion is a jaw and not a mane. The second line, as the notes explain simply enough, refers to manes, benevolent Roman ghosts.

11. XI

The OED tells us that the awn is the spinous process, or beard, that terminates the grain-sheath (husk, get it?) of barley, oats, and other grasses. So you could poetically speak of the awned barley, though I don't know that anyone has.

1. XII

It would be rude, I suppose, to point out that an intact doughnut, though quite whole, is not without hole.

10. XII

Certainly you wouldn't want your frieze to escape from between the architrave and the cornice, much less reach the floor. A solitary red pawn explains the next-door line as a reference to the architecture of Uncle Meleager's house; surely she is right, and we may take it that there is a frieze in whatever room is next to the impluvium. (Or to the hallway from which the main stair rises?)


"Di" is a plural of deus, alternate for dei. Sayers's prophetic powers (she wrote a good essay on prophecy, you know) show up once again with the mob proclaiming the name of Di, though no doubt she thought she was referring to Diana of the Ephesians (Acts 19:34) and not to a later object of worship.


As noted above, Versicles are said by the priest, with response from the choir (or the congregation).

14. XIII

French for gold; and the essential word for expressing choice.

1. XIV

Athena was the goddess of both learning and war; moreover, she was born (rather, sprang from the head of Zeus) fully armed. There is a bit of license here, as this was a bronze-age tale, before the invention of iron arms.

10. XIV

If there is some punning or allusive second clue here, someone please tell me.

1. XV

To be canonized one must have performed some properly documented miracle.

11. XV

As when the Romans saw them, the way to the stars (ad astra) is through struggles (per ardua, or per aspera if you prefer).