Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dialect Tragedy

Oh, my, the confluence of incident,reportage, scanning, and transcription that adds up to oddities in this segment of a report from the Old Bailey, which I accurately paste below--though I will add some emphasis. From the testimony of James Fitzgerald, allegedly robbed of a watch on 25 Feb 1725:
For it ish my Way to make Love upon a Woman in the Street, and go home with her, whenshoever I intend to lie alone. But ash to the Preceshoner, she wash after making me shit upon the Bed with her, and sho tumble together; but I wash after shitting in the Chair, and then she was coming to shit in my Lap; but I would not let her, and sho she shit beside me; and then I wash hoping that she would be eashy; but for all that she would not let me shit at quiet, for she wash after being concerned with my Breeches, and got away my Watch whether I would or no; and I pulled, and she pulled; and sho for fear she should get it from me, I let go my Hold, and went for a Constable, and he carried her to the Watch House, where he took the Watch upon her. He found it in a Plaushe that my Modesty won't suffer me to name; for ash I am a living Chreestian, she had put into her ***.
[OldBailey's text here, and image of the original page here.

These scattered uses of "Shit" I believe are early examples of dialect transcription from the Old Bailey Proceedings. where the reporter used "sh" when the speaker said "s" with an Irish accent. Susan Grimes, the accused says that Mr. Fitzgerald [note her speech is reported without the unneeded "sh"] "....said he was an Irishman, and could swear farther than ten Englishmen."

Ms. Grimes was found Not Guilty. One can impute anti-Irish bias. But the countours of Fitzgerald's statement are self-contradictory and (even without the added dialect) hilarious.

Susan Grimes' rebuttal is terse but fairly coherent. She says Fitzgerald followed her home, knew the premises and pawned his watch to her landlady to pay for brandy (and she says both Susan and her landlady felt "He was so impudent, that we were both found to fall upon cut Knees to keep his Hands from under our Petticoats.").

Grimes' acquital seems to have some craftiness about it, too: "It appearing upon the Prosecutor's Oath, that she took the Watch from him violently, and with his Knowledge; and she being indicted for stealing it privately, and without his Knowledge, the Jury acquitted her."

Snap! But what did the Landlady testify to? Apparently to nothing. Did Fitzgerald buy a bed? Does she claim he pawned his watch? Was he grasping? The Proceedings are silent.

Who knows what really happened. Some London reporter wrote a dessicated account of a trial and gave the poor London lass the benefit of the doubt, as did the jury, on what some now would call illogical grounds (If the landlady took the watch in pawn, how did Susan end up with it that very evening?)

The whole trial from swearing in to verdict was well under an hour, probably under half an hour or even merely ten minutes long.

I'm not sure Susan stole the watch. I'm sure James was drunk and was trying to tumble with Susan. I think there was some anti-Irish bias in the trial and in the reporting of it, but Fitzgerald was a scamp regardless.

Since they are all long gone, there is a lot there to wonder at from just this one entry in the Old Bailey Proceedings from 1725. It's brief and worth a read.

[Note: My family is in America due to proceedings in Old Bailey -- not these above-- from early 1700's. I'll delve into Old Bailey occasionally in the future since there are fascinating things there.]

Update: I was surprised that no potty-mouths on the internet had yet found this Old Bailey transcript. But this case is quoted in a book about Irish English -- so my surmise about the dialect appears to be correct. Here's a few pages on Google Books from Irish English: history and present-day forms by Raymond Hickey which uses part of this passage to illustrate the use of "after - [verb]-ing in old Irish English. Nifty.

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