Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for Patience

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Act I

Deign [Deign to raise thy purple eyes]


Poesy [heart-drawn poesy]

An archaic synonym of poetry (229).

Transcendental lore [That some transcendental lore]

Learning in matters far above ordinary comprehension: mystic, obscure, and fantastic.

Supplicate [This we supplicate]

Beg humbly and earnestly.

Fleshly [a wild, weird, fleshly thing]

In this case the word means sensual.

Precious [very yearning, very precious]

The word has a remarkable range of meanings: (i) of great monetary value, (ii) of great moral or spiritual value, (iii) affecting a fastidious delicacy, and (iv) colloquially, an intensive of something bad, e.g., a precious mess. Bunthorne probably had (ii) in mind. A few lines later the Lady Saphir also uses the word. She, too, probably meant version (ii), but Gilbert meant (iii) or (iv). Take your pick.

Faint lilies

The Pre-Raphaelite painters were particularly attracted to lilies as symbols of beauty and purity. Many of their paintings show languorous maidens holding lilies while apparently thinking of nothing at all.

[Oh, Hollow! Hollow! Hollow!]

(The next seven entries are from Bunthorne's poem "Oh, Hollow! Hollow! Hollow!" which Patience mistakes for a hunting song because fox hunters by tradition cried "Hallo!" when sighting the prey.)

Amaranthine [Quivering on amaranthine asphodel]

Pronunciation: am-are-AN-thine

The word is from the Greek: a, meaning "not," and marainein, meaning "fading," hence when combined: unfading (66).


Any of various liliaceous plants of the genera Asphodelus and Asphodeline native to southern Europe … (6). A second meaning is a lily or daffodil. In Greek mythology, asphodels were the ever-blooming flowers that grew in the Elysian fields. Rees (251) adds that the plant is also the source of a potent diuretic, meaning a medicine that turns on the waterworks -- and we don't mean tears.


Mercurous chloride, a medicine used as a laxative. (It's also used in the treatment of a certain unmentionable disease, but we're sure that's not what Bunthorne had in mind. He may have been a fleshly poet, but he wasn't that fleshly.) Shipley (266) says the word derives from the Greek kalos (fair) + melas (black) because it is a white powder that turns black when exposed to light.

Historical aside: The American explorers Lewis and Clark started on their expedition with no fewer than fifty dozen patented calomel pills, the composition of which included six parts of mercury to one part of chlorine, and jalap (a dried root with purgative proclivities of its own). The combination was described as awesome. Indeed, to the man in the street the pills were affectionately referred to as "thunderclappers" (5).

Plinth [When from the poet's plinth]

Square slab forming the base of a column or pedestal. We can interpret this as Bunthorne's reference to being on a poet's pedestal.


Believe it or not, colocynth is a strong purgative made from the pulp of a kind of cucumber. The phrase "amorous colocynth" is an example of advanced oxymoronism.


A purgative derived from the juice of the aloe plant.

Uncompounded pills

Pills containing but a single medicinal ingredient. In this case they are simply derived from plants.

[Note on Bunthorne's Poem]

As you may have surmised by now, Bunthorne's entire poem stresses the incompatibility of medicinal and poetic aspects of flowers (7). So we may now ask the profound philosophical question: Does "Hollow! Hollow! Hollow!" refer to the emptiness of life, or the physical condition of the body cavity after extensive purgative medicinal ministrations? Aurora (16) and Papa (231) take this up at length. Rees (251) notes that medical science was rather limited in those days:

Purgation was pretty standard for anything. I will bet that nobody, but nobody in the Savoy audience had got through life without being purged at least several times. They [referring to the purgatives mentioned above] were standard medicine known to all and stocked by every apothecary. They were prescribed unmixed (uncompounded) with other substances. This much established, I leave it to you to diagnose the cause of the writhing of the lithe-limbed maid, and to decide why the first comment on the poem (by Angela) is "How purely fragrant!"

And, if that is not enough, Rees calls to our attention this poem by Oscar Wilde, which is typical of what Gilbert was parodying:

    …And sweet to hear the shepherd Daphnis sing
The song of Linus through a sunny dell
Of warm Arcadia where the corn is gold
    And the slight lithe-limbed reapers dance about the wattled fold.

And sweet with young Lycoris to recline
In some Illyrian valley far away,
    Where canopied on herbs amaracine
We too might waste the summer-trancèd day … .

from "The Burden of Itys"

Empyrean [You are not Empyrean]]

Pronunciation: em-puh-REE-en

The highest heaven, or region of pure elemental fire (75). Keep in mind that Bunthorne and his admirers are not true aesthetes, but only blind followers and mimics. They use such high-flown language without really understanding the meaning.

Della Cruscan [You are not Della Cruscan]]

Pronunciation: DEL-a-KRUS-kan

The original Della Cruscans were members of a Florentine academy of the sixteenth century dedicated to purifying the Italian language. The term was also used by a group of late-eighteenth century English poets who lived in Florence and wrote in affected aesthetic style.

Early English [would at least be Early English]]

English language and literature between a.d. 1250 and 1500, also Gothic architecture in vogue in England during the thirteenth century (75). Bradley (47) says the style was favored by the Pre-Raphaelites.

Primary colours! [Red and Yellow! Primary colours! Oh, South Kensington!]]

These are the fundamental pigments, red, yellow and blue, from which all the others (orange, green, violet, and brown) can be derived by combining. The aesthetes usually preferred rather subdued and somber mixes.