Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for Cox and Box

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About the Opera

Cox and Box

This mini-opera by Burnand and Sullivan is often given as a curtain raiser for Savoy operas. Based on John Maddison Morton’s 1847 farce Box and Cox, the musical version was put together by F. C. Burnand and Arthur Sullivan during a three-week period in 1866. That was for a private gathering; but the “triumviretta” was considered such a gem that it was given a public showing at a charitable performance in the Adelphi Theatre on May 11, 1867. A week later Cox and Box was given a second benefit performance, at another theater, and the reviewer for Fun magazine was none other than W. S. Gilbert, who was not to meet Arthur Sullivan face to face for another two or three years. (His astute comment on the music was to the effect that Sullivan’s notes were too good for the words.)

Cox and Box is a frothy bit of foolishness but it has its virtues, being simple to produce and full of sprightly music. Although out of place chronologically here, it seems appropriate as a brief curtain call.

My libretto is that published by Samuel French of London (undated).


Journeyman [A Journeyman Hatter]

The OED (228) tells us that a journeyman is a skilled craftsman who works for another. He ranks between a master and an apprentice. We might add that the term is derived from the French word jour for day, i.e., a journeyman is one who is paid by the day. Doesn’t this exciting start make you thirst for further knowledge? Read on.

Bouncer [Sergeant Bouncer]

The name has several derogatory slang associations, including cheating, boasting, and telling fibs. The sergeant is well-named.

Dampshire [Late of the Dampshire Yeomanry]

In England, when one wishes to refer to an imaginary shire in the West Country, one may call it “Mummerset” (to rhyme with Somerset). Here Burnand is rhyming with Hampshire.


Yeomen were small landowners. The Yeomanry was a volunteer British cavalry force made up chiefly of men of the yeoman class and an equal mix of presumably non-volunteer horses.


Peremptory [the most … peremptory of hatters]
Sketch of Cox & Box

Imperious, allowing no room for debate.

Colonel Cox

Bouncer usually addresses Cox as “Colonel,” but when irritated (a few lines later) he demotes him to “Captain.” We may infer that Cox claims to have seen military service at one time, or perhaps this is Bouncer’s standard form of flattery.

Protuberant [with a protuberant bolster]

Bulging out, like Cyrano’s proboscis.


A firm pillow, usually of cylindrical form.

Glass [Looking glass]





Citizens trained for military emergencies, like the National Guard in the USA.

Hobby [Ah! now he’s off on his hobby]

At this point Bouncer usually makes his broom into a hobby horse, and there you have another pun. Sorry.


Horses trained for cavalry service.


Crowning wreaths awarded heroes in ancient Greece and Rome. More broadly, “laurels” were honors, in this case for military valor.

Bays [and rode on our bays]

Reddish-brown horses. Since bay is another name for “laurel,” honors are sometimes referred to as “bays.” Behold, another pun!


See entry for “Yeomanry” above.

Van [In the rear and the van]

The vanguard or leading units of an advancing army. (“Hey, what am I doing here?”)


Hyder (161) defines it thus: “This is an onomatopoetic word suggesting the beating of a drum, much used in French comic operas with a military theme, and here used mockingly by F. C. Burnand.” MacPhail (194) adds that Verdi uses the word in Forza del Destino and Donizetti does the same in La Fille du Régiment. Moreover, he adds, “It’s a bit ironic that if Burnand, Sullivan’s first librettist, provided him with a ‘Rataplan’ song, so too did his final collaborator, Basil Hood: a Rataplan song in The Emerald Isle was one of the lyrics the composer set in his final comic opera before he died.” Finally, Kravetz (182) has this simple explanation: “Rataplan” is the French equivalent of “rat-a-tat.”

Emulating [instead of emulating]

Seeking to equal or excel. A secondary meaning, appropriate here, is “imitating.”

Dissemble [Yes, I must dissemble]

Hide the truth. See also HMS Pinafore.

Sure as eggs is eggs

In those days this was a popular phrase meaning “without a doubt.” It was probably a corruption of the logician’s formula “x is x” (115).

Lucifers [My lucifers, candles, sugar and wood!]

Matches. Named in honor, of course, of Lucifer, the chief recalcitrant angel who was thrown out of Heaven and then reigned over the nether regions. The first mass-produced friction matches were sold under the trade name “Lucifer Sticks” (103). Hyder (161) relishes the line, “I did think my lucifers would be sacred.”

Dodger [Bouncer is a dodger!]

A haggler, or one who engages in shifty maneuvers.

Cat [the cat in the Army’s abolished]

Bouncer is setting up a smoke screen by switching the topic from felines to multi-thonged whips. Captain Corcoran uses the same pun, as you may recall, in H.M.S. Pinafore.

Leaders [setting up long leaders for a daily paper]


Naps [hats with naps]

Woolly or velvety surfaces.

Effluvia [If he objects to the effluvia of tobacco]

A smoker’s euphemism for the more accurate and scientific term stench.

Domesticate [he had better domesticate himself in some adjoining parish.]

Find lodging.


A subdivision of an English county, or an ecclesiastical district.