Although one of his lesser tales, MRJ obviously had a fondness for it. He revived it for his final Christmas ghost story reading at Cambridge in 1934 (Lubbock, see below). This fondness is not surprising in view of what MRJ says at the start of his essay, "Ghosts - Treat Them Gently!" (Evening News, April 17, 1931; reprinted in the Ghosts & Scholars book, 1987): "What first interested me in ghosts? This I can tell you quite definitely. In my childhood I chanced to see a toy Punch and Judy set, with figures cut out in cardboard. One of these was The Ghost. It was a tall figure habited in white with an unnaturally long and narrow head, also surrounded with white, and a dismal visage. Upon this my conceptions of a ghost were based, and for years it permeated my dreams."
p.248, l.6: "envelopes": At the first reading of the tale, "the silence which fell when the grim story ended was broken by the voice of Luxmoore: 'Were there envelopes in those days?'" (S.G. Lubbock's Memoir, 1939, as quoted in M.R. James: An Informal Portrait by Michael Cox, 1983, p.143. Lubbock goes on to say that MRJ was easily able to prove there were.)
p.248, l.12: "Great Chrishall": There is no such place, but Chrishall without the 'Great' is a small village in Essex, about five miles west of Saffron Walden. A mile further west is Great Chishill.
"Dec. 22": Although many of MRJ's stories were written to be read at Christmas, this is the only one specifically set over the holiday. One of the plots summarised in "Stories I Have Tried to Write" is also set at the Christmas season.
p.250, l.15: "wore his bands": The two strips of cloth worn below a clergyman's collar; surviving in the dress of barristers and some academics and clergymen today.
p.250, l.27-28: "Bow Street has now been informed": The headquarters of the Bow Street Runners, the first official police force. At the time of the story it was in the process of being superseded by the Metropolitan Police, but that was not completed until 1839.
p.250, l.30: "qui vive": On the alert (from the challenge of French sentrymen).
p.251, l.6: "Boniface": An old name for an innkeeper (from Farquhar's Beaux' Strategem, 1707).
p.251, l.8: "Boz": The pen-name of Charles Dickens. By the Christmas of 1837, when the story is set, Sketches by Boz and The Pickwick Papers had both been serialised in periodical form.
p.251, l.12: "a hairy man": Genesis xxvii, verse 11: "Esau my brother is a hairy man".
p.253, l.10: "a bagman": A travelling salesman.
p.253, l.13-14: "Punch and Judy Show": This puppet show probably originated in Italy, but appeared in England in the late seventeenth century. Punch kills his baby and then his wife Judy; he escapes imprisonment and murders a long list of characters (including the Devil) who encounter him and/or try to bring him to justice. Another Jamesian tale featuring a travelling Punch and Judy Show is Frederick Cowles' "Punch and Judy" (Star Book of Horror No.1, 1975), which is one of Cowles' best and most original stories.
p.253, l.16-17: "Toby dogs...are the last new thing in the shows": A live dog was a common feature of the show by the late eighteenth century, though it was not always called Toby until the nineteenth century. However, MRJ would seem to be wrong in thinking that it was a "new thing" in 1837.
p.253, l.36-37: "the pan-pipes and the Roo-too-too-it": Customary adjuncts to the show - "the shrill 'root-too-too-too' of Mr Punch and the unceasing pan-pipe of his satellite" (Tom Brown's Schooldays by Thomas Hughes, 1857, ch.2; quoted in The Punch and Judy Show by Robert Leach, 1985, p.48).
p.254, l.5: "the Vampyre in Fuseli's foul sketch": Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) painted several sinister and supernatural scenes, his most famous being "The Nightmare" (1791). Presumably this is the one the narrator had in mind, though the figure in it is actually more of an incubus than a vampire.
p.254, l.6: "the unfortunate alien who can only say Shallabalah": MRJ gets this description of Shallabalah, a distinguished black man, directly from Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop (1841), where he is referred to as a "foreign gentleman who is unable to express his ideas otherwise than by the utterance of the word 'shallabalah' three distinct times (quoted in The Punch and Judy Show, p.67).
p.255, l.24-25: "Kidman and Gallop": Kidman may be a version of Codman, a name associated with the traditional Punch and Judy Show in Wales and north-west England. Alternatively it may be linked with Codlin, a Punch and Judy man in The Old Curiosity Shop.
p.257, l.2: "vail": tip or gratuity.
p.257, l.18: "the last number of Pickwick": See above - p.251, l.8.
p.257, l.35: "Turncock": An official responsible for turning off and on the water for the mains. Possibly MRJ meant "turnkey" (or his appalling handwriting was wrongly transcribed) for a turnkey or gaoler is a traditional character in the show, while a turncock is not.
p.257, l.36: "Beadle": A parish officer with limited powers to punish petty offenders.
p.258, l.6: "Mr Ketch": Jack Ketch, a notorious hangman who died in 1686, and whose name became a synonym for the job. By 1702 he had become a Punch and Judy character. In most versions, Punch outwits him and he, instead of Punch, ends up being hanged.
Copyright (c) 1992 Rosemary Pardoe.
back to top
back to previous Story
Notes ("The Residence at Whitminster")
on to next Story Notes ("Two Doctors")
back to Ghosts & Scholars Archive
back to Ghosts & Scholars Home Page
Bar by Syruss