Elegantly-phrased Abuse: 1851

Joe Chamberlain; Arthur James Balfour, 1st Earl of Balfour, listening to a debate in the House of Commons 1895 Sydney Prior Hall (1842–1922) National Portrait Gallery

Joe Chamberlain; Arthur James Balfour, 1st Earl of Balfour, listening to a debate in the House of Commons 1895
Sydney Prior Hall (1842–1922)
National Portrait Gallery



Sir,—I have a fancy for attending public meetings in which personal matters are discussed with acrimony; and vituperation and recrimination give zest to the proceedings. But it seems to me, that in the true science of abuse, the English are very strangely deficient. It is one of the few matters (except bricklaying) in which the Irish excel us. Instead therefore of such coarse expressions as “fool,” “liar,” and “coward,” the banishment of which from the vocabulary of an orator entails so much tame circumlocution, and tends to greatly to abate the virulence of an attack, I beg to offer, for the use of future disputants, the following “model observations,” which I trust will be found to answer every purpose:—

Mild Contradiction.

“I will not accuse the gentleman who has last spoken of being a willful propagator of untruths, because his general reputation renders such a charge utterly superfluous. But as his circumstantial statement has only excited curiosity by showing what did not happen, allow me to lay the facts before you.”

Indulgence In Personalities.

“By a singular perversion of terms, Mr. Chairman, I am accused of having ‘indulged in personalities’ against the individual opposite. Sir, when that individual becomes the necessary topic of discourse, no allusion to him can be properly called an ‘indulgence.’ Such allusions must be as painful to the speakers as dishonourable to their object. The only real ‘indulgence’ desirable in such a case, would be a total forgetfulness of his existence.”

A Peaceable Disposition.

“Sir,—Not even the constitutional timidity of the preceding speaker need lead him to apprehend personal danger from the violence of my temper. The consideration that were I to follow my natural impulse, I should disfigure his features beyond recognition, is quite sufficient to withhold my arm. For, sir, I should thus simply confer upon him an inestimable benefit, by elevating him from an object of contempt into a subject for mistaken compassion.”

Possibility for Improvement.

“But, as some philosophers teach, that even the lower animals run their course of progress, and advance systematically towards perfection in the scale of creation, we may yet entertain a hope for the moral, physical, and intellectual improvement of my opponent, by his removal into a more elevated grade of existence. Who knows but that, in a few centuries, he may reappear upon earth, refined into a baboon.”

Hoping that my system will meet with the approval it deserves, I remain,



The Month, A View of Passing Subjects and Manners, Albert Smith & John Leech, 1851

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mr Carboy’s system is well-timed. With the United States Presidential campaign season underway and the prospect of many acrimonious remarks in Britain on the subject of “Brexit” (which sounds to Mrs Daffodil like the name of a particularly revolting breakfast-food) one cannot have too many examples of elegantly-phrased abuse.

One of Mrs Daffodil’s favourite quotations, from Mr Disraeli about Mr Peel: “”The Right Honourable Gentleman’s smile was like the silver plate on a coffin.”

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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