Voices from the 19th Century: ‘until she was the shape of a Bass Viol’



A friend of mine recently discovered, by complete accident in a local coffee shop, George Ade‘s Fables in slang. She was particularly taken with “The Fable of the Good Fairy with the Lorgnette, and Why She Got It Good,” a satirical tale about a “Broad Girl” of means and her questionable acts of charity.

As entertaining as the fable is, it wasn’t until I read the following line that it got my attention.

“Accordingly, she would Lace Herself until she was the shape of a Bass Viol, and put on her Tailor-Made, and the Hat that made her Face seem longer, and then she would Gallop forth to do Things to the Poor.”

Bass Viol stuck out like a sixth finger.

I immediately wondered how Ade knew of the bass viola da gamba in 1899, the year Fables was published. Surely, it was way too early for the Early Music revival to have seeped its way across America. Perhaps, Ade had heard of Arnold Dolmetsch and his interests in early instrument making.

None of my immediate ideas were correct.

As it turns out, Bass Viol did not mean bass viola da gamba. At the end of the 19th Century, it was an alternate name for the double bass (and still is).

Read the entire fable (PDF):

The Fable of the Good Fairy with the Lorgnette…

Listen to a reading of the fable (courtesy of Mister Ron’s Basement II).

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