Monday, 12 June 2006

The Rules for Long S

In my previous post about the grand old trade of basket-making I included several extracts from some 18th century books, in which I preserved the long s (ſ) as used in the original printed texts. This got me thinking about when to use long s and when not. Like most readers of this blog I realised that long s was used initially and medially, whereas short s was used finally (mirroring Greek practice with regards to final lowercase sigma ς and non-final lowercase sigma σ), although there were, I thought, some exceptions. But what exactly were the rules ?


"The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green" in Robert Dodsley's Triffles (London, 1745)

(In roman typeface f and ſ are very similar but are easily distinguished by the horizontal bar, which goes all the way through the vertical stem of the letter 'f' but only extends to the left of the vertical stem of the long s; and in italic typeface long s is even more clearly distinguished from the letter 'f' as it has no horizontal bar at all)


Turning first to my 1785 copy of Thomas Dyche's bestselling A Guide to the English Tongue (first published in 1709, or 1707 according to some, and reprinted innumerable times over the century) for some help from a contemporary grammarian, I was confounded by his advise that :


The long ſ muſt never be uſed at the End of a Word, nor immediately after the short s.


Well, I already knew that long s was never used at the end of a word, but why warn against using long s after short s when short s should only occur at the end of a word ?

The 1756 edition of Nathan Bailey's An Universal Etymological English Dictionary also gives some advise on the use of long s (although this advise does not seem to occur in the 1737 or 1753 editions) :


A long ſ muſt never be placed at the end of a word, as maintainſ, nor a ſhort s in the middle of a word, as conspires.


Similarly vague advise is given in James Barclay's A Complete and Universal English Dictionary (London, 1792) :


All the ſmall Conſonants retain their form, the long ſ and the ſhort s only excepted. The former is for the moſt part made uſe of at the beginning, and in the middle of words ; and the laſt only at their terminations.


I felt sure that John Smith's compendious Printer's Grammar (London, 1787) would enumerate the rules for the letter 's', but I was disappointed to find that although it gives the rules for R Rotunda, the rules for long s are not given, save for one obscure rule (see Short ST Ligature after G below) which does not seem to be much used in practice.

So, all in all, none of these contemporary sources are much help in the finer details of how to use long s. The internet turns up a couple of useful documents : Instructions for the proper setting of Blackletter Typefaces discusses the rules for German Fraktur typesetting ; whilst 18th Century Ligatures and Fonts by David Manthey specifically discusses 18th century English typographic practice. According to Manthey long s is not used at the end of the word or before an apostrophe, before or after the letter 'f', or before the letters 'b' and 'k' , although he notes that some books do use a long s before the ketter 'k'. This is clearly not the entire story, because long s does commonly occur before both 'b' and 'k' in 18th century books on my bookshelves, including, for example, Thomas Dyche's Guide to the English Tongue.

To get the bottom of this I have enlisted the help of Google Book Search (see note at bottom of the post) to empirically check what the usage rules for long s and short s were in printed books from the 16th through 18th centuries. It transpires that the rules are quite complicated, with various exceptions, and vary subtly from country to country as well as over time. I have summarised below my current understanding of the rules as used in roman and italic typography in various different countries, and as I do more research I will expand the rules to cover other countries. At present I do not cover the rules for the use of long s in blackletter or fraktur typography, but may do so in the future. It should also be noted that the rules for the use of long s in typography do not necessarily correspond to the usage of long s in handwriting, and in 18th century handwritten letters and documents long s is generally much more restricted in usage than in printed books from the same place and time. I am planning to write a separate post on long s in handwritten English in February 2013.



Rules for Long S in English

The following rules for the use of long s and short s are applicable to books in English, Welsh and other languages published in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and other English-speaking countries during the 17th and 18th centuries.


  • short s is used at the end of a word (e.g. his, complains, ſucceſs)
  • short s is used before an apostrophe (e.g. clos'd, us'd)
  • short s is used before the letter 'f' (e.g. ſatisfaction, misfortune, transfuſe, transfix, transfer, ſucceſsful)
  • short s is used after the letter 'f' (e.g. offset), although not if the word is hyphenated (e.g. off-ſet) [see Short S before and after F for details]
  • short s is used before the letter 'b' in books published during the 17th century and the first half of the 18th century (e.g. husband, Shaftsbury), but long s is used in books published during the second half of the 18th century (e.g. huſband, Shaftſbury) [see Short S before B and K for details]
  • short s is used before the letter 'k' in books published during the 17th century and the first half of the 18th century (e.g. skin, ask, risk, masked), but long s is used in books published during the second half of the 18th century (e.g. ſkin, aſk, riſk, maſked) [see Short S before B and K for details]
  • Compound words with the first element ending in double s and the second element beginning with s are normally and correctly written with a dividing hyphen (e.g. Croſs-ſtitch, Croſs-ſtaff), but very occasionally may be written as a single word, in which case the middle letter 's' is written short (e.g. Croſsſtitch, croſsſtaff).
  • long s is used initially and medially except for the exceptions noted above (e.g. ſong, uſe, preſs, ſubſtitute)
  • long s is used before a hyphen at a line break (e.g. neceſ-ſary, pleaſ-ed), even when it would normally be a short s (e.g. Shaftſ-bury and huſ-band in a book where Shaftsbury and husband are normal), although exceptions do occur (e.g. Mans-field)
  • double s is normally written as double long s medially and as long s followed by short s finally (e.g. poſſeſs, poſſeſſion), although in some late 18th and early 19th century books a different rule is applied, reflecting contemporary usage in handwriting, in which long s is used exclusively before short s medially and finally [see Rules for Long S in some late 18th and early 19th century books for details]
  • short s is used before a hyphen in compound words with the first element ending in the letter 's' (e.g. croſs-piece, croſs-examination, Preſs-work, bird's-neſt)
  • long s is maintained in abbreviations such as ſ. for ſubſtantive, and Geneſ. for Geneſis (this rule means that it is practically impossible to implement fully correct automatic contextual substitution of long s at the font level)

Usage in 16th and early 17th century books may be somewhat different (see Rules for Long S in Early Printed Books for details), and books in English published in continental Europe may not apply the same rules [for example, Henry St. John Bolingbroke's Letters on the Study and Use of History (Basil: J. J. Tourneisen, 1788) and Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Basil: J. J. Tourneisen, 1789) apply French typographic rules, with short s before the letters 'h', 'b' and 'k']. Most importantly, the above rules do not necessarily apply to handwriting, as long s was generally restricted to being used before short s medially and finally (e.g. poſseſs) in most 18th century English handwritten letters and documents.



Rules for Long S in French

The rules for the use of long s in books published in France and other French-speaking countries during the 17th and 18th centuries are much the same as those used in English typography, but with some significant differences, notably that short s was used before the letter 'h'.


  • short s is used at the end of a word (e.g. ils, hommes)
  • short s is used before an apostrophe (e.g. s'il and s'eſt)
  • short s is used before the letter 'f' (e.g. ſatisfaction, toutesfois)
  • short s is used before the letter 'b' (e.g. presbyter)
  • short s is used before the letter 'h' (e.g. déshabiller, déshonnête)
  • long s is used initially and medially except for the exceptions noted above (e.g. ſans, eſt, ſubſtituer)
  • long s is normally used before a hyphen at a line break (e.g. leſ-quels, paſ-ſer, déſ-honneur), although I have seen some books where short s is used (e.g. les-quels, pas-ſer, dés-honneur)
  • short s is normally used before a hyphen in compound words (e.g. tres-bien), although I have seen long s used in 16th century French books (e.g. treſ-bien)
  • long s is maintained in abbreviations such as Geneſ. for Geneſis


Rules for Long S in Italian

The rules for the use of long s in books published in Italy seem to be basically the same as those used in French typography :


  • short s is used at the end of a word
  • short s is used before an apostrophe (e.g. s'informaſſero, fuſs'egli)
  • short s is used before an accented vowel (e.g. paſsò, ricusò, , , così), but not an unaccented letter (e.g. paſſo, ſi)
  • short s is used before the letter 'f' (e.g. ſoddisfare, ſoddisfazione, trasfigurazione, sfogo, sfarzo)
  • short s is used before the letter 'b' (e.g. sbaglio, sbagliato)
  • long s is used initially and medially except for the exceptions noted above
  • long s is used before a hyphen in both hyphenated words and at a line break (e.g. reſtaſ-ſero)

The most interesting peculiarity of Italian practice is the use of short s before an accented vowel, which is a typographic feature that I have not noticed in French books.

In some Italian books I have occaionally seen double s before the letter 'i' writen as long s followed by short s (e.g. utiliſsima, but on the same page as compreſſioni, proſſima, etc.). And in some 16th century Italian books double s before the letter 'i' may be written as a short s followed by a long s. See Rules for Long S in Early Printed Books below for details.



Rules for Long S in Spanish

It has been a little more difficult to ascertain the rules for long s in books published in Spain as Google Book Search does not return many 18th century Spanish books (and even fewer Portuguese books), but I have tried to determine the basic rules from the following three books :



From these three books it appears that the rules for Spanish books are similar to those for French books, but with the important difference that (in both roman and italic type) the sequence ſs (not a ligature) is used before the letter 'i', whereas the sequence ſſ is used before all other letters (e.g. illuſtriſsimos but confeſſores) :


Estragos de la Luxuria (Barcelona, 1736)


In summary, the rules for Spanish books are :


  • short s is used at the end of a word
  • short s may be used before an accented vowel (e.g. , , , , Apoſtasìa, Apoſtasía, abrasò, paſsò), but not an unaccented letter (e.g. ſi, ſe, paſſo)
  • short s is used before the letter 'f' (e.g.transformandoſe, transfigura, ſatisfaccion)
  • short s is used before the letter 'b' (e.g. presbytero)
  • short s is used before the letter 'h' (e.g. deshoneſtos, deshoneſtidad)
  • short s is used after a long s and before the letter 'i' (e.g. illuſtriſsimo, paſsion, confeſsion, poſsible), but double long s is used before any letter other than the letter 'i' (e.g. exceſſo, comiſſario, neceſſaria, paſſa)
  • long s is used initially and medially except for the exceptions noted above
  • long s is used before a hyphen in both hyphenated words and at a line break, even when it would normally be a short s (e.g. tranſ-formados, copioſiſ-ſimo)

As with Italian books, Spanish books usually use a short s before an accented vowel, although from the three books that I have examined closely it is not quite clear what the exact rule is. For example, Memorias de las reynas catholicas (Madrid, 1770) consistantly uses short s before an accented letter 'i' (e.g. ), but consistantly uses a long s before an accented letter 'o' (e.g. paſſó, caſó, preciſó, Caſóle); whereas Estragos de la Luxuria (Barcelona, 1736) uses short s both before an accented letter 'i' (e.g. ) and an accented letter 'o' (e.g. abrasò, paſsò).



Rules for Long S in Other Languages

Other languages may use different rules to those used in English and French typography. For example, my only early Dutch book, Simon Stevin's Het Burgerlyk Leven [Vita Politica] (Amsterdam, 1684) follows the German practice of using short s medially at the end of the elements of a compound word (e.g. misverſtants, Rechtsgeleerden, wisconſtige, Straatsburg, Godsdienſten, misgaan, boosheyt, dusdonig and misbruyk).



Rules for Long S in Early Printed Books

In 16th century and early 17th century books printed in roman or italic typefaces (as opposed to blackletter) the rules for the use of long s may be slightly different to those enumerated above. For example, in italic text it was common to use a ligature of long s and short s (ß) for double-s, whereas a double long s ligature was normally used in roman text. This can be seen in the following extract from an English pamphlet published in 1586, which has the words witneße, aßuring, thankfulneße, goodneße and bleßings :


The True Copie of a Letter from the Qveenes Maiestie (London, 1586)


But in that part of the same pamphlet that is set in roman typeface the words bleſſings and goodneſſe are written with a double long s ligature :



And this French book published in 1615 has Confeßions in italic type, but confeſſion in roman type :


Advis de ce qu'il y a à reformer en la Compagnie des Jesuites (1615) page 13


This ligature is still occasionally met with in a word-final position in italic text late into the 17th century, for example in this page from Hooke's Micrographia, which has this example of the word Addreß, although unligatured long s and short s are used elsewhere at the end of a word (e.g. ſmalneſs) as well as occasionally in the middle of a word (e.g. aſsiſted, alongside aſſiſtances) in italic text.


Micrographia (London, 1665) page 13


Another peculiarity that is seen in some 16th century Italian books is the use of short s before long s medially before the letter 'i', but double long s before any other letter :


I Discorsi di M. Pietro And. Matthioli (Venice, 1563)

amplisſima, utilisſima, longhisſimi, diligentisſimi, etc., but note potentiſſi-mi at the end of the second to last line; cf. neceſſaria, Praſſagora, trapaſſo


This typographic feature can also be seen in some later books, though I am not yet sure how widespread it was :


Title Page to Metoposcopia (Leipzig, 1661)

completisſima, deſideratisſima, artificioſisſmè, jucundisſima, utilisſima



Short S before and after F

In 17th and 18th century English and French typography the main exceptions to the rule that short s is not used at the start of a word or in the middle of a word is that short s is used next to a letter f instead of the expected long s (so misfortune and offset, but never miſfortune or offſet). The reason for this must be related to the fact that the two letters ſ and f are extremely similar, although as the combination of the two letters does not cause any more confusion to the reader than any other combination of long s and another letter (the combinations fl and ſl are far more confusable) it does not really explain why long s should be avoided before or after a letter 'f', other than perhaps for aesthetic reasons. In all probability the rule is inherited from blackletter usage, as is evidenced by this 1604 pamphlet about a mermaid that was sighted in Wales, which has ſatisfaction :



Whatever the reasons, this is an absolute rule, and Google Book Search only finds a handful of exceptions from the 17th and 18th century, which are most probably typographical errors (or in the case of the Swedish-English dictionary due to unfamiliarity with English typographical rules) :



Similarly, Google Book Search finds 628 French books published between 1700 and 1799 with ſatisfaction but only two books with ſatiſfaction.



Short S before B and K

As a general rule English books published in the 17th century and the first half of the 18th century have a short s before the letters 'b' and 'k' (so husband and ask), whereas books published during the second half of the 18th century have a long s (so huſband and aſk).


Tryals for High-Treason Part V (London, 1720) p.287

Short s before b and k: Husband, ask'd


The Instructive and Entertaining Fables of Pilpay (London, 1775) p.215

Long s before b and k: Huſband, aſk


This is not a hard and fast rule, as it is possible to find examples of books from the 17th and early 18th century that show huſband and aſk, but they are few and far between. For example, whereas Google Book Search finds 138 books published between 1600 and 1720 with husband, Google Book Search only finds nine genuine books from this period that have huſband (excluding false positives and hyphenated huſ-band), and in almost all cases huſband is not used exclusively :



Likewise, it is possible to find books from the late 18th century that use long s but show husband and ask, but these are relatively few in number. For example, whereas Google Book Search finds 444 books published between 1760 and 1780 that have huſband, it only finds 60 that have husband (excluding false positives on HUSBAND).

The results of Google Book Search searches on the two spellings of husband and ask (as well as presbyter(e) in French books) from 1640 to 1799 are tabulated below in ten-year segments (matches for HUSBAND and ASK have been discounted, but otherwise figures have not been adjusted for false positives such as huſ-band).


Date husband huſband ask aſk presbyter(e) preſbyter(e)
1640–1649604010
1650–165912312110
1660–16694110210
1670–16795110101
1680–168912022030
1690–1699405020
1700–170939154030
1710–171942874782
1720–1729498781171
1730–173953258736131
1740–174944465066110
1750–17593716843201122
1760–17693628630307112
1770–17792232021342265
1780–17892733721368371
1790–17996540471464211

The change in the usage of short s to long s before 'b' and 'k' appears even more dramatic if these figures are plotted on a graph :



But for French books, no change in rule occured in the middle of the century, and short s continued to be used in front of the letter 'b' throughout the 18th century, as can be seen from the distribution of the words presbyter(e) and preſbyter(e) :



So why then did the change in rule for 's' before 'b'and 'k' happen in England during the 1740s and 1750s ? According to John Smith's Printer's Grammar (London, 1787) page 45 the Dutch type that was most comonly used in England before the advent of the home-grown typefaces of William Calson did not have "ſb" or "ſk" ligatures, and that it was Caslon who first cast "ſb" and "ſk" ligatures. So with the growth in popularity of Caslon's typefaces ligatured "ſb" and "ſk" took the place of "sb" and "sk"—but further research is required to confirm to this hypothesis.

As to why this rule (as well as the French rule of short s before 'h') developed in the first place, I suspect that it goes back to blackletter usage, but that is something for future investigation (all I can say at present is that Caxton's Chaucer (1476, 1483) seems to use long s before the letters 'f', 'b' and 'k'). It is perhaps significant that the letters 'b', 'k' and 'h' all have the same initial vertical stroke, but quite what the significance of this is I am not sure.



Short S before H

L'Enfant Indocile (London & Paris, 1779) p.106

Short s before h: déshabillée


French and English typographic practice differs in one important respect : French (and also Spanish) typography uses a short s before the letter 'h', whereas English typography uses a long s.

For example, Google Book Search finds 86 books with déshabiller or its various grammatical forms (déshabillé, déshabillée, déshabille, déshabilles, déshabillez or déshabillent) during the period 1700–1799, but only a single book that uses long s : déſhabillé occurs three times in Appel a l'impartiale postérité, par la citoyenne Roland (Paris, 1795).

On the other hand, for the period 1640–1799 Google Books finds 54 books with dishonour and 196 books with diſhonour, but closer inspection shows that almost every single example of dishonour in pre-1790 books is in fact diſhonour or DISHONOUR in the actual text. Similar results were obtained when comparing the occurences of worship and worſhip. Thus it seems that short s was not used before the letter 'h' in English typography.



Short ST Ligature after G

According to John Smith's The Printer's Grammar, first published in 1755, there is a particular rule for italic text only that a short st-ligature is used after the letter 'g' in place of a long st-ligature :


In the mean time, and as I have before declared ;
Italic diſcovers a particular delicacy, and ſhews a ma-
thematical judgement in the Letter-cutter, to keep the
Slopings of that tender-faced Letter within ſuch de-
grees as are required for each Body, and as do not de-
triment its individuals. But this precaution is not
always uſed; for we may obſerve that in ſome Italics
the lower-caſe g will not admit another g to ſtand
after it, without putting a Hair-ſpace between them,
to prevent their preſſing againſt each other : neither
will it give way to ſ and the ligature ſt ; and therefore
a round st is caſt to ſome Italic Founts, to be uſed
after the letter g ; but where the round st is wanting
an st in two pieces might be uſed without diſcredit to
the work, rather than to ſuffer the long ſt to cauſe a
gap between the g and the ſaid ligature.

The Printer's Grammar (London, 1787) pages 23-24.


However, I have thusfar been unable to find any examples of this rule in practice. For example, Google Book Search finds several examples of Kingſton in italic type, but no examples of Kingston in books that use a long s :




Rules for Long S in some late 18th and early 19th century books

Prior to the complete abandonment of long s in English typography around the turn of the 19th century, there was a short-lived attempt to reform typographic practice to reflect actual usage in contemporary handwriting. Throughout the 18th century, in handwritten English letters and documents, long s was only regularly used in words spelled with a double s medially or finally, in which cases long s was followed by short s (e.g. poſseſs). This was in contrast with normal typographic rules which used long s for both letters in the middle of a word (e.g. poſſeſs). During the 1790s and early 1800s (circa 1792–1805) some publishers in England and Scotland produced books that adhered to the simplified rules for long s used in handwriting.

The rise of the handwriting rules for long s can be seen in The Bee, or Literary Weekly Intelligencer edited and published in Edinburgh by James Anderson between 1791 and 1793. Volumes 1–6 use the normal late 18th century rules for long s, whereas volumes 7–18 use long s before short s medially and finally, and elsewhere only before b, h and k (usage of long s before b and k is erratic, but long s is always used before h).


The Bee vol.6 (Edinburgh, 1791) p.125

Vols. 1-6 (1791): normal typographic long s rules


The Bee vol.7 (Edinburgh, 1792) p.77

Vols. 7-18 (1792–1793): long s before s, b, h and k: tenderneſs, aſsiduity, distinguiſhed, ſhe, ſhewn, laviſh, huſband, taſk of bloodſhed (p.270)


The Bee is the only publication that I have been able to find that used long s before b, h and k as well as before short s, although some other books written and published by James Anderson used long s before h as well as before short s (e.g. General View of the Agriculture and Rural Economy of the County of Aberdeen (Edinburgh, 1794)). Other books published in England and Scotland during the last decade of the 18th century and the first decade of the 19th century that used the handwriting rule for long s did so exclusively, with long s not normally used in any other position (although in some books long s or long s ligatures did occasionally slip in in unexpected places).

These handwriting-based rules for long s were only used by a relatively small number of publishers for a short period of time, and by the middle of the first decade of the 1800s these rules had been discarded in favour of not using long s at all in most publications, as discussed below. About the latest publication that I have found that only uses long s only before short s (although not throughout the entire book) is an edition of Robinson Crusoe published in London in 1805.


The Life and most Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (London, 1805) p.82

uneasineſs, impoſsible, expreſs, paſsage, poſseſsion, happineſs, poſseſsed, goodneſs, diſsipated



The Demise of the Long S

Long s was used in the vast majority of books published in English during the 17th and 18th centuries, but suddenly and dramatically falls out of fashion at the end of the 18th century, reflecting the widespread adoption of new, modern typefaces based on those developed by Bodini and Didot during the 1790s. In England this movement was spearheaded by the printer William Bulmer, who set the benchmark for the new typographical style with his 1791 edition of The Dramatic Works of Shakspeare, printed using a typeface cut by William Martin. The ſ-free typeface used by Bulmer can be seen in this Advertisement to his 1795 edition of Poems by Goldsmith and Parnell :



Although throughout most of the 1790s the vast majority of English books continued to use long s, during the last two or three years of the century books printed using modern typefaces started to become widespread, and in 1801 short s books overtook long s books. The rise of short s and decline of long s, as measured by the occurences of the word those compared with thoſe in Google Book Search, is charted below.


Date those thoſe
17802140
17810114
17820112
1783098
17843131
1785385
17865132
17874167
17884174
17892131
17907191
17913141
17929192
179338206
179446292
179516251
179644199
179762165
179857152
1799105151
1800108224
1801198181
1802210202
1803240164
1804336118
1805294151
1806328130
1807361136
180841854
180940674
181049266


The death knell for long s was finally sounded on September 10th 1803 when, with no announcement or any of the fuss that accompanied the typographic reform of October 3rd 1932 (see the articles in the issues of Sept. 26th and 27th 1932), The Times newspaper quietly switched to a modern typeface with no long s or old-fashioned ligatures (this was one of several reforms instituted by John Walter the Second, who became joint proprietor and exclusive manager of The Times at the beginning of 1803).


The Times Issues 5810 & 5811 (September 9th and 10th 1803)

(compare the words ſubſcribed/subscribed and Tueſday/Tuesday in the first paragraph)


After the end of the first decade of the 19th century very few books continued to use long s in any shape or form, and those that did were often reprints of earlier editions that had been typeset before long s went out of fashion. Perhaps the last major publication to be printed using long s was the 5th edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica (Edinburgh, 1817), its anachronous use of normal long s rules being due to the fact that it was a reprint with a some corrections of the 4th edition that had been published in 1810 (the 6th edition, published in 1823, was the first to be typeset in a modern font with no long s).

By the second half of the 19th century long s had entirely died out, except for the occasional deliberate antiquarian usage (for example, my 1894 edition of Coridon's Song and Other Verses uses long s exclusively before short s in words such as poſseſs).

As might be expected, the demise of long s in France seems to have occured a little earlier than in England. Based on the following Google Book Search data for il est and il eſt, it seems that short s started to gain popularity from the mid 1780s, and long s had been almost completely displaced by 1793 (many of the post-1792 examples of long s are from books published outside France).


Date il est il eſt
17801126
17813170
17824161
17831139
17848230
17853185
178620180
178742182
178859194
178924155
179058124
17915583
179280130
17931614
1794814
1795188
17965116
17978815
17989712
1799487
1800866
180113417
18021544
180318311
18041318
18051436
18061739
18071238
18081662
18091623
18102234



Note on Methodology

The statistics given here are based on the results returned from searches of Google Book Search (filtering on the appropriate language and "Full view only"), which allows me to distinguish between words with long s and words with short s only because the OCR software used by Google Book Search normally recognises long s as the letter 'f', and so, for example, I can find instances of huſband by searching for 'hufband'. However, for a number of reasons the results obtained are not 100% accurate.

Firstly, the search engine does not allow case-sensitive searches, so whereas searching for 'hufband' only matches instances of huſband, searching for 'husband' matches instances of both husband and HUSBAND, which skews the results in favour of short s.

Secondly, hyphenated words at a line break may match with the corresponding unhyphenated word, so searching for 'hufband' may match instances of 'huſ-band', which is not relevant as long s is expected before a hyphen (Google Book Search shows 583 matches for 'huf-band', but only 3 for 'hus-band' for the period 1700–1799).

Thirdly, long s is sometimes recognised by the OCR software as a short s, especially when typeset in italics.

Fourthly, the publication date given by Google Book Search for some books is wrong (for various reasons which I need not go into here), which I often found was the explanation for an isolated unexpected result.

Fifthly, when Google Book Search returns more than a page's worth of results, the number of results may go down significantly by the time you get to the last page.

Finally, and to me this is most perplexing, Google Book Search searches in March 2008 gave me over twice as many matches than in May 2008 using the same search criteria, so, for example, I got 438 matches for 'husband' and 956 matches for 'hufband' for the period 1790–1799 in March, but only 187 and 441 matches respectively for the same search when redone in May (nevertheless, the figures for March and May showed exactly the same trends for husband versus huſband). For consistency, the figures shown for 'husband/hufband' and 'ask/afk' are those that I obtained in May 2008 (I may try redoing this experiment in a year's time—providing Google Book Search does not improve its OCR software to recognise long s in pre-19th century books—and see if the trends for husband versus huſband and ask versus aſk are roughly the same or not).



And Finally...

If you have managed to get this far, you may well be interested in my brief, illustrated history of the long s (The Long and the Short of the Letter S), which to most people's surprise starts in Roman times.

And if the rules of long s are not enough for you, try out my Rules for R Rotunda (a post that I think needs some revision when I have the time).



Addendum [2010-12-17]

Google have now released the Books Ngram Viewer which allows you to plot the relative frequency of up to five words (or n-grams) over a given period of time. The following are the results for some of the words discussed above, which tend to confirm my original findings.


N-gram plot for "ask" vs. "afk" ("aſk") in English, 1700–1900

This shows that long s was not widely used before the letter k in English before about 1740


N-gram plot for "husband" vs. "hufband" ("huſband") in English, 1700–1900

This shows that long s was not widely used before the letter b in English before about 1740


N-gram plot for "also" vs. "alfo" ("alſo") in English, 1700–1900

This shows that long s went out of use in English about 1800


N-gram plot for "those" vs. "thofe" ("thoſe") in English, 1700–1900

This shows that long s went out of use in English about 1800


N-gram plot for "est" vs. "eſt" ("eſt") in French, 1700–1900

This shows that long s suddenly started to go out of use in French in 1780


N-gram plot for "se" vs. "fe" ("ſe") in Spanish, 1700–1900

This seems to show that long s went out of use in Spanish about 1760


[As of 2013, Google Ngram Viewer no longer supports searches for words with long s using 'f', as long s is normalized to short s by Google's OCR software in most cases. Searching using an actual long s also fails as the long s is converted to short s before the search operation is processed (you get a message such as "Replaced huſband with husband to match how we processed the books"). However, you can still use the 'f' hack for long s in ordinary Google Books search.]



First published: 2006-06-12
Revised and extended: 2008-05-26
Rules for French added: 2008-06-05
Rules for Spanish added: 2008-06-09
Rules for Italian added: 2008-06-12
Google Ngrams added: 2010-12-17
Last revised: 2013-01-30


A version of this post, edited by Werner Lemberg, was published in TUGboat (The Communications of the TeX Users Group) as Andrew West, The rules for long s, TUGboat Volume 32, Number 1, 2011 (TUGboat #100) pages 47–55.


Sunday, 4 June 2006

The Grand Old Trade of Basket-Making

One of my favourite books is an anonymous eighteenth century collection of stories entitled The Modern Story Teller ("being a collection of merry, polite, grave, moral, entertaining and improving TALES, related with that modesty so as not to offend the most delicate ear, and at the same time calculated to inspire mirth among all degrees of people, of whatsoever age, sex, or opinion").

According to the Daily Advertiser it was first published in 1750 by the London booksellers M. Mechell and R. Griffiths, although the earliest edition that I have seen is the one published in Dublin by J. Esdall in 1752 or 1753 (vol.1 says 1753 but vol.2 says 1752). There are a number of later editions, with somewhat differing contents, the most commonly seen one being that published in London by J. Williams in 1772. My own copy is a bedraggled, one volume, 12mo, abridgement published in Glasgow by Robert Duncan in 1784, that was once owned by the delightfully-named Letty Bockus.

I've copied out one of my favourite stories below (complete with long s for authenticity), which relates the tale of a young pickpocket named Jack Artful, who I suspect must have been an inspiration for Jack 'The Artful Dodger' Dawkins in Dickens' Oliver Twist.


Once a rogue always a rogue.

JACK ARTFUL, a boy of about fourteen years
of age, who was educated and brought up among
a gang of moſt notorious pick-pockets that uſed to
travel the circuits with the Judges, was detected one
day in picking a gentleman's pocket of his watch ; &
was accordingly apprehended, tried and convicted ;
but in regard to his tender years he was only ſentenced
to be whipt at the cart's tail.——One of the gang,
that this rogue of a companion might be favoured
as much as poſſible, whips into the beadle's hand that
was to whip him, a five ſhilling piece, desiring him,
as he was but a boy, to be as sparing of his laſh as
he poſſibly could. The beadle put up the five ſhilling
piece, and proceeded in his duty according to his own
diſcretion ; but he being too harſh in it, as the boy
thought, every time he laſhed him a little harder than
ordinary, he turned his head over his ſhoulder, and
cried out to the beadle in a low tone of voice——O
Lord ! Pray, Sir, remember the crown piece !——
But this was ſo far from turning to his advantage, that
after the boy had repeated it three or four times, the
beadle began to be highly diſguſted at it ; so that by
the by, when he cried out again, remember the
crown piece, he immediately repeated his ſtroke with
greater ſeverity than he had done before, crying out
at the ſame time to the boy,—Damn you, you dog,
do you prate ? After the execution was over, the boy
took very good notice of him, and vowed to revenge
this abuſe, if it was twenty years hence firſt. Accor-
dingly, being acquitted, he left the town, but cou'd
not forſake the old trade of baſket making : So that
about ſeven or eight years after, coming his old cir-
cuit with the judges, he ſaw his old friend the beadle
ſtanding in the court, at the ſame aſſizes (as heretofore
he was wont, and as his offices required) and began
to ſtudy for revenge. Says he to himſelf, it is now a
great while ſince I was known and chaſtiſed in this
town, and being then but a boy, no body can know
me for the ſame perſon. This being thus ſettled with-
in himſelf, he began to look out for an opportunity
to put his deſign into execution. By, and by, agree-
able to his deſire, he ſaw a gentleman very well dreſ-
ſed go into the court, quite cloſe to the beadle ; and
after he had ſtood there a little while, the yonker came
likewiſe up to 'em and very genteely borrows the gen-
tleman's gold watch of him, according to his former
way of dealing, and ſlips it into the beadle's coat-poc-
ket. About five minutes after this, he ſteps up to the
gentleman, and whiſpering in his ear, aſked him if he
had not loſt his gold watch : The gentleman in a ſur-
prize at this demand, puts his hand in his pocket, and
finding it gone, replies, yes ſir, by heaven ! I have.
——Sir, ſays the pickpocket, that man has it in his
pocket ; I ſaw him take it out of yours, and will take
my oath on it.

Here the gentleman, and with good reaſon, secur-
ed the beadle, and charged him with the theft : who
being ſearched, the watch was actually found upon
him, according to the evidence ; and being the mayors
ſervant, his maſter was ſo provoked to ſee the fact ap-
pear ſo plainly againſt him, that he inſiſted he ſhould
take his trial that very aſſize, which was accordingly
done ; when he was found guilty and ſentenced to be
hanged. A day or two after this done, the young
chap diſguiſes himſelf, and goes to the ſherriff, to
know whether he was provided with an executioner
or not ; to which the ſheriff anſwered, there were ſe-
veral priſoners had offered to do it for their fees.—
Well, ſir, ſays the impoſtor, if you think proper to
employ me, I will do it for leſs than any priſoner in
your priſon will do it, for I will perform the office for
half a guinea ; becauſe I am a ſtranger in great want,
and would willingly do any thing in an honeſt way to
get my bread.——Well, friend, ſaid the ſherriff,
if you will take care and not diſappoint me, I will give
you the money. To be brief, the bargain being ſtruck,
and the day of execution being come, our new Jack
Ketch
was very punctual, and attended the beadle to
the gallows. When, after the ſervice appointed was
ended, and the poor man had made aloud and repeat-
ed confeſſion of his innocence, they aſcended the lad-
der together ; and when the beadle had freely forgave
the whole world, had pulled his cap over his eyes,
and waited for the laſt ſervice of this world, which
was to ſwing him into another, the hangman whiſper-
ed in his ear ;——Do not you remember about ſeven
years ago that you whipt a poor lad at the cart's tail,
and at the ſame time received a crown piece from one
of his friends to be favourable to him ? I am that poor
boy that you then whipt ; and you whipt me the hard-
er for it, and eſpecially when I put you in mind of the
money ; you cried out to me, damn you, you dog !
do you prate ? Now, ſir, I think I am even with you,
for it was I that picked the gentleman's pocket of the
watch, and put it into yours.——At this declaration
the poor beadle, with the utmoſt ſurprize and agitati-
on, endeavoured to lift up his cap again which the o-
ther prevented by holding it faſt down ; and when he
began to roar out, with an intent to acquaint the ſher-
rif and the reſt of the ſpectators with all that he had
told him ; the executioner interrupted him in his for-
mer words, thus, Damn you, you dog ! What, do
you prate ? And ſo turned him off.


The Modern Story Teller (Glasgow : Robert Duncan, 1784) pages 68-71.


The one expression that I was not familiar with is the old trade of basket making, which our poor young hero was forced to return to. Obviously his trade was not basket-making but pickpocketing, so this does not make immediate sense. The OED is silent on the trade of basket-making, but with the help of Google Books and the Internet Archive (but with no help from the thoroughly evil Early English Books Online that I have no access to) I have been able to trace the meaning of this expression during the 18th and 19th centuries.

The first place I looked for an insight into this expression was Francis Grose's A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, which was first published in 1785 :


BASKET MAKING, the good old trade of basket-making, copulation, or making feet for children's stockings.

Francis Grose (1731–1791), A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (London, 1785) page 8.


Grose's definition of "the good old trade of basket-making" as "copulation" certainly does not make any sense when applied to the pickpocket's tale, and so I was originally somewhat doubtful that Grose knew what he was talking about. However, With the help of Google Books I have been able to find quite a few 18th century sources that confirm the truth of Grose's definition.

My first witness is a poem by the celebrated Edward "Ned" Ward (1667–1731) that was published in 1717 as British Wonders ("Or, A Poetical Description of the Several Prodigies and Most Remarkable Accidents That have happen'd in Britain since the Death of Queen Anne"). This poem includes a wonderful description of the Great Mad Cow Disease Panic of that time, which so closely resembles our more recent British history. The poem describes how milkmaids, deprived of their livelihood, were forced to take up the trade of basket-making to survive. It is clear that whatever "basket-making" involved, it did not involve making baskets, but is used here as a euphemism for prostitution. I have been accused by some of filling my posts with overly long quotations, so I will restrict myself to a brief extract from the pertinent lines of the poem (they're really worth reading properly, if nothing else but for the eulogies to custard and pudding) :


As soon as Britain had sustain'd
That fatal Loss which Heav'n has gain'd,
And Parties squabbl'd to a Madness,
About their Sorrows and their Gladness,
A Plague unprophesy'd succeeded,
That only reach'd the Horniheaded,
And like a fatal Rot or Murrain,
Turn'd all our Bulls and Cows to Carrion;
That even Cuckolds pray'd, to pity,
This Horn-plague might not reach the City,
And from the Kine, who daily ran
Hornmad, extend itself to Man.
The Leacher, tho' he's cold, we find
Is always Goatishly inclin'd:
And the young buxom Female Creature,
As oft contracts a Pole-cat Nature.
Since brutal Passions thus infect us,
When Guardian Vertue does neglect us,
The Wicked may, if Heaven pleases,
As well be ting'd with Brutes Diseases.
The Farriers now their Skill imploy'd,
But still the Cows in Number dy'd,
And with their Horns and Hides together,
Were burnt, without reserve of Leather,
To shew their Owners were almost
As frantick as the Beasts they lost.
Some cunning Huxters, who had Cows
Old, Dry and Lean, not worth a Souse,
Tho' sound in Health, but scarce deserving
Of Pasture, to prevent their Starving,
These wisely knock'd 'em on the Head
By Night, when Neighbours were in Bed,
Next Day assign'd their Expiration
To this new fatal Visitation:
So bore 'em to some distant Pit,
Or Ditch, for such a Purpose fit;
There, to the Terror of our Isle,
Consum'd 'em in their Fun'ral Pile,
Then, like true Hipocrites, put on
A mournful Look, as if undone,
And claim'd the Sum of Forty Shilling,
For e'ery Cow of Heaven's killing.
A gen'rous Bounty! that destroy'd
More Cattle than the Plague annoy'd;
For not a worthless Runt past Thriving,
Wh' in Lanes and Commons sought her Living,
But dy'd, if not of Pest, by Slaughter,
Because o'th' Money that came a'ter:
For Hay was dear, and Grass but scarce,
Which made Lean Cattle fare the worse,
And caus'd their Owners to dispatch 'em,
For fear the Plague should not attack 'em.
In all the filthy Skirts around
The Town, where nasty Scents abound,
O'er-roasted Beef was now the Stink
Predominant o'er Ditch or Sink;
And Surloins broiling in their Flames,
The Foh of Hogmen and their Dames;
Burnt Horns and Hoofs, and hairy Hides,
Offended e'ery Nose besides,
And out-stunk all the Bulls and Bears,
Old Dunghils, Night-men, Slaughterers,
Jayls, Butchers Dogs and Hogs that dwell
In sweet St. James's Clerkenwel;
Or all the Stinks that rise together,
From Hockley-Hole, in sultry Weather.
Thus English Beef, that glorious Food,
Once held so preferably good,
The most substantial of our Meats,
And noblest of our Friendly Treats;
That Flesh which makes the Briton bolder
Than any Foreign Country Soldier,
And gives him Strength, in time of War,
To cleave a Sultan or a Czar;
Yet was it now despis'd by Porters,
And hungry Red-Coats in their Quarters;
Dreading to catch, from Cow or Ox,
The Plague, who never fear'd the Pox.
So the Fair Mistress of the Town,
When Young and Wholsome, will go down,
But with the Crinkums once infected,
She's by the meanest Rake rejected.
Nor was the Flesh alone refus'd,
But Milky Diets much disus'd:
Pudding, that universal Dish,
The Swain's Delight, the Plowman's Wish,
The Housewife's Pride, the Husband's Choice,
The darling Food of Girls and Boys,
Now dwindl'd to such low esteem,
'Twould scarce go down, tho' made of Cream;
For the Horn'd Cattle running Mad,
Had brought on Milk a Name so bad,
That even Pudding lost its vogue,
And for a Season prov'd a Drug.
Pudding! the Idol of the Priest,
The Farmer's constant Sunday's Feast,
The Ornament of each Man's Table,
Down from the Noble to the Rabble,
The sole Characteristick Food
Of true-born Englishmen abroad:
From whence, to good Old-England's Fame,
Jack-Pudding takes his ancient Name.
As the French Fool is titl'd John-
Pottage, from Soops he feeds upon.
And the Dutch Zany for preferring
His Fish, is nick-nam'd Pickl'd-Herring.
Thus e'ery Fool is call'd, in Jest,
By what his Country loves the best,
That those who crowd to see the Pranks
On Stages play'd by Mountebanks,
May know what Country Fool attends
The Doctor, to engage his Friends,
For his assum'd or given Name,
Discovers whence the Zany came.
Butter, that old Balsamick Sauce,
Was also now made scandalous,
That even 'Prentice-Boys would flout it,
And eat their very Roots without it,
For fear the Cream should prove contagious,
And make 'em, like the Cows, outragious;
For no Distemper, Plague, or Sadness,
Infects the English like to Madness.
Fish now were forc'd to swim, alas,
In Oil, to th' Table of His Grace,
Or naked in the Dish appear,
Till Butter had a time to clear
Its present odious Reputation,
That it might come once more in fashion;
And, like some Lords turn'd out of Post,
Regain the Credit it had lost.
Custard, that noble cooling Food,
So toothsome, wholsome, and so good,
That Dainty so approv'd of old,
Whose yellow surface shines like Gold;
That Idol of our City Halls,
Which crowns our solemn Festivals,
And adds unto my Lord-May'r's Board,
A Grace more pleasing than his Sword.
That crusty Fort, whose Walls of Wheat,
Contain such tender lusheous Meat,
And us'd so often to be storm'd
By hungry Gownmen sharply arm'd,
Was now, alas, despis'd as nought,
And slighted wheresoe'er 'twas brought;
Whilst Lumber-Pies came more in play,
And bore, at Feasts, the Bell away.
So in wet Seasons, when our Mutton
Is e'ery where cry'd down as rotten,
Cow-heel becomes a Dish of State,
And climbs the Tables of the Great.
O wretched Times, when People fear'd
Their Chops with Custard should be smear'd,
Lest the Cow-plague should seize their Skulls,
And make 'em all as mad as Bulls!
So the wise Whigs, to Int'rest hearty,
Abjure the Disaffected Party,
Lest Tory-Breath should taint their Wits,
And make 'em all turn Jacobites.
The Milk-Maids now began to mourn
The Brindle, Red, and Crumpl'd Horn,
And dream'd at Night they saw the Ghost
Of e'ery Fav'rite Cow they'd lost:
Then rising early, having none
To stroke but Udders of their own:
They wept in Clusters near their Houses,
Like Widows parted from their Spouses,
Till Tears and Pissing made a Flood,
In e'ery Corner where they stood.
Thus moaning, now the Cows were dead,
The Loss of them and of their Bread:
Some singing Ballads for support,
New merry Strains with aching Heart,
As Malefactors, when they're dying,
Howl out a Psalm, next kin to crying:
Others, their Modesty forsaking,
Took up the Trade of Basket-making,
And humbly ply'd for small Rewards,
Among His Majesty's Foot-Guards,
To gain, by Poxing and by Whoring,
What they had lost by Plague or Murrain.
Thus Girls of honest Means bereft,
Who've nothing but their Quistrils left,
Must live by Jading or by Theft.


So does anyone know what a quistril is ? The OED does not include this word, and googling for "quistrils" only finds the solitary occurence of this word in this one poem. Ward is renowned for his unparalleled command of tavern slang, and so my guess is that it must be a slang word, but for what I dare not guess.


Ned Ward also makes use of the expression "Old Trade of Basket-making" in at least one other work of his, "The Dancing-School", which was first published 1702 :


In order to Lawfully procure to myſelf this mi-
ſtaken Bleſſing, which every Fool admires till he en-
joys, and enjoys till he deſpiſes, I began to conſider
the eaſieſt and the moſt probable means of obtaining
this Delightful Fangle, or Modiſh Bauble, call'd a
Woman : and ſuch a one as a Man might be Content
to be Plagu'd with all Days of his Life, for the Sake
only of the Old Trade of Baſket-making : At laſt, I
made this Reſult, frorn ſorne Hours Deliberation, that
the common Method Citizens take to make Cuckolds
might be as ready a Road to Matrimony, as any Man
could think on : Upon which I bought me about two
Pound and a half of Wig, two or three Ells of Cra-
vat, had a Gold Hat-Band Stitcht croſs the Crown
of my Hat, and the Frogs of my Belt let down as
low as the RowIs of my Stockins : Thus, at a few
Guineas Expence, I made my-ſelf as pretty a Fool
in Faſhion, as any's to be ſeen at Fops Coffee-Houſe,
or amongſt the Audience at a new Play.


The Second Volume of the Writings Of the Author of the London-Spy (3rd ed., London, 1706) Section XVI "The Dancing-School, with the Adventures of the Easter Holy-Days" page 224.


Although in this particular example, the "Old Trade of Basket-making" is used in the more neutral sense of copulation given by Grose, other 18th century texts attest to the fact that it is generally used in reference to prostitution, whoring or adulterous sexual relations, as may be seen from the following extract quoted by Philip Pinkus on page 198 of his 1968 book Grub St. stripped bare ("The scandalous lives & pornographic works of the original Grub sy. writers"). I have not yet been able to get hold of this book yet, so I do not know what the source is, though it may well be our friend Ned Ward.


Adjoining to this place, stand about a dozen of sutlers boozing kens, distinguished by the name of Lyn Booths, the good people that keep 'em being inhabitants of that town, and have so fair a reputation for the foul practice of venery, that their sinful hovels have always maintained the character of being notorious bawdy houses ; the scholars, to encourage the old trade of basket-making, have great resort to these uptail academies, where they are often presented with a Lyn fairing, which brings 'em to thin jaws, and a month or two's spare diet, as a penance for a minute's titillation, giving many of 'em reason to say with a scholar under the same affliction, who being at chapel, whispered to his chamberfellow, Chum, chum, though I have the word of God in my mouth, to tell thee the truth on't, I have a Lyn devil in my breeches.


Another good example of "the good old Trade of Basket-making" being used to refer to prostitution and whoring occurs in the fictional correspondence between the famous 17th century bawd, Madam Creswell, and a contemporary lady of the night by the name of Moll Quarles (perhaps named ironically after the 17th century poet Francis Quarles). Their correspondence is reproduced in an anthology of Letters from the Dead to the Living by Thomas Brown (1662-1704) that was first published in 1702. As these quite interesting letters do not seem to be available in text form on the internet, I feel that it would be a dereliction of my duty as a blogger not to quote them in full.



From Madam Creſwell of Pious
Memory, to her Siſter in Ini-
quity Moll Quarles of known
Integrity.

Dear Siſter,

IT is no little Grief to me on this ſide the
Grave, to hear what a low Ebb the good old
Trade of Basket-making is reduc'd to in the Age
you live in, for I hear it is as much as a Woman
of tollerable Beauty, and reaſonable ſhare of Ex-
perience, can well do, to keep clean Smocks to
her Back, and pay her Surgeon ; when in my
time, praiſed be the L——d for it, I kept my
Family as neat and ſweet, poor Girls, as any Al-
dermans Daughters in the City of London. I don't
know what Scandal our Profeſſion may be dwind-
led into ſince my departure from the Upper
World ; but I am ſure, thro' the courſe of my
Life, I was look'd upon by the whole City, to
be as honeſt an old Gentlewoman, as ever ha-
zarded her Soul for the Service of her Country ;
and always took care to deal in as good Com-
modities, as any Shop-Keeper in London could
deſire to have the handling of, true wholeſome
Country-Ware ; whole Waggon-Loads have I had
come up at a time, have dreſs'd them at my
own Expence, made them fit for Mans Uſe, and
put them into a Salable Condition. The Clergy,
1 am ſure, were much beholding to me, for ma-
ny a poor Parſons Daughter have I taken care on,
bought her Shifts to her Back, put a Trade into
her Belly, taught her a pleaſant Lively-hood,
that ſhe might ſupport her ſelf like a Woman,
without being beholding to any Body; who other-
ways, muſt have turn'd Drudge, waited upon
ſome proud Minx or other, or elſe have depend-
ed upon Relations ; yet theſe unmannerly Prieſts,
had the Sinful Ingratitude before I dy'd, to refuſe
Praying for me in their Churches ; tho' I dealt
by all People with a Conſcience, and was ſo well
belov'd in the Pariſh I liv'd in, that the Church-
Wardens themſelves became my daily Cuſtomers.
My Home was always a Sanctuary for diſtreſſed
Ladies ; I never refus'd Meat, Drink, Waſhing,
Lodging and Cloaths, to any that had the leſt
ſpark of Wit, Youth, Beauty or Gentility, to
recommend them to my Charity ; Ladies-Wo-
men, Chamber-maids, Cook-maids of any ſort,
when out of Service, were at all times welcome
to my Table, 'till they could better provide for
themſelves ; and I am ſure, tho' I ſay it that
ſhould not, I kept as Hoſpitable a Houſe for all
Comers and Goers, as any Women in England ;
for the beſt of Fleſh was never wanting to delight
the Appetites of both Sexes; the toppingeſt Shop-
keepers in the City us'd now and then to viſit me
for a good Supper : and I never fail'd of having a
tid Bit ready for them, Dainties that were hot
and hot, never over-done, but always with the
Gravy in them, which pleas'd them ſo wonder-
fully, that they us'd to cry their own Victuals at
home was meer Carrion to it ; nay, their very
Wives ſometimes, contrary to their own Hus-
bands knowledge, have trip'd in, in an Evening,
complain'd they have been as hungry as Hawks,
and deſir'd me to provide a Morſel for them that
might ſatisfie their Bellies ; for you muſt know,
both Sexes were wonderful Lovers of my Cookery,
and would feed very heartily upon ſuch nice Dain-
ties that I toſs'd up for them, when no other ſort
of Fleſh would by any means go down with them.
Many hopeful Babes have been beholden to my
Maanſion-houſe for their Generation ; who, tho'
they were never wiſe enough to know their own
Fathers, yet ſome of them, for ought I know,
may at this Day be Aldermen ; for I have had
as good Merchants Ladies, as ever liv'd in Min-
cing-Lane, apply themſelvs to my fertile Habita-
tion for change of Diet ; and have come twice or
thrice a Week to refreſh Nature with ſome of my
ſtanding Diſhes ; for I always kept an open Houſe
to feaſt Lovers ; and Jove be thanked, never want-
Variety to gratifie the Appetites of Mankind.
Thirty pair of Haunches, both of Bucks and Does,
have been wagging their Scuts at one another
within the compaſs of one Evening ; and many
Noble-Men , notwithſtanding they had Deer of
their own, us'd to come to my Park for a bit of
choice Veniſon, for I never wanted what was Fat
and Good, tho' within my Pale it was all the
Year Rutting-time.

It is well known, I kept as good orders in my
Houſe, as ever was obſerv'd in a Nunnery ; I had
a Church-Bible always lay open upon my Hall-
Table, and had every Room in my Houſe furniſh'd
with the Practice of Piety, and other good Books
for the Edification of my Family ; that for every
Minute they Sin'd they might repent an Hour at
their leiſure Intervals : I kept a Chaplain in my
Houſe, and had Prayers read twice a Day, as
conſtantly as the Sun riſes in the Morning, and
ſets in the Evening ; and tho' I ſay it, I had a
parcel of as honeſt Religious Girls about me, as
ever pious Matron had under her Tuition at a Hack-
ney Boarding-School ; nor wou'd they ever dare
to humble the proud Fleſh of a Sinner, without
my leave or approbation ; and like good Chriſti-
ans, as often as they have Sin'd came to Auricular
Confeſſion. I always did every thing in the fear
of the Lord, and was, I thank my Creator, ſo hap-
py in my Memory, that I had as many Texts of
Scripture at Command, as a Presbyterian Parſon.
For my Zeal to Religion, and the Services I daily
did to the publick Community, I bleſs my Stars,
I never wanted a City Magiſtrate to ſtand my
Friend in the times of Perſecution, or any other
Adverſity ; but could have half the Court of Al-
dermen appear on my behalf at an Hours warn-
ing. I kept a Painter in my Houſe perpetually
employ'd upon freſh Faces, and had as good a
collection of Pictures, to the Life, as ever were
to be feen in Lilly's Showing-Room ; Beauties of
all Complections, from the cole-black cling-faſt,
to the golden lock'd Inſatiate, from the Sleepy-
Fy'd ſlug, to the brisk Ey'd Wanton ; from the
reſerv'd Hyporite, to the lewd Fricatrix ; ſo that
every Man might chooſe by the ſhadow, what kind
of beautious Subſtance would give his Fancy the
greateſt Titulation. Every Room in my Houſe,
was adorn'd with the Picture of ſome Grave Bi-
ſhop, that my Cuſtomers might ſee what a great
Veneration I had for the Clergy ; all my Lodgings
were as well furniſh'd, as the ſplendid Appartments
of a Prince's Pallace ; that every Citizen, whoſe
Wife had been Kiſs'd at Court, might fancy in
Revenge, by the Richneſs of his Bed, he was ma-
king a Cuckold of a Nobleman. I never was
without Viper-Wine for a Fumbler, to give a ſpur
to old Age, and aſſiſt Impotency. I alſo had
right French Claret, and the Flower of Canary, to
waſh away the Dregs of the laſt Sundays Sermon,
that the Bugbears of Conſcience might not fright
a good Church-man from the Pleaſureſs of For-
nication. I had Orders in every Room, againſt
Cathedral Fxerciſe, or Beſtial backſlidings, and
made it ten Shillings Forfeiture for any that were
caught in ſuch Actions ; becauſe I would not be
bilk'd of my Bed Money. Theſe were the Mea-
ſures I took in my Occupation to procure an ho-
neſt Livelihood ; and Heaven be prais'd, I thriv'd
as well in my Profeſſion as if my calling had been
Licenſable. How times are alter'd ſince, I know
not, but l hear to my great Sorrow, that Bawding
of late Years, which us'd to be a Trade of it ſelf,
is now grown ſcandalous, and very much declin'd
by reaſon that Midwives, like a parcel of in-
croaching Huzzys, have ingroſs'd the whole Bu-
ſineſs to themſelves, to the ſtarving of you Ex-
perienc'd old Ladies, who have ſpent their Days,
and worn out their Beauty in the Service of the
Publick ; and ought in all Equity to be the only
Perſons, thought qualified for ſo Judicious an un-
dertaking, to ſupport them in their old Age,
when Father Time has ſtrip'd them of their
Charms, and their noble Faculties fail them; be-
ſides, I hear Noblemen employ their own Vallets,
Ladies their own waiting Women, Citizens Wives
one another, and all to ſave Charges, to the Ru-
in of our poor Siſterhood. Alack a day ! What
a pernicious Age do you live in ; that Traders
ſhould truſt one another to buy their Commodi-
ties, and all to ſave the expence of Brokeredge.
I fear, there are ſome Inſtruments among your
ſelves, that have been the main occaſion of your
being thus neglected. I ſhall further proceed, to
give you a little Advice, which, if but duly ob-
ſerv'd, may, I hope, in a little time, recover the
Ancient State of Bawdery into a flouriſhing Con-
dition, and make it once more as reputable a Call-
ing, as it was, when Clergy-mens Widows, and
decay'd Ladies at Court, did not diſdain to follow
it.

Never neglect publick Prayers twice a Day ;
hear two Sermons every Sunday ; Receive the Sa-
crament once a Month ; but let this be done at a
Church where you are unknown ; and be ſure
bribe the Keeper of the Keys, to let you into a
creditable Pew, where you ſee a cluſter of young
Damſels looking ſharp out with Hawks Eyes for
Husbands ; and by this means, you will gain Re-
putable Acquaintance, and have ſometimes an
opportunity of mixing Intereſt with your Devo-
tion ; and of ſerving God and your Self, at the
ſame time, as well as the Parſon.

Read the Scriptures often, and be ſure fortify
your Tongue with abundance of godly Sayings ;
let them drop from you in ſtrange Company, as
thick as ripe Fruit from the Tree in a high Wind ;
and when ever you have a deſign upon the Daugh-
ter, be ſure of the Mothers Faith, and ply her
cloſly with Religion, and ſhe will truſt her be-
loved abroad with you in hopes ſhe may Edifie ;
for you muſt conſider, there is no being a per-
fect Bawd without being a true Hipocrite.

Always have a Lodging ſeparate from your
Houſe, in a place of Credit ; where, upon an
occaſion, you may Entertain the Parents without
being ſuſpected, and corrupt the Minds of their
Children before they know your Imployment :
You muſt firſt pour the Poyſon in at their Ears,
infect their Thoughts, and when their Fancies
begin to Itch, they will have their Tails rub'd in
ſpite of the Devil.

When ever you have a Maiden-Head, be ſure
make a Penny of the firſt Fruits, and at the ſecond-
Hand let the next Juſtice of Peace have the Reſi-
due on free Coſt, tho' you muſt give her her.Leſ-
ſon, and preſent her as a pure Virgin ; by this
ſort of Bribery, you may win all the Magiſtates
in Middle-Sex ; make Hix's-Hall your Sanctuary ;
and gain a uſeful aſcendency over the whole Bench
of Juſtices.

Never admit common Faces into your Domeſ-
tick Seraglio, 'tis a ſcandal to your Family, a
diſhonour to your Function, and will certainly
ſpoil your Trade ; but ply cloſe at Inns upon the
coming in of Waggons, and Geywo-Coaches, and
there you may hire freſh Countrey Wenches,
found, plump, and juicy, and truly qualified for
your Buſineſs.

What ever you do, never truſt any of your Tits
into an Inns-of-Court, or Inn-of-Chancery, for if
you do, they will certainly harace her about from
Chamber to Chamber, til! they have rid her off
her Legs ; elevate her by degrees, from the ground
Floar to their Garrots, and make her drudge like
Landreſs thro' a whole Stare-caſe ; and after a good
Weeks work, ſend her home with foul Linnen,
torn Head-geer, rumpled Scarf, Apparel ſpew'd
upon, without Fan, with but one Glove, no Mo-
ny, and perhaps a hot Tail into the Bargain.

This Advice, for the preſent, if put in practice,
I hope will prove of uſe to you ; I muſt tell you,
there is nothing to be done in the World you
live in, without Cunning ; Religion it ſelf, with-
out Policy, is too ſimple to be ſate ; therefore, if
you do but take care for the future and deal by
the World, as a Woman in your Station ought
to do, and play your Cards like a Gameſtreſs, I
don't at all queſtion, but the Myſtery of Bawding,
by your good management, may be rais'd again,
in ſpite of Reformation, to its priſtine Eminency ;
which are the hearty vviſhes of your defunct
Friend,

Creſwell.


The Second Volume of the Works of Mr. Tho. Brown, containing Letters from the Dead to the Living, Both Serious and Comical (London, 1707) Part II pages 176-182.


Moll Quarles's Anſwer to Mo-
ther Creſwell of Famous Me-
mory.

Loving Siſter,

YOUR Compaſſionate Letter, has ſo won
my Affections to your pious Memory, that
it ſhall be always my Endeavour to purſue your
kind Inſtructions, and to make my ſelf the happy
Immitatrix of your glorious Example, having of-
ten, with great ſatisfaction, heard of your Fame ;
which, as long as there is a young Libertine, or
an honeſt old Whore-maſter living upon Earth,
can never be obliterated. Were I to give you an
account of the ſevere Uſage, and many Perſecu-
tions I have been under of late Days, ſince the
mercenary Reformation of ill-Manners has been
put on Foot, it would ſoften the moſt obdurate
Wretches within your Infernal Precincts , and
make them ſqueez me out a Tear of pity, tho'
your unextinguiſhable Fire had ſo dry'd their Souls,
that their Immortalities were cruſted into a per-
fect Cinder.

Of all the unmerciful Impoſitions that ever were
laid upon Bum-Labour, none ever ſo highly afflict-
ed, or ſo inſupportably oppreſt us the Retailers
of Copulation, as this intolerable Society, who
have brib'd thoſe who were our Pimps to forſake
our Intereſt ; and have made thoſe Scoundrels
who were our meaneſt Servants, our implacable
Maſters; who come in Cluſters like cowardly
Bayliffs to arreſt a Bully, Diſtrain our Commodi-
ties for want of Money to pacifie their greedy
Avarice ; fright away our Cuſtomcrs, and make
us pawn our Cloaths to redeem little more than
our Nakedneſs from a Cat of Nine-tails, and the
filthy Confines of a ſtinking Priſon : At leaſt five
Hundred of theſe reforming Vultures are daily
plundering our Pockets, and ranſacking our Houſ-
es, leaving me ſometimes not one pair of Tracta-
ble Buttocks in my Vaulting-School to provide
for my Family, or earn me ſo much as a Pudding
for my next Sundays Dinner : Nay, ſometimes I
have been forc'd to wag my own Hand to get a
Penny, for want of a Journey-Woman in my
Houſe to diſpatch Buſineſs. To ſhun their fury,
I once got Sanctuary in the Rolls Liberty, where
I thought my ſelf as ſafe as a Fox in a Badger's
hole, and had bid defiance to the Rogues even
to this Day, for only Sacrificing now and then an
elemoſynary Maidenhead to the fumbling of old
Impotency ; but ſome ill-natur'd Obſervators be-
ginning to reflect, occaſion'd my good Friend to
look a little a-ſchew upon me, when he found
his Gravity and Reputation began to be ſmeer'd
a little, ſo that I was ſoon toſt out by his un-
timely fear, whoſe Luſt before had kindly given
me protection : And now again, as true as I am
a Sinner, the Rogues plunder me of at leaſt
eight Pence out of every Shilling for Forbearance-
Mony, and I believe will grow ſo unreaſonable in
a little time, that they will not be content with
leſs gain than an Apothecary. The Officers of
the Pariſh, where ever I liv'd, had the ſcouring
of their old ruſty Hangers for a word ſpeaking,
without ſo much as gratifying the Wench for
making the Bed, or being ever at the expence
of preſenting one of my poor Girls with a Pa-
per-Fan, or a pair of Taffety Shoeſtrings. One
honeſt Churchwarden, I muft confeſs, when I
liv'd in St. Andrews Pariſh, after I had ſerv'd him
and his Son with the choiceſt Goods in my Ware-
houſe for above two Years together, till they had
got a Wife between them, had the Gratitude,
lik an honeſt Man, to preſent me with a Look-
ing-glaſs ; which I took ſo kindly at his Hands,
that I declare it , ſhould he come to my Houſe
to morrow, I would oblige him with as good a
Commodity in my way, as a worthy old Fornica-
tor or Adulterer would deſire to lay his hand
upon.

This plaguing and pillaging of all our known
Houſes of Delight, has been a great diſcourage-
ment to young Ladies from tendring their Ser-
vice at ſuch places, or rendezvouzing in Num-
bers upon the Lawful Occaſions that concern their
livelihood, for fear of trouble or moleſtation,
and make them rather chooſe to deal ſingly, as
Interlopers, than incorporate themſelves with
the company of Town-Traders, for fear of being
ſcratch'd out of their Burrows by thoſe reform-
ing Ferrets, who make worſe havock with the
poor ſculking Creaturs, than ſo many Weaſles
or Pole-Cats would do with Coneys in a Warren;
they ſleep in fear, walk in dread, converſe in
danger, do their Buſineſs poor Wretches, inſtead
of Pleaſure, with an aking Heart. Oh, Siſter !
What a miſerable Age is this we live in after you,
that one part of Mankind cannot obey the great
Law of Nature, but the other part ſhall make a
Law to puniſh them for doing it ? Which Sport,
if totally neglected, would ſoon make Lyons and
Tygers Princes of the Earth, and turn the World
into a ſolitary Wilderneſs.

I cannot but reflect with great concern upon
the unreaſonableneſs of ſome Men in Authority,
who loving the old Trade of Basket-making ſo
well themſelves, are ſo inveterate againſt the ſame
practice in others, that I cannot but believe they
think the ſweet Sin of Copulation ought to be
enjoy'd by none under the dignity of a Juſtice
of Peace, or at leaſt the Authority of a high
Conſtable : Nay, and are ſo inveterate when they
grow old, againſt other Creatures who they know
uſe it, that a grave City-Magiſtrate, one of the
reforming-Society, ſeeing a young Game-Cock of
his own refreſh his Feather'd Miſtreſs three times
in about half an Hour, he grew ſo wonderful an-
gry with the lacivious Chanticleer, that he or-
der'd him forthwith to be depriv'd of his Proge-
nitors, for committing ſo foul an Act with ſuch
indecent immoderation ; looking upon the Intem-
perance to be a ſhameful Example, ſufficient to
ſtir up inordinate deſires in Mankind, and to put
the Female part of his own Family upon unrea-
ſonable Expectancies ; but the geod Lady of the
Houſe enquiring into the reaſon, why the noble
little Creature was ſo ſeverely dealt by, and being
inform'd by her Chambermaid, ſhe compaſſionate-
ly declar'd, that ſhe would rather have given
five Pound than ſo Barbarous an Action had been
done in her Family, for that the Bird committed
no Offence, and therefore deſerv'd no Puniſhment.
Obſerve but in this particular the Cruelty of ſor-
did Man, and the tenderneſs of the Female Sex !
And how can thoſe poor Girls who have nothing
to depend on but the drudgery of Flip-flap, ex
pect any other than ſevere uſage from ſo moroſe
a Creature ? For certain whilſt publick Magi-
ſtrates are in their Authority ſo ſtiff, and private
Women in their own Houſes ſo pliable, the La-
dies of the Town muſt Starve, and be firk'd a-
bout from one Bridewell to another ; for the Fa-
vours of a kind Miſtreſs, which were once thought
the moſt valuable Bleſſings beneath the Clouds,
are now become, through the univerſal Corrupti-
on of the Female Sex, ſuch unregarded Drugs,
that the Scene is quite revers'd, and as Women
us'd to take Mony formerly as but a juſt recompence
for their foſt Embraces, they are forc'd to give
Mony now, or elſe they will have a hard matter
to procure a Gallant that is worth Whiſtling af-
ter. How therefore at this rate, are the poor
Whores like to be fed, when the rich ones buy
op all for their Cats, and the middling Whores
in private lie and pick up the Crumbs ? For what
won't down with Quality are ſnap'd up by Citi-
zens-Wives, Semſtreſſes and Head-dreſſers ; in-
ſomuch that I have ſeveral pretty Nimphs under
my own Juriſdiction, that ſome Weeks, I may mo-
deſtly ſay, don't earn Mony enough to pay their
three Penny Admittances into Pancraſs-Wells, but
are oftentimes forc'd to Tick half a Sice a-piece
for their Watering ; and were it not for the Cre-
dit I always preſerve in thoſe Places, the poor
Wenches might be daſh'd out of Countenance by
being refus'd entrance ; but Mony or no Mony,
if they are my Puppits, and name but who they
belong to, they are as kindly receiv'd as ſo many
Butchers at the Bear-Gorden ; for without them
there would be no ſport. You may from thence
obſerve what an honeſt Reputation I maintain
abroad for a Lady of my Calling, that the word
of the homlieſt Curtiſan protected under my Roof,
will paſs for three pence any where that ſhe's known
without the leaſt exception, when many a poor
Houſe keeper has not Credit for a Two-penny
Loaf.

We have nothing to hope for, but that the Na-
tional Senate, through their wonted Wiſdom,
will find out, without ſhaming on't, ſome real Ex-
pedient to reſtrain the looſneſs of the Age, and
promote the practice of Morality and ſtrict ob-
ſcrvance of Religion ; for thro' all the Experience
I have had in the Miſtery of Intriguing, I have
ever found the Lady Students in the School of
Venus, attended with the moſt Proſperity when
the People are moſt Pious ; whether it is that a
good Conſcience teaches Gentlemen to be more
grateful to their Miſtreſſes, or that as the Prieſts
grow Fat the Petticoat flouriſhes, I will leave you
to determine : So thanking you for the kind Ad-
vice you gave me in your Letter, which ſhall al-
ways be eſteem'd a Guide to my future practice, I
reſt

Your Loving Siſter,

Moll Quarles.


The Second Volume of the Works of Mr. Tho. Brown, containing Letters from the Dead to the Living, Both Serious and Comical (London, 1707) Part II pages 183-188.


The expression "old trade of basket-making" occurs as a slang term for whoring nearly fifty years later in the anonymous Memoirs of the Bedford Coffee-House ( first published in 1751) :


From this one might be led to ima-
gine Roderigo was a profeſſed wo-
man-hater—nay, worſe. No ſuch
thing—Roderigo bears the ladies no
ill will, and he has been known to
treat ſome of them kindly in private—
but dangling is his averſion—and who
can avoid the opportunity of ſaying ſo
many good things, when there is ſuch
a fund for ſatyr.

Roderigo's wit, thus exerciſed, had
excited the ſpleen of the whole ſex
againſt him ; he is accuſed of the moſt
infamous practices, it is inſinuated he
is guilty of the moſt unnatural crimes
—his tradeſmen publickly aver his
honeſty and probity, and his little fa-
mily in ſpirits are ſupœna'd to evince
his predominant paſſion. The wo-
men thus foiled, have recourſe to
other expedients—he has baſtards
ſworn to him on every hand—he pays
the pariſh, that is, he treats the officers,
who drink his health, and ſucceſs to
the old trade of baſket-making—three
church-wardens die of ſurfeits in a
twelvemonth, and fornication may for
once be ſaid, to ſend as many out of the
world as it brings in. But female
rage does not ſtop here—he has a
rape ſworn to him, by a woman
he never ſaw, and Chartres like,
might have been condemned for a
crime he was not guilty of, though
culpable with impunity of many ſimi-
lar, if he had not lucklily proved by
alibi, his preſence, at the time ſworn
to, in another place.


Memoirs of the Bedford Coffee-House by a Genius (London, 1763) pages 145-146.


And somewhat later, in the writings of the celebrated Dr. Arbuthnot (1667-1735) we find the term "trade of Basket-making" also used in the sense of fornication :


But who would have thought that Peter the
Wild Boy, who appeared ſo ſly and ſo ferious, who,
I ſay, would have thought that he of all People in
the World, ſhould have any Inſight into the Trade
of Baſket-making ? but it is certainly true, neither
better or worſe ; for it ſeems he has play'd ſome of
his Wild Pranks with a Dairy Maid at Harrow on the
Hill, whom he has got with Child. Now ſhould ſhe
be brought to Bed of another wild Boy, Lord have
Mercy upon us ! what ſhall we do ? Or how ſhall
we catch him ? He will certainly be as fleet as a
Hare the Minute he is born, as his Father was be-
fore him. And if the Child ſhould run away and
be loſt in the Woods, what a deal of Amuſement
will the Town loſe. But they ſay the Dairy Maid is
to be brought forthwith to Town, to Lacy's Bag-
nio, and to have the Rabbet Woman's Apartment
fitted up for her. She is daily to be attended by
Men-Midwives, and narrowly to be watched by Con-
ſtables. If ſo, we are like to have ſome Diverſion,
however, this Summer; and no doubt ſhe will be
viſited by a great deal of good Company.


Miscellaneous Works of the Late Dr. Arbuthnot (London, 1770) vol.1 pages 212-213.


Finally, Bonnell Thornton (1725-1768) uses the expression "trade of basket-making" in his translation of the comedies of the Roman playwright Plautus (c.254–184), where he notes that it is "a kind of cant phrase".


EUT. Peace, hatchet-face !
Your age ſhould not admit of crimes like theſe :
For as the ſeveral ſeaſons of the year
Bring with them different fruit, in human life
So have our actions their fit ſeaſons too.
If then old men, like you, without reſtraint,
Paſs in laſcivious wantonneſs their age,
Where is the ſafety of the publick weal ?

DEM. Alas ! I'm ruin'd.

EUT. Youth alone ſhould follow
The trade of baſket-making.


V. 36. Youth alone, &c.] In the original, this ſpeech and the
next run thus.

EUT. Adoleſcentes rei agendæ iſti magis ſolent operam dare.

DEM. Jam obſecro vobis herclè habete cum ſportis, cum fiſscinâ.

There are various readings in the laſt ſpeech ; but each way it is
agreed to be uttered proverbially, ſignifying, “Take her, with
“all that belongs to her.” The reading I have followed is in
Engliſh literally, “Now then prithee take her, with her baſkets”
“and paniers.” Wherefore I have made uſe of a kind of cant
phraſe in our own tongue, ſomewhat ſimilar to the language of
the proverb in the original.


The comedies of Plautus translated into familiar blank verse by Bonnell Thornton (London, 1767) vol.2 page 162.


So, during the early and mid 18th century the expression "[good old] trade of basket making" was widely known and used as a slang expression for prostitution, whoring or fornification in general. I am not sure when the expression first arose, though I am sure that it must go back to the mid 17th century at least. Probably the trade of "basket-making" was originally used as a euphemistic occupation by prostitutes, much in the same way that in Victorian census records the occupation of prostitutes is often given as "dress-maker". However, this meaning of the expression does not seem to have survived into the 19th century, and Grose's 1785 definition of Basket-Making is the latest original usage in the sexual meaning that I have been able to identify. From the latter part of the 18th century "[good old] trade of basket making" took on a new and quite different meaning, as explained in quite a few reference books from the first half of the 19th century :


“The old trade of basket-making” alludes to the same kind of thing.

Jon Bee, Slang: A Dictionary of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, the Pit, of Bon-Ton (London, 1823) page 7.


WHAT ! YOU'RE RETURN'D TO THE OLD TRADE OF
BASKET MAKING !

This phrase is supposed to have originated from the ingenuity of
the ancient Britons in making baskets, which they exported in large
quantities, and implies, sliding back into old habits, or returning to
the more primitive occupations of barbarous ages.


William Pulleyn, The Etymological Compendium; Or, Portfolio of Origins and Inventions (London: Printed for Thomas Tegg, 1830) page 313.


Basket (Br. basged). The art of basket making
was known and practised by the ancient Britons,
who excelled all other nations in the excellence
of their manufacture ; they were so much esteemed
as to be in great request with the Romans, who
imported them in large quantities. The old saying,
“the good old trade of basket making,” alludes
to this primitive employment of the Britons.

A basket I, by painted Britons wrought,
And now to Rome's imperial city brought.

Martial's Epig.


William Toone, A Glossary and Etymological Dictionary of Obsolete and Uncommon Words (London, 1832) page 85.


BASKET-MAKING. The art was very early known in Britain, and it is recorded
that our ancestors made baskets which were celebrated for their workmanship at
Rome. “Failing in that new pursuit, I returned to my old trade of basket-making,”
was a well-known common-place in England.—Rogers.


Joseph Haydn (1788/1793-1856), Dictionary of Dates, and Universal Reference (London, 1841) page 54.


These definitions are also echoed in a slightly earlier work by George Buxton, first published in 1818 (in Shadgett's Weekly Review of Cobbett, Wooler, Sherwin and Other Democratical and Infidel Writers) :


“Poo, poo !” said the parish clerk, “don't you perceive,
gentlemen, that the Don has in his memory the glorious
times of rebellions, massacres, and civil wars ? and, therefore,
recommends us to ‘return to our old trade of basket-ma-
king,’ which, you know, gentlemen, implies, revolving [sic.] back
into old habits; or returning to the more primitive occupa-
tions of barbarous times.”


George Buxton, The political Quixote; or, The adventures of the renowned Don Blackibo Dwarfino, and his trusty 'squire, Seditiono (London, 1820) pages 33-34.


These definitions of basket-making makes perfect sense in the context of the story about Jack Artful, in which he has no choice but to return to his old trade of pickpocketing. Quite when or how the change in meaning came about I have yet to ascertain, but as the story of Jack Artful may date back to as early as 1750 (the first edition of The Modern Story Teller), and at the very least dates back to 1784, it would seem that during the second half of the 18th century the two different meanings coexisted. At present, the story of Jack Artful is the earliest example of the "old trade of basket making" in this meaning that I have been able to find. Although the 19th century reference books quoted above define the "old trade of basket making" quite neutrally as simply returning to one's old trade, whatsoever it be, it seems to me that there is perhaps more to it than that. In the case of Jack Artful, his old trade of basket-making was pickpocketing, and in the dying confession of Richard Barrick, who was hung for highway robbery at Cambridge, Massachusetts, on November 18th 1884, his old trade of basket-making was robbery :


“In England I was apprehended on a suspicion of robbery, and sent
on board a vessel, [the Liverpool, wrecked on Rockaway Beach, Feb. 15,
78,] in which I came to New-York. Then I deserted and came to
Long Island and lived with Mr. Valentine Williams. I left him and
lived with Mr. Kirk fifteen months, intending to learn the paper making
business. I left Mr. Kirk and went to Horse Neck, intending to go to
the place whence I came, and follow my old trade of basket making.
Soon after this, I and my comrades went to Long Island with an intent
to rob James Hewlett: but the weather being very severe, we turned
back. On our return, we met with a British vessel, which we boarded
and carried into Stamford. We then went back to Mr. Hewlett's in the
night, and told him he must get up, for his brother's child was very sick.
He supposing us to be robbers, called for his firelock. We then forced
in at the windows, and demanded his money. He said he had none ;
but his wife asked us how much we wanted. I answered, £100. Mr.
H. then went down cellar with a light in his hand, and we followed him.
He took a horn from under a hogshead, which contained 190 odd
guineas. He then attempted to count out our £100, which we had
demanded ; but we told him as he had made some resistance at first, we
would take all he had. He then gave us another horn, which contained
about 40 guineas: then he gave us a number of dollars. We went out of
the house, but soon concluded that if he had so many guineas, it was
more than probable he had some other sort of gold : we therefore went
back and demanded the remainder. Then he gave us another hom,
containing 32 half joes. We also took his plate and clothing, to the
value of $400. Soon after this, I was taken and put under guard on
Long Island. The Col. ordered me from Long Island to New-York
gaol for trial; where I remained three weeks, and then broke gaol. I
returned to Greenwich, and was there re-taken for the same crime and
carried back to New-York, I broke out a second time, and returned to
Greenwich.”


Henry Onderdonk (1804-1886), Documents and Letters Intended to Illustrate the Revolutionary Incidents of Queens County (New York, 1846) pages 176-177.


My suspicion is that during the late 18th and early 19th centuries "the old trade of basket-making" was a cant term for pickpocketing, robbery and thievery, and that perhaps its meaning was sanitised by the dictionary makers of the 1820s and 1830s. Whatever the case, during the Victorian era "old trade of basket making" lost its earlier meanings, and came to mean simply one's stock trade. So for example, in a letter to William Graham, Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) writes, "For the present I am again at my old trade of basket making, or lecturing" (The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle (2001) page 74). Likewise, in the Reminiscences of a Yorkshire Naturalist (1896) by William Crawford Williamson, we hear that "a frowning brow indicated thunder in the air, and the explosion usually took the shape of 'H'm! At your old trade of basket-making, sir?'" (page 30).


THE RAILWAY QUEEN.

BY THE IRISH WHISKEY-DRINKER.

“HAVE you got any Spitzbergen and Patagonia ?”

“I am sorry to say that I have.”

“Why so ?—they are at two premium.”

“But I bought at three-and-a-half.”

“Don't be afraid : hold on.”

“Hold on ! I can't help myself. There is actually no business do-
ing in them.”

“The surest sign that they are to have a sudden and tremendous
rise.”

“When ?”

“At the proper time. Hold on !”

This hint was given to me by a woman—one of consideration,—with
a look and tone that would indicate a knowledge of things behind the
curtain. I hope that she knows a move or two in the chequered game :
if not, as far as I am concerned, it will not be of much consequence. I
shall pay for my lesson ; and that's all. Small men ought to stick to
their trade of basket-making. And I shall profit by my lesson, you
may depend on it. “Une fois philosophe ; deux fois joueur deter-
miné.”

Perhaps the men think they have the game all to themselves ; that
they alone are railroad mad. If they do, they are grievously mistaken.
What is it that makes London by far less dull just now than it usually
is during the autumn ? Numbers of the beau sexe have remained be-
hind to look after the main point, for emphatically is railroad specula-
tion considered the main point amongst, I am sorry to say, too many of
them at this moment.


Bentley's Miscellany vol.18 (London, 1845) page 386.


I am going to end with the well known traditional song The Dublin Jack of All Trades, in which the penultimate verse finds the eponymous Jack of All Trades working at the grand old trade of basket-making in Fishamble Street. It is unclear from the context whether he was literally working as a basket maker, or whether basket making is used in some other sense, but as Fishamble Street was the site of the medieval fish market (i.e. the fish shambles), and would presumably have been a good place to work as a pickpocket, I have the feeling that in this case it used as a euphemism for pickpocketing, and harks back to the sense of the expression used in the story of Jack Artful :


Oh! I am a roving sporting blade,
They call me Jack of All Trades.
I always place my chief delight
In courting pretty fair maids.
So when in Dublin I arrived
To try for a situation,
I always heard them say it was
The pride of all the nation.
I'm a roving Jack of many a trade,
Of every trade and all trades.
And if you wish to know my name
They call me Jack of All Trades.

Oh! On George's Quay I first began
And there became a porter.
Me and my master soon fell out
Which cut my acquaintance shorter.
In Sackville Street a pastry cook,
In James's Street a baker,
In Cook Street I did coffins make,
In Eustace Street a preacher.
Chorus

And in Baggot Street I drove a cab
And there was well requited.
In Francis Street had lodging beds
To entertain all strangers.
For Dublin is of high renown,
Or I am much mistaken
In Kevin Street, I do declare,
Sold butter, eggs and bacon,
Chorus

And in Golden Lane I sold oul' shoes,
In Meath Street was a grinder,
In Barrack Street I lost my wife
And I'm glad I ne'er could find her.
In Mary's Lane I've dyed old clothes
Of which I've often boasted,
In that noted place, Exchequer Street
Sold mutton ready roasted.
Chorus

And in Temple Bar I've dressed old hats,
In Thomas Street a sawyer.
And in Pill Lane I sold a plate.
In Green Street an honest lawyer.
In Plunkett Street I sold cast clothes,
In Bride's Alley a broker.
In Charles' Street I had a shop
Sold shovel, tongs and poker.
Chorus

In College Green a banker was,
In Smithfield a drover.
In Britain Street a waiter and
In George's Street a glover.
On Ormond Quay I sold old books,
In King Street a nailer.
In Townsend Street a carpenter,
And in Ringsend a sailor.
Chorus

In Cole's Lane a jobbing butcher,
In Dame Street a tailor
In Moore Street a chandler,
And on the Coombe a weaver.
In Church Street I sold oul' ropes,
On Redmond's Hill a draper.
In Mary Street sold 'bacco pipes,
In Bishop Street a Quaker.
Chorus

In Peter Street I was a quack,
In Greek Street a grainer.
On the harbour I did carry, sacks.
In Werber Street a glazier.
In Mud Island was a dairy boy,
Where I became a scooper.
In Capel Street a Barber's Clerk,
In Abbey Street a cooper.
Chorus

In Liffey Street had furniture
With fleas and bugs I sold it,
And at the bank a big placard
I often stood to hold it.
In New Street I sold hay and straw,
In Spittalflelds made bacon.
In Fishamble Street was at the grand
Old trade of basket-making.
Chorus

In Summerhill a coach-maker,
In Denzil Street a gilder.
In Cork Street was a tanner,
And in Brunswick Street a builder.
In High Street I sold hosiery,
In Patrick Street sold all blades.
So if you wish to know my narne
They call me Jack of All Trades.


First published, 2006-06-04;
Revised and extended, 2008-05-19.