|Love. Or an exquisite at his devotions|
1825 by Alfred Crowquill via The British Museum
|Elmira Gazette - March 10, 1842 via Fulton History|
It is not customary at the present day to say--"There's the devil to pay and no pitch hot;" the fashionable phrase being--"There is a certain liability due to the 'old gentleman,' and no bituminous matter of the proper temperature to liquidate the obligation."In 1844 Gansevoort ascribed the "fashionable" phraseology to Whigs whom he portrayed as anti-democratic Broadway dandies or "exquisites":
Now, my fair countrywomen, with your permission, a word with you. I grant ye that the whigs have the advantage of us plain-spoken democrats in scented hair, diamond rings, and white kid gloves—[roars of laughter]—in the language of compliment and the affectation of manner, and most particularly, in their style of dressing. If one of these exquisites wished to express the idea contained in the home-spun adage, “There is the devil to pay and no pitch hot,” he would say, “There is a pecuniary liability due to the old gentleman, and no bituminous matter, of the proper temperature, wherewith to liquidate the obligation.” [Uproarious laughter and applause, in which the ladies joined.]The term Broadway exquisite was a stereotype of affectation and elitism that the Louisville Courier Journal (July 19, 1845) later applied to Gansevoort himself, after his appointment as Secretary of Legation in London. In New York City, the Morning Courier and Enquirer questioned Gansevoort's understanding of the word pay in "the devil to pay."
|A General Dictionary of Provincialisms |
The "devil" was the wooden ship's longest seam in the hull. Caulking was done with "pay" or pitch (a kind of tar). The task of "paying the devil" (caulking the longest seam) by squatting in the bilges was despised by every seaman.Gansevoort's Whig critic seems to have realized, eventually, that the misunderstanding of the nautical metaphor could also be regarded as part of the joke, attributable to the clueless dandy being described. From the Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer, March 22, 1844; found at Fulton History:
Mr. Gansevoort Melville, who seems to be aiming at a rivalry with Anacharsis Cloots for the honor of being considered "Orator of the Human Race," emptied his last bag of blarney into the laps of the ladies and gentlemen who assembled the other night at the Tabernacle to celebrate the seventy-seventh birthday of Gen. Jackson. The whole oration appears to have been a budget of beauties, a congeries of "unstrung pearls," with now and then a boquet of blossoms, fragrant as a poppy bud and redolent of odours from a newly blown swamp cabbage. The following figure, however, is a "metaphor of another smell," and shows a versatility of conception, and stretchiness of imagination worthy of Orator Henley himself. Mr. Melville, addressing himself to the ladies with one of his archest and blandest smiles, said,
"Now, my fair countrywomen, with your permission, a word with you. I grant ye that the Whigs have the advantage of us plain spoken Democrats in scented hair, diamond rings, and white kid gloves—(roars of laughter)—in the language of compliment and the affectation of manner, and most particularly, in the style of dressing. If one of these exquisites wished to express the idea contained in the home-spun adage, 'There is the devil to pay, and no pitch hot,' he would say, 'There is a pecuniary liability due to the old gentleman, and no bituminous matter of the proper temperature, wherewith to liquidate the obligation.'"This is peculiarly beautiful we acknowledge, and the euphuism put into the mouth of the modern "poodle dog of society" would have charmed Sir Piercie Shafton; but it strikes us that a nautical critic would be apt to accuse Mr. Melville of having no knowledge of his own metaphor. It is not generally understood that the phrase implies any pecuniary obligation to the old rascal from Sulphurdom. When a sailor says there is "the devil to pay and no pitch hot," he simply means that his seams are to be caulked and payed over, and there is no hot tar to do it with. However, we repeat that the figure is decidedly pretty and poetical, and we dare say appropriate to the occasion and the audience ———, or Mr. M. would not have used it.
|Portrait of John Henley via The British Museum|
- Gansevoort Melville at the 1844 Jackson Jubilee
- Gansevoort Melville as Broadway Exquisite
- Glimpse of tall, very tall Gansevoort in March 1845