Aubin’s unrecorded vocabulary

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OED3’s current total of 35 quotations from Penelope Aubin is notably small given this writer’s importance for the history of the novel, the deficit of early 18th-century quotations in OED2, and the under-representation of female-authored quotations in OED to date. What more might OED3 add from Aubin’s works?

A look at her poetry (two ‘Pindarique Odes’, Aubin 1707 and 1708), at one of her novels (The Life of Madam de Beaumont, 1721), and the first chapter of one of her translations (The History of Genghizcan the Great, 1722, which has already yielded several quotations for OED3), turns up the following possibilities, which we group as before under four categories:

  1. Words or usages at present unrecorded in OED
  2. Antedatings
  3. Postdatings
  4. Examples which plug the 18th-century or early-18th-century gap in OED’s quotation record

By far the largest number of examples come under (4). But in almost all cases, it is possible to find other contemporary instances of Aubin’s usages, in sources such as ECCO, from texts (by both men and women) not cited by OED. In other words, the concentration of examples under (4) indicates not that Aubin’s usage of language was singular, but that the first edition of OED scanted its quotations for the 18th century and particularly the early 18th century. In general, notwithstanding her sometimes fantastical and prurient subject matter, Aubin’s lexical choices align her firmly with the conventional usage of her day.

Words or usages at present unrecorded in OED

It is difficult to find examples of unrecorded usage in Aubin. A minor example is from The Stuarts: A Pindarique Ode (Aubin 1707) written perhaps to celebrate the successful completion of the union with Scotland:

  • stage, as in ‘A Glorious Reign thou had’st in a tumultuous Age; / And Nobly like thy self didst bravely quit the Stage’ (p. 3). OED does not currently record this sense of stage; see discussion of in the alphabetical listing at Adam’s new words or senses.

More interesting than this is Aubin’s use of the verb dispose in The Life of Madam de Beaumont (1721). Consider the following:

  • ‘I don’t dislike your Person…but do not think myself of years to chuse a Husband; my Mother must dispose of me, for she has both Wisdom and Experience, ’tis her Commands must guide my Choice’ (p. 52)
  • ‘had I not been disposed of…I declare, Mr. Hide should have had the first Place in my Esteem’ (p. 131)

Undoubtedly Aubin intends dispose in these instances to mean ‘dispose of [a woman] in marriage’, and it is this sense too that probably underlies a third use of the verb at p. 11 (the heroine Belinda is being addressed by her mother):

  • ‘I still hope your Father lives, that we shall meet again; that we shall leave this dismal Place, return to France, and live to see you happily disposed of in this World’

But no such specific sense is recognized in OED. This neglected marital sense of dispose is comparable to similar senses overlooked by OED which can be found both in Aubin’s work and in that of other female writers, including Austen; see EOED page on Courtship and marriage. But there is no evidence that such uses are peculiar to female writers and other occurrences of dispose meaning ‘dispose in marriage’ are not hard to find. See Thomas Southerne’s play Sir Antony Love; or, The Rambling Woman, for example:

Ilford: I come to strike up a Friendship…by making a very fair Offer to dispose of her.

Sir Antony: If you mean Volante, she will dispose of her self.

Ilford: I know she would dispose of her self to you: But you won’t marry her, Sir Antony…

The Works of Mr. Thomas Southerne, London, 1713

Another instance occurs in Mansfield Park, I.iv.42 (1814), where Sir Thomas Bertram says, ‘I shall only regret that you have not half-a-dozen daughters to dispose of’.


We have found just one example, from The Life of Madam de Beaumont (1721):

  • box to mean ‘receptacle for personal luggage’, as in ‘they stopp’d us, took us of our Horses, carry’d us, our Boxes, and all off along with them’ (p. 15)

This specific sense is not separately identified in OED1/2; the relevant definition is sense 1 of box, noun 2:

  • ‘A case or receptacle usually having a lid; a. orig. applied to a small receptacle of any material for drugs, ointments, or valuables; b. gradually extended (since 1700) to include cases of larger size, made to hold merchandise and personal property’.

The OED entry includes one quotation to which ‘receptacle for personal luggage’ also applies: ‘1751 JOHNSON Rambl. No. 171¶7 My landlady..took the opportunity of my absence to search my boxes’. Aubin’s example antedates this example by 30 years.

Last updated on 30 July 2019

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