Fair and forty goes far in a day
U 16.1550-1: the cause of many liaisons between still attractive married women getting on for fair and forty and younger men
Bloom’s use of “fair and forty” to describe “attractive married women” who are just beyond their prime illustrates yet again Joyce’s ear for phrases which have evaded detailed classification and evaluation by scholars.
Dent identifies “fair and forty” as an expression worthy of comment.1 But he calls attention, exclusively, to the older alliterative saying “fat, fair, and forty”, which he dates from 1795 (in John O’Keeffe’s Irish Mimic). He cites another use of this fuller form from Charles Lever’s Confessions of Harry Lorrequer (a source which also provides the first occurrence of the phrase “dear dirty Dublin” in the 1830s). His information builds on Eric Partridge’s entry for the parallel expression “fair, fat, and forty”, impressionistically dates to “the raffish 1820s” in his Dictionary of Catch Phrases.2 But Dent is unable to provide evidence for the shorter style “fair and forty”.
But subsequent to this, the expression was associated very widely in the popular mind with King George IV (reigned 1820-30, but Regent, as Prince of Wales, from 1811 during his father’s “madness”), who had conducted an affair and then in 1785 secretly married Maria Fitzherbert. Although Mrs Fitzherbert was only thirty at the time, King George was said to have popularised the phrase “fat, fair, and forty” in connection with her.
The cartoonists of the day made much of George’s relationships, and in early 1786 a satirical caricature mocking Mrs Fitzherbert was published, entitled “The Royal Toast: Fat, Fair, and Forty” (see copy from the British Museum collection).4 (Later writers also ascribed the expression to earlier Georges.5)
The shortened form fair and forty
The phrase, though fading from use in the early twentieth century, still remains to accompany Joyce’s youth.
A musical accompaniment
Although the expression may have been familiar to Joyce from his reading and conversation, there is also a possibility that he was acquainted with it musically. There was a “traditional” Irish hornpipe entitled “Fair and Forty”, published in the early years of the twentieth century but apparently known well before this. The tune was first published in Captain Francis O’Neill’s Music of Ireland (1903), p. 274. The following version comes from O’Neill’s Dance Music of Ireland (Chicago: Lyon and Healy, 1907), p. 145:
Joyce added “getting on for fair and forty" to the proofs of Ulysses in December 1921. In doing so he was employing an expression that was familiar to his contemporaries, but which also enjoyed a second life in traditional Irish music. It arose as a shortening (and more polite version) of “fat, fair, and forty” (in which “fair” has the meaning “attractive”, “fair of face”), widely associated in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century with King George IV and his mistress Mrs Fitzherbert.
1 Robert William Dent, Colloquial Language in Ulysses: A Reference Tool (1994), p. 245.
2 Eric Partridge, Dictionary of Catch Phrases (1992), p. 85.
3 [John Kidgell], The Card (1755), vol. 1 p. 202.
4 “The royal toast. Fat, fair, and forty”: BM Satires 6927, in Frederic George Stephens and Mary Dorothy George, Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum (London, BMP, 1870), 11 vols.
5 See, for example, A sketch of the life and character of the late Dr. Monsey, physician to the Royal Hospital at Chelsea (1789), p. 32; North American (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) (1847), 24 May.
6 Cervantes Hogg was the pseudonym of Eaton Stannard Barrett. Sheridan’s original (1772) reads:
Here's to the maiden of blushing fifteen,
Now to the widow of fifty;
Here's to the flaunting extravagant queen,
And then to the housewife that's thrifty.
7 Freeman’s Journal (1857), 18 June p. 4.
8 Judy 8 September (1886), p. 110.
9 Myra’s Journal (1894), 1 September p. 19.
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