WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Back Biter

In church we call them “parking lot committee members.” In social media we call them “tea spillers.” If you’re at work, people ask for the “scuttlebutt” or “dish.”

No matter the label, someone who gossips, especially with the intent to hurt or defame, is an untrustworthy, chin-wagging scandalmonger that you’d better not turn your back on.

Back Biter

One who slanders another behind his back, i.e. in his absence. His bosom friends are become his back biters, said of a lousy man.

Of course I must consult the artistic authority to illustrate my posts, James Gillray. Let’s find some Back Biters.

The Feast of Reason, & the Flow of Soul, i.e. The Wits of the Age Setting the Table in a Roar, by James Gillray, 4 February 1797, Trustees of the British Museum.

Gillray’s The Feast of Reason… presented five significant Whigs of the time: (from left to right) George Hanger, drinking buddy of the Prince of Wales; Charles James Fox, opposition leader (with back to the viewer); Richard Brinsley Sheridan, playwright and professional debtor; Michael Angelo Taylor, MP, and; John Courtenay, frequent fluent speaker of sarcasm in Parliament. The title of the print represented Gillray’s feelings on his subject: the first half came from Alexander Pope’s Imitations of Horace, II, while the second half came from Hamlet. The artist used these classic works to illustrate that the past was rich and full of wit and reason while the present day was full of feeble satire and weak constitutions.

Farmer Giles & His Wife Showing Off Their Daughter Betty to Their Neighbours on Her Return from School, by James Gillray, 1 January 1809, Trustees of the British Museum.

Farmer Giles and his wife were proud of their returned daughter…perhaps blindingly proud. From the expressions on the faces of the younger sister, dog, and servant, their eldest daughter’s skills on the pianoforte were not quite the thing. Gillray’s talent for drawing and satire were magnificently displayed in the writing of the sampler on the wall, “”Evil communications corrupt good manners,” which of course contrasted deliciously with the back-biting gossip sharing her juicy observations behind her fan.

Sophia, Honour, & the Chambermaid, by James Gillray, 1 August 1780, Trustees of the British Museum.

Here Gillray illustrated Tom Jones, specifically chapter five from Book X. Meeting upstairs outside the rooms at the Inn at Upton were the heroine of the novel, Sophia Western; her maid, Honour Blackmore, and; Susan, the chambermaid. The chambermaid related the gossip she heard below stairs from Partridge, the companion to Tom Jones, who was coincidentally staying at the same Inn. Unfortunately, her gossip – as gossip is wont to be – was no more than half-correct and entirely misleading.

He told us Madam (‘tho to be sure it’s all a Lye)
that your Ladyship was Dying for Love of the Young Squire,
and that he was going to the Wars, to get rid of you.

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