In "In the Midst of Alarms" (1894) by Robert Barr, the author is describing a man who was trying to make a friendly conversation with a rural young woman:
“Yes,” Yates laughed uneasily. He had manifestly missed fire. “I notice by your tone that you evidently think my equipment meager. You should not judge by appearances, Miss Howard. Most of us are better than we seem, pessimists to the contrary notwithstanding. Well, as I was saying, the camping company consists of two partners. We are so different in every respect that we are the best of friends. My partner is Mr. Stillson Renmark, professor of something or other in University College, Toronto.”
For the first time Margaret exhibited some interest in the conversation.
“Professor Renmark? I have heard of him.”
“Dear me! I had no idea the fame of the professor had penetrated beyond the precincts of the university—if a university has precincts. He told me it had all the modern improvements, but I suspected at the time that was merely Renny’s brag.”
The frown on the girl’s brow deepened, and Yates was quick to see that he had lost ground again, if, indeed, he had ever gained any, which he began to doubt. She evidently did not relish his glib talk about the university. He was just about to say something deferentially about that institution, for he was not a man who would speak disrespectfully of the equator if he thought he might curry favor with his auditor by doing otherwise, when it occurred to him that Miss Howard’s interest was centered in the man, and not in the university.
I don't understand why he chose "the equator" in particular to give an example. Did "equator" have a different meaning from its common one in 19th-century English literature?