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What is the meaning of this passage from The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen, chapter 20?

He is also to carry, under a large cloak, a utensil in each coat pocket, instead of those four which Sir William has very properly fixed for private purposes in so conspicuous a situation, the great quadrangle.

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  • Just to be clear, you want to know what this passage means?
    – KillingTime
    Sep 22, 2022 at 12:30
  • Yes, you are quite right, I've benn trying to translate this passage into Georgian since the morning, but in vain.
    – Vazha Jishkariani
    Sep 22, 2022 at 12:55

1 Answer 1

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This is somewhat guesswork, but I think in modern terms he is saying that the man is to carry with him two chamber pots, discreetly under his coat, as opposed to the four chamber pots which have been placed in a very public location in the quadrangle (i.e. the courtyard) of Somerset House.

The full text of the paragraph in question is as follows:

Since my arrival in England I have accomplished what I had very much at heart, viz., providing for the inhabitant of the Cheese Island, whom I had brought with me. My old friend, Sir William Chambers, who is entirely indebted to me for all his ideas of Chinese gardening, by a description of which he has gained such high reputation; I say, gentlemen, in a discourse which I had with this gentlemen, he seemed much distressed for a contrivance to light the lamps at the new buildings, Somerset House; the common mode with ladders, he observed, was both dirty and inconvenient. My native of the Cheese Island popped into my head; he was only nine feet high when I first brought him from his own country, but was now increased to ten and a half: I introduced him to Sir William, and he is appointed to that honourable office. He is also to carry, under a large cloak, a utensil in each coat pocket, instead of those four which Sir William has very properly fixed for private purposes in so conspicuous a situation, the great quadrangle.

This makes it clear that the great quadrangle in question is the one at Somerset House. Sir William Chambers is the man who was commissioned to design and build the new buildings at the site: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somerset_House#Somerset_House_(Sir_William_Chambers,_1776)

As the wikipedia article says, "In addition to applying a rich scheme of architectural decoration, Chambers enhanced the exterior of Somerset House with a multiplicity of sculptures and other visual embellishments." My guess is that some of these embellishments were compared at the time to chamber pots, and so the author is here poking fun at them. A utensil (short for chamber utensil) is another word for a chamber pot: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chamber_pot

Thus, the paragraph is saying that the Cheese Islander native, as well as lighting the new lamps at Somerset House (presumably they were high off the ground), is to carry around chamber pots, so that people can use the in private instead of having to go in public in the ones in the quadrangle. This is of course very tongue in cheek, as in reality the embellishments were not chamber pots at all.

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  • Thank you very much, I appreciate your support and am very grateful to you for your help.
    – Vazha Jishkariani
    Sep 22, 2022 at 13:37

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