Beware the Groveling Life

“‘Southrons bow down,’ the Northmen say,
And tribute to us bring,
Fear ye the might we now display
And know us for your King
. . . . .
And ye may live that groveling life
The Northern poor now wear;
A long continued, struggling strife
’Twixt hope and wild despair.”

H.W.R. Jackson, Confederate Monitor (1862)*

Groveling is lying prone, face-down and prostrate.  The word is made of an Old Norse world grufe, face down, and the  stem ling that that we see in a word like sidling.  So just as sidling means to move to the side, groveling means to assume the prone, farce-down, or prostrate position.

Groveling can be involuntary, as it was in the case of a villainous knight in Spencer’s Faerie Queene when to the chin his head was cleft in twain and

“Down on the ground his carcass groveling fell.”**

But groveling is more often seen in men who have not been rudely smote upon what Spencer calls the “pannikel” (skull), but who “groveling fall” in fear or in hope of favor.  The later, who grovel in hope of favor, are, we might say, prone to proneness and glad to grovel.  The dust of a throne room floor is on their lips cake and caviar.  These men, if that is the word, were born to the groveling life.  They are natural sycophants, lickspittles and toadies, and with these three words I have barely scratched the large and expressive lexicon of names for this numerous race.

Many of those who grovel grimly and out of fear truly have no choice, but this is all the more reason we all should stand straight while we can, and especially when some upstart lickspittle jack in office says to us “bow down.”  If once on the ground you let your carcass groveling fall, the foot of the tyrannical toady will at once be on your neck.  And then yours will the be “ that groveling life . . . a long continued, struggling strife ’Twixt hope and wild despair.”


*) H.W.R. Jackson, Confederate Monitor and Patriot’s Friend (Atlanta: Franklin Steam Printing House, 1862), p. 107.

**) “Tho, when that Villian he aviz’d, which late
Affrighted had the fairest Florimel,
Full of fierce Fury, and indignant Hate,
To him he turned; and with Rigor fell
Smote him so rudely on the Pannikell,
That to the Chin he cleft his head in train:
Down on the ground his Carcass groveling fell:
His sinful Soul, with desperate Disdain,
Out of her feshy Ferm fled to the place of pain.”

Edmund Spencer, Faerie Queene (1596), 5.23

4 thoughts on “Beware the Groveling Life

  1. Your example undermines your point, I think. There isn’t evidence that the southerners were required to grovel to please the north, only to stop enslaving (and then progressively disenfranchising) other humans. It was their own arrogance which caused them to interpret this as a requirement that they grovel. We still see this now, when teenagers regard reasonable restrictions as an infringement on their freedom, or employees with bad attitudes insisting that they are being required to kiss the boss’s ass.

    It might be so. Groveling can be required by the victorious, just for fun, or of teenagers or employees. But it is just as likely that the reasonable requirement is being refused because people just can’t handle the slightest affront to their conceit.

    • I believe a Southerner would say that you likening them to a teenager was exactly the problem. They were not dependents living under the Yankees’ roof. They were independent men living next door on their own freehold, just as their fathers and grandfathers had lived. The Yankees, on the other hand, were like some reformed and over-zealous alcoholic who had recently taken to roaming the neighborhood, berating peaceable folk, and, whenever possible, emptying their whisky bottles on the ground. I know the sense of honor can be overgrown, but underdevelopment seems a bigger problem nowadays.

    • “employees with bad attitudes insisting that they are being required to kiss the boss’s ass.”

      When doing homage on infeftment, free vassals kissed the Superior’s hand; unfree tenants (bound to the soil) kissed his hip. (Jus Feudale by Thomas Craig. (1538-1608), a great authority on Scottish land law)

    • Someone shilling for the current ruling class claiming that “people just can’t handle the slightest affront to their conceit.”
      It is to laugh.

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