Riddles, Charades, Rebusses


This small book is a collection of 143 riddles. The answers are given at the back of the book. Some of the riddles are only one or two lines; others are several stanzas. The author, Peter Puzzlewell, is a pseudonym; collections of riddles under the name of Peter Puzzlewell continued to be published until at least 1859. 

The answers to the riddles shown here are: a kiss (61), earwig (62), woman (63). 

Riddles and word games

Riddles and word games such as the ones in this book were very popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, especially among women of the leisured classes. Some critics have argued that this is because they allowed women to exercise their wit and intelligence in a way that did not seem threateningly intellectual. A popular pastime for young women was copying riddles, quotations and poems from various sources in order to make a collection of their own. 

The title page of this book says that the riddles it contains are ‘chiefly original’. The originality of riddles was hard to prove, since riddles were rarely attributed to a particular author, and often appeared in many different collections, often with variations between collections. 

Relevance to Jane Austen

Some of the riddles in this book are variations of those that Emma and Harriet copy into their riddle collection. Riddle 63 is almost identical to one of Emma’s riddles, which Jane Austen refers to as a ‘well-known charade’: ‘My first doth affliction denote,/ Which my second is destin’d to feel; And my whole is the best antidote/ That affliction to soften and heal’. The answer is woman – although this is not given in Emma, possibly because most readers would already know it. 

Riddle 99 is a variation of the one that Mr Woodhouse remembers from his youth, beginning 'Kitty – a fair and frozen maid'. This is in fact a very bawdy riddle, which requires knowledge of slang about prostitution and venereal disease in order to be understood.

Full title:
A Choice Collection of Riddles, Charades, Rebusses, etc.
1792, London
Peter Puzzlewell [pseudonym]
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

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