Jeeves! Whatever Has Become of My Carriage?
Jeeves: Why Sir, I believe it’s stored in the garage, behind your new motorcar.
Sir: No, no Jeeves, my own carriage!
Jeeves: But Sir, it is your carriage. And quite a handsome one at that. I confess I sometimes miss seeing seeing you in it, pulled by the wonderful team of horses we used to have.
Sir: Jeeves, I’m asking about my personal carriage – my bearing, the way I carry myself. What’s become of it?
Jeeves: Oh that carriage Sir. Well it does seem to be a bit amiss, if I may dare to say so…
Sir: Amiss! If I were stooped any further forward my nose would be sniffing my navel.
Jeeves: Surely Sir it hasn’t come to that.
Sir: Perhaps not, but still it’s still quite worrisome. What on earth should I do about it? I spoke with the doctor in the village but he’s of no use at all. Wanted me to start lifting barbells! Can you imagine that?
Jeeves: I must confess I cannot Sir. What you need to do is see that Alexander chap in London. I’m sure he can sort you out. He helped Lady Susan with her dowager hump.
Sir: Ah, Lady Susan! Now that you mention it Jeeves, she does seem quite fetching these days. Perhaps I should have her over for tea… But to get back to my own carriage, is this Alexander some sort of fancy Harley Street doctor? A carriage doctor as it were?
Jeeves: No Sir, he’s not a doctor at all. I believe he’s self taught. An autodidact, as it were. From Australia they say.
Sir: Australia! Is he a bloody convict?
Jeeves: I believe not Sir. He’s all the rage with London society right now. And very popular with the thespian crowd. Sir Henry Irving used to see him regularly before he passed away. They all say their posture and speech have been greatly improved by their sessions with him. I believe his work has sometimes been called the “Alexander Technique.”
Sir: Sir Irving! Well well. Perhaps I should go up to London for a consultation. Can you arrange that for me Jeeves?
Jeeves: Certainly sir. I’ll attend to it at once.
Sir: Thank you Jeeves. Now I must send a note to Lady Susan to arrange a visit. To discuss this Mr. Alexander, of course.
Jeeves: Very good Sir.
Carriage is a word that has all but disappeared from our language. When cars first came on the scene, the term “horseless carriage” was used for awhile, but that quickly gave way to “automobile” and now “car.” Mercifully, we still have a few baby carriages!
Carriage’s other meaning – a synonym for bearing or poise – has largely been forgotten. I think that’s a shame because it very nicely conveys an idea that is at the heart of the Alexander Technique.
Alexander tended to use the word “use” (rhymes with loose) to describe how we manage our body as we go through life. It’s a term he got from the language of horse trainers and continues to be used in that field to this day.
Alexander also used the word “carriage” five times in his first book, Man’s Supreme Inheritance. For example, in a chapter titled “Habits of Thought and Movement,” he writes:
The false poise and carriage of the body, the incorrect and laboured habits of breathing that are the cause of many troubles…
He never used the word again in his own writing, although in The Universal Constant in Living he included a 1937 Report of the British Medical Association about his work that uses the term “carriage” twice.
I’ll leave the last word to one of Alexander’s favorite writers, William Shakespeare, who provides a wonderful example of carriage’s much earlier use in his play Henry IV, Part 1:
A goodly portly man, i’faith, and a corpulent, of a cheerful
look, a pleasing eye, and a most noble carriage. – Act 2, Scene 2
Carriage image courtesy of joesive47 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net