I’m still reading Jane Eyre, and in Chapter 17 I was amused by a chance resemblance to a modern usage. Jane’s employer (and heartthrob) Mr. Rochester has arrived with a bunch of fancy house guests, and after dinner she is observing the darkly beautiful Miss Ingram, whom she fears Rochester may have a fancy for:
She entered into a discourse on botany with the gentle Mrs. Dent. It seemed Mrs. Dent had not studied that science: though, as she said, she liked flowers, ‘especially wild ones’; Miss Ingram had, and she ran over its vocabulary with an air. I presently perceived she was (what is vernacularly termed) trailing Mrs. Dent; that is, playing on her ignorance: her trail might be clever, but it was decidedly not good-natured.
“She’s trolling that poor woman!” thought I with delight. The OED has this as sense 3b (though it should really be divided in two, with the “draw on” sense of the first two citations separated from the slangy one of the last two):
b. To draw as by persuasion or art; to draw on; hence colloq. ‘to quiz, befool’ (Farmer Slang).
a1717 T. Parnell Fairy Tale 158 Then Will, who bears the wispy fire, To trail the swains among the mire.
1748 S. Richardson Clarissa VII. x. 48, I sometimes was..so long trailed on between hope and doubt.
1847 C. Brontë Jane Eyre II. ii. 42, I..perceived she was (what is vernacularly termed) trailing Mrs. Dent; that is, playing on her ignorance: her trail might be clever, but it was decidedly not good-natured.
1900 C. Kernahan Scoundrels & Co. xxi, To see the Ishmaelites ‘trail’ a sufferer from ‘swelled head’ is to undergo inoculation against that fell malady.
Incidentally, I have another issue with punctuation (to follow up on this post): twice within as many pages Brontë uses quotation marks in a way that makes me twitch. When the guests arrive, she writes: “I should not be called upon to quit my sanctum of the schoolroom; for a sanctum it was now become to me,— ‘a very pleasant refuge in time of trouble’.” This is an allusion to the beginning of Psalm 46, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” and a very clever allusion it is too (I love the switch from “present” to “pleasant”) — but it is not a quote. And on the next page, when Jane tells little Adèle that “she must not on any account think of venturing in sight of the ladies, either now or at any other time, unless expressly sent for,” Brontë adds: “‘Some natural tears she shed’ on being told this; but as I began to look very grave, she consented at last to wipe them.” This is a reference to the magnificent passage that ends Paradise Lost, when Adam and Eve are expelled:
Some natural tears they dropt, but wip’d them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide.
They, hand in hand, with wand’ring steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.
Again, not a quote. I realize conventions were different, and the quote marks are just signaling “Hey, I’m referring to something well known here,” but I’ve spent so much time and effort correcting misquotes in modern texts that I can’t seem to take it in stride.