Page 51. " parish relief "

In the days before centralised state welfare, each parish would have a poor box, into which the wealthier members of the community would put donations. The money was shared out among the destitute.

Page 52. " a multiplicity of Pans whirling a multiplicity of Syrinxes; Lotis attempting to elude Priapus "
A fresco of Priapus found in Pompeii
Public DomainA fresco of Priapus found in Pompeii

In Greek mythology, the shepherd god Pan fell in love with with the water-nymph Syrinx. To help her elude his clutches, her sisters transformed her into a reed. Still infatuated, Pan cut the reeds to make pipes so that he could keep her near him.

A similar tale concerns the nymph Lotis and the fertility god Priapus, known for his exceptionally large genitals. Finding Lotis asleep, Priapus attempted to rape her. But a braying ass caused him to lose his erection and woke the nymph up. Priapus carried on in his attempts until the gods turned Lotis into a lotus plant out of pity.

Page 55. " like a Chinaman's queue "

 A pigtail, worn by Chinese men of the period as a badge of honour.

Page 56. " beautiful as some Praxitelean creation "
Venus Braschi, a Roman copy of one of Praxiteles' sculptures
Public DomainVenus Braschi, a Roman copy of one of Praxiteles' sculptures
Praxiteles was an Ancient Greek sculptor working in the fourth century BC. He was the first artist to sculpt life-size female nudes. His style was so revolutionary and influential that it is often referred to as Praxitelean. It is characterised by flexible lines in the poses, so that the figures look as though they are lounging or leaning, as well as the use of fabric and plants as supports.
Page 58. " offended you often by love-making "

Love-making in this period meant being affectionate or flirting, not having sex. Tess is still very much a virgin.

Page 62. " ironical Tishbite "

The Tishbite was the prophet Elijah who, in 1 Kings 18:27 in the Bible, describes the heathen god Baal as neglecting his duties. Hardy is keen to show that he sees no distinction between heathen gods and the Judao-Christian God. Both are as bad as each other in his book.

Tishbite is taken to mean "stranger".

Page 64. " despite the amalgamating effects of a roundabout railway "
A steam train
Public DomainA steam train
One of the biggest changes in the 19th century was the introduction of the railways. With the ease and speed of travel that steam trains brought, people were able to get about much more and to mix in more varied societies. The result was that local distinctions were eroded, making accents less variable and particular habits more or less common.
Page 69. " THOU, SHALT, NOT COMMIT - "
Moses and the Ten Commandments by Tissot
Public DomainMoses and the Ten Commandments by Tissot
The signwriter is in the process of writing up the seventh commandment: "Thou shalt not commit adultery". This appears, along with nine other commandments, in the Book of Exodus in the Bible (20:14). The Ten Commandments were given to Moses by God as rules for the Israelites to live by. 

The word adultery in this context has a broader scope than we usually give it, and encompasses any form of sexual intercourse outside marriage. No doubt this is what rattles Tess.

Page 71. " this said thirty-first cousin "

Your first cousin is the child of one of your parents' siblings. Your second cousin is the grandchild of one of your grandparents' siblings.

For someone to be classed as your thirty-first cousin, you'd only have to be related by blood 31 generations back (roughly 1,000 years). This could really apply to anyone at all. The stranger you sit next to on the bus is probably more closely related to you than that.

Page 72. " She liked to hear the chanting "

Chants are musical settings of Psalms from the Bible. They are written out in a single line of music above the text, which is punctuated with dots and lines to show the singers when to change notes. The different chants are named after their (almost exclusively male) composers, so the composer of Tess's favourite chant would have been a Mr Langdon. When psalms are sung well, as in the video below, you can hear every word.


Page 74. " reaping machine "
A reaping machine from 1889
Public DomainA reaping machine from 1889

One of the many industrial innovations to revolutionise farming in the 19th century, reaping machines replaced the older technique of scything by hand.

They were generally welcomed for the speed they brought to harvesting, but Hardy here casts the reaping machine in quite a sinister light, reflecting his own unease about the erosion of the old rural ways of life.