Q From Brian Walker: deserve to you please tell me anything about the beginning of the expression going to hell in a handbasket?

A This is a monster one, which has puzzled and confused countless writers. The meaning is clear enough, the some situation is obtaining rapidly out of hand and also is walking downhill fast. That defines hell, as the ultimate bad destination, however why a handbasket, of all things?

A couple of similar expressions offer a clue. An early one to be going to heaven in a wheelbarrow, i beg your pardon paradoxically expected “going to hell”. This may relate come a famed stained-glass home window in St Mary’s Church in Fairford in Gloucestershire, which mirrors a scolding mam being taken far in a wheelbarrow through the devil. The speak is obliquely described in a sermon by an English clergyman:

Oh, this oppressor must needs walk to heaven! what chandelier hinder him? however it will certainly be, together the byword is, in a wheelbarrow: the fiends, and also not the angels, will take hold on him.

You are watching: Going to hell in a handbag

God’s Bounty, by thomas Adams, c1618.

Another variation was head in a handbasket:

A committee brought in something about Piscataqua. Govr claimed he would provide his head in a Handbasket as soon as he would pass it.

Diary, by The Reverend Samuel Sewell, 23 Mar. 1714.

This second expression is rare. I can uncover only one later on example, i m sorry looks an extremely much like a direct reference:

When Murray very first refused the certificate of choice to Cannon, the Mormon delegate, there was an nearly universal howl, particularly from republican papers, and the governor’s head was demanded in a hand basket.

The daily Ledger-Standard (New Albany, Indiana), 28 Mar. 1881.

Some writers have actually read into this variation that it refers to execution through the guillotine, in i beg your pardon the photo — as in the terror connected with the French transformation — is of the enforcement person’s head dropping right into a basket. Guillotines certainly predate both the French transformation and grandfather Sewell’s time (a famous sixteenth-century one is linked with the Yorkshire city the Halifax) yet to make this connection would seem come stretch the imagination.

The variation you’re asking around is a fairly common American one. Until freshly it was assumed to have appeared in the early on twentieth century however the digitising of historic records has showed the it dates from at least fifty percent a century earlier. The an initial known circumstances is attached to a famous conspiracy throughout the American Civil war by the bespeak of the sons of Liberty to release detainees from fort Douglas and burn down Chicago. Referee Buckner Morris was a primary agitator and is report to have made a speech in the loss of 1864:

He referred to the suspension the the habeas corpus, and said countless of our finest men were at that moment “rotting in Lincoln’s bastilles;” ... That thousands of our ideal men were prisoners in Camp Douglas, and also if when at liberty would “send abolitionists come hell in a hand basket”.

The great North-Western Conspiracy in all its startling Details, by i Winslow Ayer, 1865.

We may guess the the phrase was currently well recognized by this time. That wasn’t long prior to variations began to appear:

“Thou shalt not kill; you shalt no kill!” yelled a young man, an Irishman, that rushed approximately us, stop in his hands a Douay Bible. Climate he dashed the book upon a table, and also filled the hall through the many fearful oaths and also imprecations, closing v the declaration: “We’re every going to hell in a castiron hand basket!”

Corydon Republican (Corydon, Indiana), 2 Jul. 1877.

It has also often been shortened:

Politics never interested me. Ns know civilization who spend half their lives worrying about how everything’s going come hell in a basket — and it every goes to hell in a basket anyway.

Blood Risk, through Dean Koontz, 1974.

See more: 150+ Lord Of The Flies Page Numbers, 25+ Best Lord Of The Flies Quotes With Meanings

So why handbasket? I deserve to only assume the the alliteration has had a many to carry out with that success, and that handbasket suggests something easily and speedily done.