Does "the poor varlet was ready to give up the ghost" mean "the poor varlet (the poor evil beetle) was ready to go to hell (to die)?"


He was, in fact, an odd mixture of small shrewdness and simple credulity. His appetite for the marvellous, and his powers of digesting it, were equally extraordinary; and both had been increased by his residence in this spell-bound region. No tale was too gross or monstrous for his capacious swallow. It was often his delight, after his school was dismissed in the afternoon, to stretch himself on the rich bed of clover bordering the little brook that whimpered by his schoolhouse, and there con over old Mather’s direful tales, until the gathering dusk of evening made the printed page a mere mist before his eyes. Then, as he wended his way by swamp and stream and awful woodland, to the farmhouse where he happened to be quartered, every sound of nature, at that witching hour, fluttered his excited imagination,—the moan of the whip-poor-will from the hillside, the boding cry of the tree toad, that harbinger of storm, the dreary hooting of the screech owl, or the sudden rustling in the thicket of birds frightened from their roost. The fireflies, too, which sparkled most vividly in the darkest places, now and then startled him, as one of uncommon brightness would stream across his path; and if, by chance, a huge blockhead of a beetle came winging his blundering flight against him, the poor varlet was ready to give up the ghost, with the idea that he was struck with a witch’s token. His only resource on such occasions, either to drown thought or drive away evil spirits, was to sing psalm tunes and the good people of Sleepy Hollow, as they sat by their doors of an evening, were often filled with awe at hearing his nasal melody, “in linked sweetness long drawn out,” floating from the distant hill, or along the dusky road.

No. ' The poor varlet' refers to the person that the story is about.

The idea is that he is almost scared to death when he is hit by a big beetle.

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Thank you.

Is the usage still in use today?

A varlet was originally a servant. Then the word was used to mean a rogue or a rascal (this is in the fifteenth or sixteenth century). I do not think you would see it used at all in the twenty-first century - except in an imaginative example, which you give

However, it is related to "valet parking", which is still in use - a car park where there is a personal attendant to take care of your car

Best regards, Dave

Thank you Dave.
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The idiom 'give up the ghost' is still reasonably common, particularly with regard to equipment breaking down permanently.

eg My TV gave up the ghost yesterday. I have to buy a new one.

Look here. http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/give+up+the+ghost