Modern readers of the great classic novels of the previous era generally have no clue about the significance of horses and horse-drawn vehicles. As I wrote, right here on this blague a couple of months ago, "no, I'm not obsessed, it's just that I have this little bee in my bonnet about the fact that we gasoline-era moderns understand the exact social significance of jeep, Jaguar, Jetta, and jalopy, but we are, except for specialists, utterly clueless as to the valence of barouche, basket carriage, berlin, britchka, brougham, buckboard, buggy, cabriolet, caleche, cariole, carryall, chaise, chariot, clarence, coupe, croydon, curricle, cutter, daumont, dearborn, diligence, dog-cart, fiacre, fly, four-wheeler, gig, go-cart, governess cart, hansom, jaunty car, jersey-wagon, kibitka, landau, phaeton, post-chaise, rockaway, shandrydan, shay, spider-phaeton, spring-van, stanhope, sulky, surrey, T-cart, telyezhka, tilbury, tarantass, trap, troika, victoria, vis-a-vis, wagonette, and wurt."
What does it tell us when our hero arrives on the scene in a wurt? Does it mean that he is rich and stylish, or vulgar and pretentious, or tasteless, or downtrodden. We don't know, and so we read our own traditional literature with one hand tied behind our backs.
Well, I though that I had made my point, and I thought also that I had exhausted the list of nineteenth-century horse-drawn vehicles. But then I came upon this passage in Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence (a truly splendid novel published in 1920, though the action is set in the 1870s).
They [Archer and Countess Olenska] walked back toward Beacon Street, and near the club Archer caught sight of the plush-lined "herdic" which had carried his note to the Parker House, and whose driver was reposing from this effort by bathing his brow at the corner hydrant.
"I told you everything was predestined! Here's a cab for us. You see!" They laughed, astonished at the miracle of picking up a public conveyance at that hour, and in that unlikely spot, in a city where cabstands were still a "foreign" novelty.
The novelty, the herdic, was "a kind of carriage invented by Peter Herdic of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in 1881" (so Wharton is guilty of a tiny anachronism). "A predecessor of the taxicab, the herdic was a small two-wheeled carriage that had side seats and an entrance at the back. Their low entry made it easy for passengers to enter and exit the cars. The first herdics carried up to eight passengers. The earliest herdics were painted bright yellow."
Cheers to Peter Herdic, forgotten father of the Yellow Cab.