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‘Cremuel,’ he says, ‘I note the duke’s comments. About your person. About your position.’ He clears his throat. ‘For what it is worth, I am myself a man of humble origins. Though not perhaps so low…’

He knows Chapuys’s history. His people are petty lawyers, two generations away from the soil.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

What is the meaning of the phrase 'from the soil' here?

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"Two generations away from the soil" means that two generations back, Chapuy's family were farmers.

Similar expressions: One's grandparent's could have

  • Worked the land

  • Followed/chased the plow.

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Probably two generations away from being farmers, ie people who work in the soil.

There is also a possible allusion to night soil meaning faeces, ie referring to people who work in, or with, middens and similar.

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