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|From ch. 30: "A very clever Essay"
Written by Heather L
(4/28/2006 1:58 p.m.)
"There is a very clever Essay in one of the books up stairs upon much such a subject, about young girls that have been spoilt for home by great acquaintance – The Mirror, I think. I will look it out for you some day or other, because I am sure it will do you good."
The essay, "Consequence to little folks of intimacy with great ones" was issue #12, dated 6 March 1779, from the journal The Mirror, published at Edinburgh. Unfortunately it’s not freely available online; I found a copy in my local university’s Special Collections.
In the essay, "John Homespun" laments the effects of a week-long visit by his two daughters to a wealthy lady. The girls have learned to ape fashionable manners, keep late hours, play cards, and use French phrases. (Quelle horreur!) :)
Like the Morland family, Mr. Homespun is a plain country gentleman, with a small fortune and a large family – six daughters (two of whom are already married), and an unidentified number of sons. A great lady in the neighborhood takes a fancy to the two eldest unmarried daughters and invites them to spend a week with her. Mr. Homespun has a premonition that this is a bad idea – based in part by the lady’s "elegance of her dress" (Mrs. Allen, anyone?) – and opposes the visit. However, Mrs. Homespun and the daughters overrule him and begin a shopping spree in earnest. Mr. Homespun laments:
"... I must own to you, Mr. MIRROR, though I would not have you think me hen-peck'd, that my wife, somehow or other, contrives to carry most points in our family ..."
The girls' holiday is extended from one week to one month. Upon their return, Mr. Homespun is aghast at their complexions ("cheeks white as curd, and eyes as dead as the beads in the face of a baby"), their hourglass figures, and hair arranged so high that the girls can no longer stand upright in the parlour.
Their habits, too, have changed. The "fine ladies" sleep until noon and stay up until 3:00 am. They refuse to play Blindman's Bluff, Cross-Purposes, or Loo with the rest of the family; instead, they play cards:
"It seems indeed, the dullest of all amusements, as it consists merely in turning up the faces of the cards, and repeating their names from an ace upwards, as if the players were learning to speak, and had got only thirteen words in their vocabulary."
The last straw for poor Mr. Homespun occurs when Elizabeth (who now refuses to be called Betty) "said it was fanatical to find fault with card-playing on Sunday" and Sophia asks her brother-in-law the clergyman "if he had not some doubt of the soul’s immortality."
He looks on his daughters' behavior as a "sort of pestilential disorder" which may be little dreaded in the city, but the country is another matter:
"... if suffered to spread there, it will not only embitter our lives, and spoil our domestic happiness, as at present it does mine, but in its most violent stages, will bring our estates to market, our daughters to ruin, and our sons to the gallows."
Mr. Homespun suggests that the government ought to attempt confining or regulating the plague, "as much as distemper among the horned cattle" but failing that, he pleads with "little men like myself" to avoid contact with "great people" to avoid infection. His parting shot to the great people:
"Tell them, Sir, that, though the making fools of their poor neighbours may serve them for a Christmas gambol, it is matter of serious wretchedness to those poor neighbours in the after-part of their lives. It is to sport them, but death to us."
I was amused by this preachy little essay and I think JA was poking fun at it by including it in NA:
Is it any wonder that Mrs. Morland observes Catherine fluctuate between fidgeting and listlessness, sadness, and her inability to work, and promptly diagnoses Rich Person Distemper? Mr. Homespun paints such a horrid picture of pestilence that it's not surprising Mrs. Morland rushes off to get the book, "anxious to lose no time in attacking so dreadful a malady." :)
Luckily for Catherine, before she has to take such awful medicine, Henry shows up with the real cure for her misery.
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