The following posting from AUSTEN-L
tracks down a literary allusion of Mrs. Elton's (which is not a riddle or
"You remember those lines -- I forget the poem at this
``For when a lady's in the case,
You know all other things give place.''"
Date: Sat, 5 Oct 1996 15:48:45 -0700
From: Karen P.
I looked up Mrs. Elton's quote in Chapter 52 of Emma.
It turns out to be from the John Gay fable The Hare and Many
Friends, which is a poem also mentioned by Jane Austen in
Northanger Abbey. We are told there that Catherine
Morland learned this fable "as quickly as any girl in England",
suggesting that it was often given to children to memorize.
The fable concerns a hare who thinks she has made many real friends
simply by being civil and inoffensive to everyone (she seems to be the
Sir William Lucas of the
animal world). She finds out she is wrong one day when she is pursued
by hounds and seeks help from her "friends". She is first turned down
by her friend the horse, and then seeks help from the bull, who says,
"Since ev'ry beast alive can tell
That I sincerely wish you well,
I may, without offence, pretend
To take the freedom of a friend;
Love calls me hence; a fav'rite cow
Expects me near yon barley mow;
And when a lady's in the case,
You know, all other things give place."
So Mrs. Elton is comparing Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax to a
bull pursuing a cow. Elegant indeed.
In this prayer book, when a person's name is to be said as part of a
ceremony (such as baptism, etc.), then the place where the person's name
should be said is generally indicated by the letter "N.", which stands for Latin
nomen "name" (insofar as it stands for anything at all).
In the earlier versions of the prayerbook, this "N." occurred wherever
either the man's name or the woman's name was to be spoken as part of the
wedding ceremony. In most later editions of the prayerbook, in order to prevent any
possible confusion as to where the man's name was to be spoken, and where the
woman's name, two different letters have been used -- "M." was introduced to
mark places where the man's name should be said, while "N." was left to mark
places where the woman's name should be said. The differentiation was
probably done in this way merely because the man's name is usually said before
the woman's name in the ceremony, and "M." comes before "N." in the alphabet;
as far as I'm aware, there is no deeper significance to the particular choice
of letters for the man's and woman's names, and the letter "M." doesn't seem to
abbreviate anything (in the way that "N." can be said to abbreviate
nomen). (One ingenious suggestion, that "M." and "N." were
intended to stand for Latin maritus "husband" and nupta "bride", must remain rather doubtful.)
Remember that "M." and "N." are never actually part of the ceremony as such
(never spoken aloud), but are merely convenient little written markers to
help tell the minister what he should say as part of the ceremony.
The originally-published official answer to "Kitty, a fair but frozen maid" is:
"a chimney sweep"
It seems that the passion of the narrator is tied quite closely to the
state of his fireplace. (However there has been some skepticism about this
answer, and some racier alternative solutions, of lesser or greater degrees of
ingenuity, have been offered.)