Jane Austen, Persuasion: Ch. 3

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"In all these cases, there are established usages which make everything plain and easy between landlord and tenant. Your interest, Sir Walter, is in pretty safe hands. Depend upon me for taking care that no tenant has more than his just rights. I venture to hint, that Sir Walter Elliot cannot be half so jealous for his own, as John Shepherd will be for him."

Here Anne spoke--

"The navy, I think, who have done so much for us, have at least an equal claim with any other set of men, for all the comforts and all the privileges which any home can give. Sailors work hard enough for their comforts, we must all allow."

"Very true, very true. What Miss Anne says, is very true," was Mr Shepherd's rejoinder, and "Oh! certainly," was his daughter's; but Sir Walter's remark was, soon afterwards--

"The profession has its utility, but I should be sorry to see any friend of mine belonging to it."d

"Indeed!" was the reply, and with a look of surprise.

"Yes; it is in two points offensive to me; I have two strong grounds of objection to it. First, as being the means of bringing persons of obscure birth into undue distinctionh, and raising men to honours which their fathers and grandfathers never dreamt of; and secondly, as it cuts upw a man's youth and vigour most horribly; a sailor grows old sooner than any other man. I have observed it all my life. A man is in greater danger in the navy of being insulted by the rise of one whose father, his father might have disdained to speak to, and of becoming prematurely an object of disgust himself, than in any other line. One day last spring, in town, I was in company with two men, striking instances of what I am talking of; Lord St Ives, whose father we all know to have been a country curate, without bread to eat;h I was to give place to Lord St Ives, and a certain Admiral Baldwin, the most deplorable-looking personage you can imagine; his face the colour of mahogany, rough and rugged to the last degree; all lines and wrinkles, nine grey hairs of a side, and nothing but a dab of powder at top.h 'In the name of heaven, who is that old fellow?' said I to a friend of mine who was standing near, (Sir Basil Morley). 'Old fellow!' cried Sir Basil, 'it is Admiral Baldwin. What do you take his age to be?' 'Sixty,' said I, 'or perhaps sixty-two.' 'Forty,' replied Sir Basil, 'forty, and no more.' Picture to yourselves my amazement; I shall not easily forget Admiral Baldwin. I never saw quite so wretched an example of what a sea-faring life can do; but to a degree, I know it is the same with them all: they are all knocked about, and exposed to every climate, and every weather, till they are not fit to be seen. It is a pity they are not knocked on the head at once, before they reach Admiral Baldwin's age."

"Nay, Sir Walter," cried Mrs Clay, "this is being severe indeed. Have a little mercy on the poor men. We are not all born to be handsome. The sea is no beautifier, certainly; sailors do grow old betimes; I have observed it; they soon lose the look of youth. But then, is not it the same with many other professions, perhaps most other?d Soldiers, in active service, are not at all better off: and even in the quieter professions, there is a toil and a labour of the mind, if not of the body, which seldom leaves a man's looks to the natural effect of time. The lawyer plods, quite care-worn; the physician is up at all hours, and travelling in all weather; and even the clergyman--" she stopt a moment to consider what might do for the clergyman;--"and even the clergyman, you know is obliged to go into infected rooms, and expose his health and looks to all the injury of a poisonous atmosphere. In fact, as I have long been convinced, though every profession is necessary and honourable in its turn, it is only the lot of those who are not obliged to follow any, who can live in a regular way, in the country, choosing their own hours, following their own pursuits, and living on their own property, without the torment of trying for more; it is only their lot, I say, to hold the blessings of health and a good appearance to the utmost: I know no other set of men but what lose something of their personableness when they cease to be quite young."

X [d] I should be sorry to see any friend of mine b…


To a contemporary reader, and certainly to Austen herself, Sir Walter's comments are not only laughable but border on the unpatriotic. Britain has been for much of the 18th century through the present at war with the French and the Americans. The Royal Navy, about which there's by this time an aura of glory, has achieved stellar victories that have secured Great Britain's military and commercial hegemony.  …

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X [h] First, as being the means of bringing persons…


Unlike the British army, in which officers advanced only through the purchase of commissions, resulting often in the sort of colossal amateurism that led to the legendary (and, despite Tennyson's poem, infamous) charge of the light brigade, the navy was far more meritocratic, promoting those who distinguished themselves, as well as of course those who had "connections." Hence, "obs…

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X [w] cuts up


X [h] I was in company with two men, striking insta…


Another instance of precedence, for a "lord" trumps a "sir." Lord St. Ives precedes Sir Walter, who is on the wrong side of the divide separating a baronet and a lord.

X [h] a dab of powder at top.


Persisting with 18th-c. styles, some men were still powdering their hair. Sir Walter is in general an enemy of the modern.  

X [d] with many other professions, perhaps most oth…

Daily Life

Mrs. Clay is not so much defending the professions as appealing to Sir Walter's vanity by reminding him that he requires no profession other than that of presenting himself in all of his unblemished grandeur. And that requires work, of the Beau Brummell sort.…

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