Jane Austen, Emma: Vol. 1, Ch. 4

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With this inspiritingw notion, her questions increased in number and meaning; and she particularly led Harriet to talk more of Mr. Martin, and there was evidently no dislike to it. Harriet was very ready to speak of the share he had had in their moonlight walks and merry evening games; and dwelt a good deal upon his being so very good-humoured and obliging. He had gone three miles round one day in order to bring her some walnuts, because she had said how fond she was of them, and in every thing else he was so very obliging. He had his shepherd's son into the parlour one night on purpose to sing to her. She was very fond of singing. He could sing a little himself. She believed he was very clever, and understood every thing. He had a very fine flock, and, while she was with them, he had been bid more for his wool than any body in the country. She believed every body spoke well of him. His mother and sisters were very fond of him. Mrs. Martin had told her one day (and there was a blush as she said it,) that it was impossible for any body to be a better son,d and therefore she was sure, whenever he married, he would make a good husband. Not that she wanted him to marry. She was in no hurry at all.

"Well done, Mrs. Martin!" thought Emma. "You know what you are about."

"And when she had come away, Mrs. Martin was so very kind as to send Mrs. Goddard a beautiful goose—the finest goose Mrs. Goddard had ever seen. Mrs. Goddard had dressed it on a Sunday, and asked all the three teachers, Miss Nash, and Miss Prince, and Miss Richardson, to sup with her."

"Mr. Martin, I suppose, is not a man of information beyond the line of his own business? He does not read?d"

"Oh yes!—that is, no—I do not know—but I believe he has read a good deal—but not what you would think any thing of. He reads the Agricultural Reports, and some other books that lay in one of the window seats—but he reads all them to himself. But sometimes of an evening, before we went to cards, he would read something aloud out of the Elegant Extracts,h very entertaining. And I know he has read the Vicar of Wakefieldh. He never read the Romance of the Forest, nor The Children of the Abbeyh. He had never heard of such books before I mentioned them, but he is determined to get them now as soon as ever he can."

The next question was—

"What sort of looking man is Mr. Martin?"

"Oh! not handsome—not at all handsome. I thought him very plain at first, but I do not think him so plain now. One does not, you know, after a time. But did you never see him? He is in Highbury every now and then, and he is sure to ride through every week in his way to Kingston. He has passed you very often."

"That may be, and I may have seen him fifty times, but without having any idea of his name. A young farmer, whether on horseback or on foot, is the very last sort of person to raise my curiosity. The yeomanryw are precisely the order of people with whom I feel I can have nothing to do. A degree or two lower, and a creditable appearanced might interest me; I might hope to be useful to their families in some way or other. But a farmer can need none of my help, and is, therefore, in one sense, as much above my notice as in every other he is below it."

"To be sure. Oh yes! It is not likely you should ever have observed him; but he knows you very well indeed—I mean by sight."

"I have no doubt of his being a very respectable young man. I know, indeed, that he is so, and, as such, wish him well. What do you imagine his age to be?"

X [w] inspiriting

Quickening, inciting, or here especially aggravating.

X [d] better son,

Writing & Reading

Austen's 1815-16 audience could hardly read "better son" without reflecting on the royal family's troubles. George III, a farmer and man of simple tastes if sometimes, as with the American War, obdurately wrong ideas, is now insane. His profligate, spendthrift son, the Prince Regent, is for a disgrace. The Prince has had numerous mistresses and refuses to speak with, no less live w…

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X [d] He does not read?

Education

A purposely ambiguous question, allowing for illiteracy at one extreme and on the other a taste for "good" literature. 

Harriet's response that Martin reads agricultural reports to himself but would read aloud passages from Elegant Abstracts (next annotation) says something about Martin's broad tastes and diligence as a farmer. In addition to music, reading aloud was a central part of a social evening. Austen mentions in a letter of 1808 Scott's …

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X [h] Elegant Extracts,

Writing & Reading

A compendium of literary passages from writers such as Milton, Addison, Steele, Thomson, Richardson and Johnson, in all genres but with an emphasis onbelles-lettres as opposed to "useful" or openly didactic literature.

X [h] Vicar of Wakefield

Writing & Reading

Oliver Goldsmith's popular novel (1766) is quietly melodramatic (bankruptcy of a clerical family with five children, kidnapping, seduction, betrayal, conflagration, hidden identity, debtor's prison, a near hanging, miraculous resolutions and turns of fortune, the vicar a sort of Job) and moralistic: virtue will be rewarded, if just barely.

X [h] Romance of the Forest, nor The Children of th…

Writing & Reading

Ann Radcliffe's Gothic novel, Romance of the Forest appearing in 1791, and "Children of the Abbey" (1798) by Regina Maria Roche.

Austen suggests that his choice of Goldsmith, who writes a realistic fiction about ordinary people in often ordinary situations, and his neglect of Radcliffe and Roche, both of whose fiction is Gothic (Search), discloses a discriminating judgment. It happens also to express a preference for the kind of realism Austen writes.…

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X [w] yeomanry

Class

Those who according to the OED hold a small landed estate; "a freeholder under the rank of a gentleman; hence vaguely, a commoner or countryman of respectable standing, esp. one who cultivates his own land." That Knightley, who is socially superior to the Woodhouses, readily associates with the "young farmer" emphasizes Emma's snobbery.…

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X [d] creditable appearance

Class

They would interest her if they were lower on the social scale, for then she could be condescendingly philanthropic (be "useful") but even so she'd want the recipients to have a "creditable appearance," which is to say be neat and scrubbed.

The poor could hardly afford food no less cleanliness, but the gentry's taste and perhaps their consciences demanded that poverty look presenta…

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