Fanny Burney, Evelina : Vol. 3, Ch. 3

[+] | [-] | reset
 

Letter III.

EVELINA IN CONTINUATION. Bristol Hotwells, Sept. 19th.

YESTERDAY morning Mrs. Selwyn received a card from Mrs. Beaumont, to ask her to dine with her to-day: and another, to the same purpose, came to me. The invitation was accepted, and we are but just arrived from Clifton Hill.

We found Mrs. Beaumont alone in the parlour. I will write you the character of that lady, in the words of our satirical friend Mrs. Selwyn. "She is an absolute Court Calendar bigotw; for, chancing herself to be born of a noble and ancient family, she thinks proper to be of opinion, that birth and virtue are one and the same thing. She has some good qualities; but they rather originate from pride than principle, as she piquesw herself upon being too high-born to be capable of an unworthy action, and thinks it incumbent upon her to support the dignity of her ancestry. Fortunately for the world in general, she has taken it into her head, that condescensionw is the most distinguishing virtue of high life; so that the same pride of family which renders others imperious, is with her the motive of affability. But her civility is too formal to be comfortable, and too mechanical to be flattering. That she does me the honour of so much notice, is merely owing to an accident, which, I am sure, is very painful to her remembrance; for it so happened, that I once did her some service, in regard to an apartment at Southampton; and I have since been informed, that, at the time she accepted my assistance, she thought I was a woman of quality; and I make no doubt but she was miserable when she discovered me to be a mere country gentlewoman: however, her nice notions of decorum have made her load me with favours ever since. But I am not much flattered by her civilities, as I am convinced I owe them neither to attachment nor gratitude; but solely to a desire of cancelling an obligation, which she cannot brook being under, to one whose name is no where to be found in the Court Calendar."

You well know, my dear Sir, the delight this lady takes in giving way to her satirical humour.

Mrs. Beaumont received us very graciously, though she some what distressed me by the questions she asked concerning my family;-such as, Whether I was related to the Anvilles in the North?-Whether some of my name did not live in Lincolnshire? and many other inquiries, which much embarrassed me.

The conversation next turned upon the intended marriage in her family. She treated the subject with reserve; but it was evident she disapproved Lady Louisa's choice. She spoke in terms of the highest esteem of Lord Orville, calling him, in Marmontel's words, "Un jeune homme comme il y en a peu."h

I did not think this conversation very agreeably interrupted by the entrance of Mr. Lovel. Indeed I am heartily sorry he is now at the Hot Wells. He made his compliments with the most obsequious respect to Mrs. Beaumont, but took no sort of notice of any other person.

In a few minutes Lady Louisa Larpent made her appearance. The same manners prevailed; for, courtsying, with "I hope you are well, Ma'am," to Mrs. Beaumont, she passed straight forward to her seat on the sofa; where, leaning her head on her hand, she cast her languishing eyes round the room, with a vacant stare, as if determined, though she looked, not to see who was in it.

Mr. Lovel, presently approaching her, with reverence the most profound, hoped her Ladyship was not indisposed.

"Mr. Lovel!" cried she, raising her head, "I declare I did not see you: have you been here long?"

"By my watch, Madam," said he, "only five minutes,-but by your
Ladyship's absence as many hours."

X [w] Court Calendar bigot

  Largely to confirm the superiority of her own birth or social standing, Mrs. Beaumont  is a devotee of the Court Calendar or almanac that follows royal families and their courts.

 

X [w] piques

From an obsolete usage, "To score a pique against or win a pique from (one's opponent)." OED Thus, she scores or rates herself  "too high-born to be capable of an unworthy action."

 

X [w] condescension

Johnson's Dictionary (1755) defines condescending as "To depart from the privileges of superiority by a voluntary submission; to sink willingly to equal  terms with inferiours." Within a society that observes a strict hierachy, such behavior is viewed positively as a generous capability, an "affability to one's inferiors, with courteous disregard of differences of rank or position." OED …

(read more)

X [h] "Un jeune homme comme il y en a peu."

"A young man like whom there are few," from the title of a tale in Jean François Marmontel's Contes Moraux, English edition 1771.