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

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"We must then begin with the ladies," said Lord Orville; and applied to Mrs. Selwyn.

"With all my heart," answered she, with her usual readiness; "and, since the gentlemen are not allowed to risk their necks, suppose we decide the bet by their heads?"

"By our heads?" cried Mr. Coverley. "Egad, I don't understand you."

"I will then explain myself more fully. As I doubt not but you are both excellent classicsw, suppose, for the good of your own memories, and the entertainment and surprise of the company, the thousand pounds should fall to the share of him who can repeat by heart the longest ode of Horace?"

Nobody could help laughing, the two gentlemen applied to excepted; who seemed, each of them, rather at a loss in what manner to receive this unexpected proposal. At length Mr. Coverley, bowing low, said, "Will your Lordship please to begin?"

"Devil take me if I do!" answered he, turning on his heel, and stalking to the window.

"Come, gentlemen," said Mrs. Selwyn, "why do you hesitate? I am sure you cannot be afraid of a weak woman? Besides, if you should chance to be out, Mr. Lovel, I dare say, will have the goodness to assist you."

The laugh now turned against Mr. Lovel, whose change of countenance manifested no great pleasure at the transition.

"Me, Madam!" said he, colouring; "no, really I must beg to be excused."

"Why so, Sir?"

"Why so, Ma'am!-Why, really-as to that,-'pon honour, Ma'am, you are rather-a little severe;-for how is it possible for a man who is in the house, to study the classics? I assure you, Ma'am, (with an affected shrug) I find quite business enough for my poor head in studying politics."

"But, did you study politics at school, and at the university?"

"At the university!" repeated he, with an embarrassed look; "why, as to that, Ma'am,-no, I can't say I did; but then, what with riding,-and -and-and so forth,-really, one has not much time, even at the university, for mere reading."

"But, to be sure, Sir, you have read the classics?"

"O dear, yes, Ma'am!-very often,-but not very-not very lately."

"Which of the Odes do you recommend to these gentlemen to begin with?"

"Which of the Odes!-Really, Ma'am, as to that, I have no very particular choice;-for, to own the truth, that Horace was never a very great favourite with me."

"In truth I believe you!" said Mrs. Selwyn, very drily.

Lord Merton, again advancing into the circle, with a nod and a laugh, said, "Give you joy, Lovel!"

Lord Orville next applied to Mrs. Beaumont for her vote.

"It would very agreeably remind me of past times," said she, "when bowing was in fashion, if the bet was to depend upon the best made bow."

"Egad, my Lord," cried Mr. Coverley, "there I should beat you hollow, for your Lordship never bows at all."

X [w] classics

Education

Classicists.  Given the gentlemen's university education they should be learned in the classics though in all likelihood stronger in Latin than in Greek, hence the choice of the Roman poet Horace for the challenge.  That they so readily shy away from this challenge lends support to Mrs. Selwyn's jab at a contemporary university education.