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An Introduction To 'Northanger Abbey' And 'Persuasion'
Northanger Abbey, J. Austen
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
By Austin Dobson
EVEN at this distance of time, the genuine devotee of Jane Austen must be conscious of a futile, but irresistible, desire to 'feel the bumps' of that Boeotian bookseller of Bath, who having bought the manuscript of Northanger Abbey for the base price of ten pounds refrained from putting it before the world. What can have been the phrenological conditions of a man who could remain insensible to such a sentence as this, the third in the book ' Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard and he had never been handsome'? That the sentence was an afterthought in the proof cannot be contended, for Northanger Abbey was published posthumously, and 'the curious eyes, that saw the manners in the face,' had long been closed under a black slab in Winchester Cathedral. Only two suppositions are possible : one, that Mr. Bull of the Circulating Library at Bath (if Mr. Bull it were) was constitutionally insensible to the charms of that master-spell which Mrs. Slipslop calls ' ironing ' ; the other, that he was an impenitent and irreclaimable adherent of the author of the Mysteries of Udolpho. The latter is the more natural conclusion. Nothing else can explain his suppression for so long a period of Miss Austen's 'copy' the scene of which, by the way, was largely laid in Bath itself. He was infatuated with Mrs. Radcliffe, and Mrs. Radcliffe's following : the Necromancer of the Black Forest, the Orphan of the Rhine, the Midnight Bell, the Castle of Wolfenbach, and all the rest of those worshipful masterpieces which Isabella Thorpe, in chapter vi., proposes for the delectation of Catherine Morland, and the general note of which Crabbe (one remembers Miss Austen's leaning to that favourite poet anticipates so aptly in The Library :
Hence, ye profane ! I feel a former dread,
A thousand visions float around my head :
Hark ! hollow blasts through empty courts resound,
And shadowy forms with staring eyes stalk round.
But whatever be the solution, the fact remains. Northanger Abbey, as the 'Advertisement ' to the first edition of 1818, said to be by the then deceased 'authoress,' informs us, was disposed of to a Bath bookseller and even announced as forthcoming, not long after it ' was finished [i.e. prepared for press] in the year 1803,' having been 'certainly first composed,' Mr. Austen-Leigh states, as far back as 1798 (the year after the first appearance of Mrs. Radcliffe's Italian), when Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice were already existent in manuscript ' That any bookseller should think it worth while to purchase what he did not think worth while to publish seems extraordinary,' observes Miss Austen ; and it would seem more extraordinary still were there not several other equally well-authenticated instances of similar lack of enterprise or critical incapacity in those whose business lies in books. That this particular wiseacre should not have found out, after the successful publication of the first two novels, that he had an imprinted MS. by the same author in his own possession, is also extraordinary; and, all things considered, no one can greatly commiserate him when, in the absence of such knowledge, he was induced to sell back Northanger Abbey to Henry Austen for precisely the same amount he had paid for it at the beginning.
It has been said that we have Northanger Abbey in its original form - in other words, that it was not subjected, like Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility ', to reconstruction or revision long after it was first completed. That, subsequent to its recovery from the Bath bookseller, it was practically untouched by its writer, is clear from the 'Advertisement' above quoted, which expressly apologises for those parts of it which had grown 'comparatively obsolete ' in the thirteen years which had elapsed since it was finished (a statement which gives us 1816 as the date of the advertisement). But Miss Austen also adds that ' many more years had passed since it was begun.' Much, therefore, may have been done to modify and alter it between 1798 and 1803. Miss Austen, as we know, in her girlish efforts, had amused herself by ridiculing the silly romances of the circulating library, and it is probable that Northanger Abbey was originally only a more serious and sustained attempt to do for the Radcliffe school what Cervantes had done for Esplandian and Florismarte of Hyrcania, and Mrs. Lenox for Cassandra and Cleopatra. But the ironical treatment is not always apparent, and there are indications that, as often happens, the author's growing interest in the characters diverts her insensibly from her purpose. There are, besides, passages, such as the spirited defence of novels at the end of chapter v., with its odd boutade against the Spectator, which have a look of afterthought ; and it is not very unreasonable to assume that, setting out with a purely satiric intent, Miss Austen ultimately moved in a diagonal between a study in irony and a story. One result of this is, that her attention not being wholly confined to the creation of character, her third novel (in the order of writing) contains no personage corresponding to Mr. Collins, or to the Mrs. Norris of her next book. But Mrs. Allen is 'perfectly well ' (as Gray would say) in her colourless kind ; and as a mere study there is nothing anywhere to approach, in its vivid fidelity, that extremely objectionable specimen of the horsey university man of the Gillray and Rowlandson era, Mr. John Thorpe, who, it may be noted, admires Mrs. Radcliffe and abuses Miss Burney. Of Catherine Morland it is perhaps sufficient to say that she is attractive in spite of her environment and her function, and that her native sense of fitness is stronger than her fictitious enthusiasm. She is evidently the person really intended when Henry Tilney speaks mockingly of Isabella Thorpe as 'open, candid, artless, guileless, with affections strong but simple, forming no pretensions, and knowing no disguise,' and, like the hero and his sister, we instinctively feel her unlessoned charm to be greater than her acquired opinions. Personally, we could have willingly surrendered a good deal of the clever raillery about Mrs. Radcliffe for a little more of Beau Nash's old city, which Miss Austen knew so thoroughly. But her nice sense of artistic restraint does not admit of this. Her characters turn out of the right streets into the right crescents and cross the right crossings, as they would have done in real life, but of the topography of Bath itself, where the author lived so long, there is not as much in the whole of Northanger Abbey as there is in one chapter of Humphry Clinker.
It is the accident of posthumous publication which brings Northanger Abbey into the same volume with Persuasion. Both were first issued in 1818, after the author's death. But while Northanger Abbey had been ready for press in 1803, Persuasion was not begun until Emma was finished, and it was completed in August 1816, not many months before Miss Austen died. During its progress, indeed, her health had been slowly failing. The illness of her brother Henry in 1815, together with some subsequent family troubles, told severely upon her spirits, producing a perceptible decline in her customary vivacity and animation. By degrees she became a confirmed invalid, first substituting a donkey carriage for her long walks, and then spending most of her time on an improvised couch of chairs that served the office of the solitary sofa, of which she could not persuade herself to deprive her aged mother. Nevertheless, she worked at Persuasion with little abatement of her creative power, although of course there have been critics wise enough (after the fact) to discover in the book not only the sadness of impending calamity, but the evidence of defective vigour. One chapter, in fact, in going over her work, she felt to be inadequate ; and for a moment suffered some slight despondency. But a night's rest worked its usual remedy, and she speedily substituted two others (they are the last two chapters but one), concerning which we may confidently leave the reader to decide whether they are in any way inferior to the rest. The cancelled chapter, which may be found at pp. 167-180 of the second edition of Mr. Austen-Leigh's Memoir, certainly, as he contends, contains ' touches which scarcely any other hand could have given,' but there can be no doubt of the higher quality of those which took its place. After Persuasion^ no other finished effort came from Miss Austen's pen. Upon a fitful revival of her strength at the beginning of 1817, she fell eagerly to work at a story, of which she wrote twelve chapters. It has no name, and the plot and purpose are undeveloped. But some of the personages sketched have more than promise. There is a Mr. Parker with fixed theories as to the fashionable watering-place he hopes to evolve out of a Sussex fishing village ; there is a rich and vulgar Lady Denham, who will certainly disappoint her relatives by the testamentary disposition of her property, and there are two maiden ladies who thoroughly 'enjoy' bad health, and quack themselves to their hearts' content. Whatever the plot to be unravelled, there is no sign that the writer's hand had lost its cunning. But by the 17th March 1817, the last date upon the manuscript, she had grown too ill to continue her work, and in the July following she was dead.
Of Emma, as already stated, she had said that she was going to take a heroine whom no one but herself would much like. Of Anne Elliot, the heroine of Persuasion, she wrote to a friend, ' You may perhaps like her, as she is almost too good for me.' She is too good for most of us, but not the less charming, and even the brilliancy of Elizabeth Bennett pales a little before the refined womanliness of this delightful English lady. Whether the future of Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney was wholly ideal may be doubted ; we may even have secret reservations as to the absolute bliss of Emma and her Knightley ; but there can be no sort of question as to the ultimate and unalloyed happiness of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth, who is another of those pleasant manly naval officers whom Miss Austen, drawing no doubt from material in her own family circle, depicts so sympathetically. They are generally the most earnest, and the most admirable of her male personages. Admiral Croft is also a seafaring character, with a seafaring wife to match, and the hearty attachment of this couple goes far to answer those critics by whom it is sometimes affirmed that Miss Austen's pages present no pictures of contented married life. For Sir Walter Elliot (a study in the General Tilney vein) and his daughters, - for the Musgroves and Mrs. Clay, and for Anne's friend Lady Russell, there is not much to say, apart from their influence upon the conduct of the story, which, either of set purpose or by reason of the author's declining health, is rather quieter and more pensive in tone than its predecessors. But the genuine charm of its chief female character has secured its popularity, and many of Miss Austen's admirers, like Miss Martineau and Miss Mitford, give it the chief place in their affections.
The publication, at long intervals, of a series of prefaces has this among its drawbacks, that it sometimes becomes necessary to correct a statement which has been made too hastily. 'The words are utter'd, and they flee' - however much one may wish to call them back. In a note to the ' Introduction ' to Mansfield Park, the present writer announced that the first review of Miss Austen in the Quarterly was written by Sir Walter Scott, and in making this announcement he was under the impression that he was making it for the first time. Certainly the fact was not known to Mr. Austen-Leigh, who, speaking gratefully elsewhere of Sir Walter's later praises of his aunt's work, finds fault with this particular article as inferior to Whately's. Nor does it seem to have been known to Miss Austen's most accomplished biographer, Professor Goldwin Smith, who, after quoting Scott's commendations from the Diary, goes on to say that 'the Quarterly reviewed her in 1815, very poorly and in a doubtful strain.' Yet the information so obligingly afforded by Mr. John Murray was all the while lying perdu in a note to chapter IV. of Lockhart's Life of Scott. After explaining that he had been misled into ascribing Dr. Whately's article to his father-in-law, Lockhart adds, 'The article which Scott did contribute to the Quarterly on the novels of Miss Austen was that which the reader will find in No. xxvii. [for October 1815]. Emma, and Northanger Abbey, in particular, were great favourites of his, and he often read chapters of them to his evening circle.' If this note escaped Mr. Austen-Leigh, he unwittingly confirms its last words, for he expressly refers to his personal knowledge of the well-worn condition of Sir Walter's own copy of Miss Austen's novels at Abbotsford.
No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her. Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard—and he had never been handsome. He had a considerable independence besides two good livings—and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters. Her mother was a woman of useful plain sense, with a good temper, and, what is more remarkable, with a good constitution. She had three sons before Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as anybody might expect, she still lived on—lived to have six children more—to see them growing up around her, and to enjoy excellent health herself. A family of ten children will be always called a fine family, where there are heads and arms and legs enough for the number; but the Morlands had little other right to the word, for they were in general very plain, and Catherine, for many years of her life, as plain as any. She had a thin awkward figure, a sallow skin without colour, dark lank hair, and strong features—so much for her person; and not less unpropitious for heroism seemed her mind. She was fond of all boy's plays, and greatly preferred cricket not merely to dolls, but to the more heroic enjoyments of infancy, nursing a dormouse, feeding a canary-bird, or watering a rose-bush. Indeed she had no taste for a garden; and if she gathered flowers at all, it was chiefly for the pleasure of mischief—at least so it was conjectured from her always preferring those which she was forbidden to take. Such were her propensities—her abilities were quite as extraordinary. She never could learn or understand anything before she was taught; and sometimes not even then, for she was often inattentive, and occasionally stupid. Her mother was three months in teaching her only to repeat the "Beggar's Petition"; and after all, her next sister, Sally, could say it better than she did. Not that Catherine was always stupid—by no means; she learnt the fable of "The Hare and Many Friends" as quickly as any girl in England. Her mother wished her to learn music; and Catherine was sure she should like it, for she was very fond of tinkling the keys of the old forlorn spinnet; so, at eight years old she began. She learnt a year, and could not bear it; and Mrs. Morland, who did not insist on her daughters being accomplished in spite of incapacity or distaste, allowed her to leave off. The day which dismissed the music-master was one of the happiest of Catherine's life. Her taste for drawing was not superior; though whenever she could obtain the outside of a letter from her mother or seize upon any other odd piece of paper, she did what she could in that way, by drawing houses and trees, hens and chickens, all very much like one another. Writing and accounts she was taught by her father; French by her mother: her proficiency in either was not remarkable, and she shirked her lessons in both whenever she could. What a strange, unaccountable character!—for with all these symptoms of profligacy at ten years old, she had neither a bad heart nor a bad temper, was seldom stubborn, scarcely ever quarrelsome, and very kind to the little ones, with few interruptions of tyranny; she was moreover noisy and wild, hated confinement and cleanliness, and loved nothing so well in the world as rolling down the green slope at the back of the house.
Such was Catherine Morland at ten. At fifteen, appearances were mending; she began to curl her hair and long for balls; her complexion improved, her features were softened by plumpness and colour, her eyes gained more animation, and her figure more consequence. Her love of dirt gave way to an inclination for finery, and she grew clean as she grew smart; she had now the pleasure of sometimes hearing her father and mother remark on her personal improvement. "Catherine grows quite a good-looking girl—she is almost pretty today," were words which caught her ears now and then; and how welcome were the sounds! To look almost pretty is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive.
Mrs. Morland was a very good woman, and wished to see her children everything they ought to be; but her time was so much occupied in lying-in and teaching the little ones, that her elder daughters were inevitably left to shift for themselves; and it was not very wonderful that Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books—or at least books of information—for, provided that nothing like useful knowledge could be gained from them, provided they were all story and no reflection, she had never any objection to books at all. But from fifteen to seventeen she was in training for a heroine; she read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives.
From Pope, she learnt to censure those who
"bear about the mockery of woe."
From Gray, that
"Many a flower is born to blush unseen,
"And waste its fragrance on the desert air."
From Thompson, that—
"It is a delightful task
"To teach the young idea how to shoot."
And from Shakespeare she gained a great store of information—amongst the rest, that—
"Trifles light as air,
"Are, to the jealous, confirmation strong,
"As proofs of Holy Writ."
"The poor beetle, which we tread upon,
"In corporal sufferance feels a pang as great
"As when a giant dies."
And that a young woman in love always looks—
"like Patience on a monument
"Smiling at Grief."
So far her improvement was sufficient—and in many other points she came on exceedingly well; for though she could not write sonnets, she brought herself to read them; and though there seemed no chance of her throwing a whole party into raptures by a prelude on the pianoforte, of her own composition, she could listen to other people's performance with very little fatigue. Her greatest deficiency was in the pencil—she had no notion of drawing—not enough even to attempt a sketch of her lover's profile, that she might be detected in the design. There she fell miserably short of the true heroic height. At present she did not know her own poverty, for she had no lover to portray. She had reached the age of seventeen, without having seen one amiable youth who could call forth her sensibility, without having inspired one real passion, and without having excited even any admiration but what was very moderate and very transient. This was strange indeed! But strange things may be generally accounted for if their cause be fairly searched out. There was not one lord in the neighbourhood; no—not even a baronet. There was not one family among their acquaintance who had reared and supported a boy accidentally found at their door—not one young man whose origin was unknown. Her father had no ward, and the squire of the parish no children.
But when a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way.
Mr. Allen, who owned the chief of the property about Fullerton, the village in Wiltshire where the Morlands lived, was ordered to Bath for the benefit of a gouty constitution—and his lady, a good-humoured woman, fond of Miss Morland, and probably aware that if adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad, invited her to go with them. Mr. and Mrs. Morland were all compliance, and Catherine all happiness.
In addition to what has been already said of Catherine Morland's personal and mental endowments, when about to be launched into all the difficulties and dangers of a six weeks' residence in Bath, it may be stated, for the reader's more certain information, lest the following pages should otherwise fail of giving any idea of what her character is meant to be, that her heart was affectionate; her disposition cheerful and open, without conceit or affectation of any kind—her manners just removed from the awkwardness and shyness of a girl; her person pleasing, and, when in good looks, pretty—and her mind about as ignorant and uninformed as the female mind at seventeen usually is.
When the hour of departure drew near, the maternal anxiety of Mrs. Morland will be naturally supposed to be most severe. A thousand alarming presentiments of evil to her beloved Catherine from this terrific separation must oppress her heart with sadness, and drown her in tears for the last day or two of their being together; and advice of the most important and applicable nature must of course flow from her wise lips in their parting conference in her closet. Cautions against the violence of such noblemen and baronets as delight in forcing young ladies away to some remote farm-house, must, at such a moment, relieve the fulness of her heart. Who would not think so? But Mrs. Morland knew so little of lords and baronets, that she entertained no notion of their general mischievousness, and was wholly unsuspicious of danger to her daughter from their machinations. Her cautions were confined to the following points. "I beg, Catherine, you will always wrap yourself up very warm about the throat, when you come from the rooms at night; and I wish you would try to keep some account of the money you spend; I will give you this little book on purpose."
Sally, or rather Sarah (for what young lady of common gentility will reach the age of sixteen without altering her name as far as she can?), must from situation be at this time the intimate friend and confidante of her sister. It is remarkable, however, that she neither insisted on Catherine's writing by every post, nor exacted her promise of transmitting the character of every new acquaintance, nor a detail of every interesting conversation that Bath might produce. Everything indeed relative to this important journey was done, on the part of the Morlands, with a degree of moderation and composure, which seemed rather consistent with the common feelings of common life, than with the refined susceptibilities, the tender emotions which the first separation of a heroine from her family ought always to excite. Her father, instead of giving her an unlimited order on his banker, or even putting an hundred pounds bank-bill into her hands, gave her only ten guineas, and promised her more when she wanted it.
Under these unpromising auspices, the parting took place, and the journey began. It was performed with suitable quietness and uneventful safety. Neither robbers nor tempests befriended them, nor one lucky overturn to introduce them to the hero. Nothing more alarming occurred than a fear, on Mrs. Allen's side, of having once left her clogs behind her at an inn, and that fortunately proved to be groundless.
They arrived at Bath. Catherine was all eager delight—her eyes were here, there, everywhere, as they approached its fine and striking environs, and afterwards drove through those streets which conducted them to the hotel. She was come to be happy, and she felt happy already.
They were soon settled in comfortable lodgings in Pulteney Street.
It is now expedient to give some description of Mrs. Allen, that the reader may be able to judge in what manner her actions will hereafter tend to promote the general distress of the work, and how she will, probably, contribute to reduce poor Catherine to all the desperate wretchedness of which a last volume is capable—whether by her imprudence, vulgarity, or jealousy—whether by intercepting her letters, ruining her character, or turning her out of doors.
Mrs. Allen was one of that numerous class of females, whose society can raise no other emotion than surprise at there being any men in the world who could like them well enough to marry them. She had neither beauty, genius, accomplishment, nor manner. The air of a gentlewoman, a great deal of quiet, inactive good temper, and a trifling turn of mind were all that could account for her being the choice of a sensible, intelligent man like Mr. Allen. In one respect she was admirably fitted to introduce a young lady into public, being as fond of going everywhere and seeing everything herself as any young lady could be. Dress was her passion. She had a most harmless delight in being fine; and our heroine's entree into life could not take place till after three or four days had been spent in learning what was mostly worn, and her chaperone was provided with a dress of the newest fashion. Catherine too made some purchases herself, and when all these matters were arranged, the important evening came which was to usher her into the Upper Rooms. Her hair was cut and dressed by the best hand, her clothes put on with care, and both Mrs. Allen and her maid declared she looked quite as she should do. With such encouragement, Catherine hoped at least to pass uncensured through the crowd. As for admiration, it was always very welcome when it came, but she did not depend on it.
Mrs. Allen was so long in dressing that they did not enter the ballroom till late. The season was full, the room crowded, and the two ladies squeezed in as well as they could. As for Mr. Allen, he repaired directly to the card-room, and left them to enjoy a mob by themselves. With more care for the safety of her new gown than for the comfort of her protegee, Mrs. Allen made her way through the throng of men by the door, as swiftly as the necessary caution would allow; Catherine, however, kept close at her side, and linked her arm too firmly within her friend's to be torn asunder by any common effort of a struggling assembly. But to her utter amazement she found that to proceed along the room was by no means the way to disengage themselves from the crowd; it seemed rather to increase as they went on, whereas she had imagined that when once fairly within the door, they should easily find seats and be able to watch the dances with perfect convenience. But this was far from being the case, and though by unwearied diligence they gained even the top of the room, their situation was just the same; they saw nothing of the dancers but the high feathers of some of the ladies. Still they moved on—something better was yet in view; and by a continued exertion of strength and ingenuity they found themselves at last in the passage behind the highest bench. Here there was something less of crowd than below; and hence Miss Morland had a comprehensive view of all the company beneath her, and of all the dangers of her late passage through them. It was a splendid sight, and she began, for the first time that evening, to feel herself at a ball: she longed to dance, but she had not an acquaintance in the room. Mrs. Allen did all that she could do in such a case by saying very placidly, every now and then, "I wish you could dance, my dear—I wish you could get a partner." For some time her young friend felt obliged to her for these wishes; but they were repeated so often, and proved so totally ineffectual, that Catherine grew tired at last, and would thank her no more.
They were not long able, however, to enjoy the repose of the eminence they had so laboriously gained. Everybody was shortly in motion for tea, and they must squeeze out like the rest. Catherine began to feel something of disappointment—she was tired of being continually pressed against by people, the generality of whose faces possessed nothing to interest, and with all of whom she was so wholly unacquainted that she could not relieve the irksomeness of imprisonment by the exchange of a syllable with any of her fellow captives; and when at last arrived in the tea-room, she felt yet more the awkwardness of having no party to join, no acquaintance to claim, no gentleman to assist them. They saw nothing of Mr. Allen; and after looking about them in vain for a more eligible situation, were obliged to sit down at the end of a table, at which a large party were already placed, without having anything to do there, or anybody to speak to, except each other.
Mrs. Allen congratulated herself, as soon as they were seated, on having preserved her gown from injury. "It would have been very shocking to have it torn," said she, "would not it? It is such a delicate muslin. For my part I have not seen anything I like so well in the whole room, I assure you."
"How uncomfortable it is," whispered Catherine, "not to have a single acquaintance here!"
"Yes, my dear," replied Mrs. Allen, with perfect serenity, "it is very uncomfortable indeed."
"What shall we do? The gentlemen and ladies at this table look as if they wondered why we came here—we seem forcing ourselves into their party."
"Aye, so we do. That is very disagreeable. I wish we had a large acquaintance here."
"I wish we had any—it would be somebody to go to."
"Very true, my dear; and if we knew anybody we would join them directly. The Skinners were here last year—I wish they were here now."
"Had not we better go away as it is? Here are no tea-things for us, you see."
"No more there are, indeed. How very provoking! But I think we had better sit still, for one gets so tumbled in such a crowd! How is my head, my dear? Somebody gave me a push that has hurt it, I am afraid."
"No, indeed, it looks very nice. But, dear Mrs. Allen, are you sure there is nobody you know in all this multitude of people? I think you must know somebody."
"I don't, upon my word—I wish I did. I wish I had a large acquaintance here with all my heart, and then I should get you a partner. I should be so glad to have you dance. There goes a strange-looking woman! What an odd gown she has got on! How old-fashioned it is! Look at the back."
After some time they received an offer of tea from one of their neighbours; it was thankfully accepted, and this introduced a light conversation with the gentleman who offered it, which was the only time that anybody spoke to them during the evening, till they were discovered and joined by Mr. Allen when the dance was over.
"Well, Miss Morland," said he, directly, "I hope you have had an agreeable ball."
"Very agreeable indeed," she replied, vainly endeavouring to hide a great yawn.
"I wish she had been able to dance," said his wife; "I wish we could have got a partner for her. I have been saying how glad I should be if the Skinners were here this winter instead of last; or if the Parrys had come, as they talked of once, she might have danced with George Parry. I am so sorry she has not had a partner!"
"We shall do better another evening I hope," was Mr. Allen's consolation.
The company began to disperse when the dancing was over—enough to leave space for the remainder to walk about in some comfort; and now was the time for a heroine, who had not yet played a very distinguished part in the events of the evening, to be noticed and admired. Every five minutes, by removing some of the crowd, gave greater openings for her charms. She was now seen by many young men who had not been near her before. Not one, however, started with rapturous wonder on beholding her, no whisper of eager inquiry ran round the room, nor was she once called a divinity by anybody. Yet Catherine was in very good looks, and had the company only seen her three years before, they would now have thought her exceedingly handsome.
She was looked at, however, and with some admiration; for, in her own hearing, two gentlemen pronounced her to be a pretty girl. Such words had their due effect; she immediately thought the evening pleasanter than she had found it before—her humble vanity was contented—she felt more obliged to the two young men for this simple praise than a true-quality heroine would have been for fifteen sonnets in celebration of her charms, and went to her chair in good humour with everybody, and perfectly satisfied with her share of public attention.
Every morning now brought its regular duties—shops were to be visited; some new part of the town to be looked at; and the pump-room to be attended, where they paraded up and down for an hour, looking at everybody and speaking to no one. The wish of a numerous acquaintance in Bath was still uppermost with Mrs. Allen, and she repeated it after every fresh proof, which every morning brought, of her knowing nobody at all.
They made their appearance in the Lower Rooms; and here fortune was more favourable to our heroine. The master of the ceremonies introduced to her a very gentlemanlike young man as a partner; his name was Tilney. He seemed to be about four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it. His address was good, and Catherine felt herself in high luck. There was little leisure for speaking while they danced; but when they were seated at tea, she found him as agreeable as she had already given him credit for being. He talked with fluency and spirit—and there was an archness and pleasantry in his manner which interested, though it was hardly understood by her. After chatting some time on such matters as naturally arose from the objects around them, he suddenly addressed her with—"I have hitherto been very remiss, madam, in the proper attentions of a partner here; I have not yet asked you how long you have been in Bath; whether you were ever here before; whether you have been at the Upper Rooms, the theatre, and the concert; and how you like the place altogether. I have been very negligent—but are you now at leisure to satisfy me in these particulars? If you are I will begin directly."
"You need not give yourself that trouble, sir."
"No trouble, I assure you, madam." Then forming his features into a set smile, and affectedly softening his voice, he added, with a simpering air, "Have you been long in Bath, madam?"
"About a week, sir," replied Catherine, trying not to laugh.
"Really!" with affected astonishment.
"Why should you be surprised, sir?"
"Why, indeed!" said he, in his natural tone. "But some emotion must appear to be raised by your reply, and surprise is more easily assumed, and not less reasonable than any other. Now let us go on. Were you never here before, madam?"
"Indeed! Have you yet honoured the Upper Rooms?"
"Yes, sir, I was there last Monday."
"Have you been to the theatre?"
"Yes, sir, I was at the play on Tuesday."
"To the concert?"
"Yes, sir, on Wednesday."
"And are you altogether pleased with Bath?"
"Yes—I like it very well."
"Now I must give one smirk, and then we may be rational again." Catherine turned away her head, not knowing whether she might venture to laugh. "I see what you think of me," said he gravely—"I shall make but a poor figure in your journal tomorrow."
"Yes, I know exactly what you will say: Friday, went to the Lower Rooms; wore my sprigged muslin robe with blue trimmings—plain black shoes—appeared to much advantage; but was strangely harassed by a queer, half-witted man, who would make me dance with him, and distressed me by his nonsense."
"Indeed I shall say no such thing."
"Shall I tell you what you ought to say?"
"If you please."
"I danced with a very agreeable young man, introduced by Mr. King; had a great deal of conversation with him—seems a most extraordinary genius—hope I may know more of him. That, madam, is what I wish you to say."
"But, perhaps, I keep no journal."
"Perhaps you are not sitting in this room, and I am not sitting by you. These are points in which a doubt is equally possible. Not keep a journal! How are your absent cousins to understand the tenour of your life in Bath without one? How are the civilities and compliments of every day to be related as they ought to be, unless noted down every evening in a journal? How are your various dresses to be remembered, and the particular state of your complexion, and curl of your hair to be described in all their diversities, without having constant recourse to a journal? My dear madam, I am not so ignorant of young ladies' ways as you wish to believe me; it is this delightful habit of journaling which largely contributes to form the easy style of writing for which ladies are so generally celebrated. Everybody allows that the talent of writing agreeable letters is peculiarly female. Nature may have done something, but I am sure it must be essentially assisted by the practice of keeping a journal."
"I have sometimes thought," said Catherine, doubtingly, "whether ladies do write so much better letters than gentlemen! That is—I should not think the superiority was always on our side."
"As far as I have had opportunity of judging, it appears to me that the usual style of letter-writing among women is faultless, except in three particulars."
"And what are they?"
"A general deficiency of subject, a total inattention to stops, and a very frequent ignorance of grammar."
"Upon my word! I need not have been afraid of disclaiming the compliment. You do not think too highly of us in that way."
"I should no more lay it down as a general rule that women write better letters than men, than that they sing better duets, or draw better landscapes. In every power, of which taste is the foundation, excellence is pretty fairly divided between the sexes."
They were interrupted by Mrs. Allen: "My dear Catherine," said she, "do take this pin out of my sleeve; I am afraid it has torn a hole already; I shall be quite sorry if it has, for this is a favourite gown, though it cost but nine shillings a yard."
"That is exactly what I should have guessed it, madam," said Mr. Tilney, looking at the muslin.
"Do you understand muslins, sir?"
"Particularly well; I always buy my own cravats, and am allowed to be an excellent judge; and my sister has often trusted me in the choice of a gown. I bought one for her the other day, and it was pronounced to be a prodigious bargain by every lady who saw it. I gave but five shillings a yard for it, and a true Indian muslin."
Mrs. Allen was quite struck by his genius. "Men commonly take so little notice of those things," said she; "I can never get Mr. Allen to know one of my gowns from another. You must be a great comfort to your sister, sir."
"I hope I am, madam."
"And pray, sir, what do you think of Miss Morland's gown?"
"It is very pretty, madam," said he, gravely examining it; "but I do not think it will wash well; I am afraid it will fray."
"How can you," said Catherine, laughing, "be so—" She had almost said "strange."
"I am quite of your opinion, sir," replied Mrs. Allen; "and so I told Miss Morland when she bought it."
"But then you know, madam, muslin always turns to some account or other; Miss Morland will get enough out of it for a handkerchief, or a cap, or a cloak. Muslin can never be said to be wasted. I have heard my sister say so forty times, when she has been extravagant in buying more than she wanted, or careless in cutting it to pieces."
"Bath is a charming place, sir; there are so many good shops here. We are sadly off in the country; not but what we have very good shops in Salisbury, but it is so far to go—eight miles is a long way; Mr. Allen says it is nine, measured nine; but I am sure it cannot be more than eight; and it is such a fag—I come back tired to death. Now, here one can step out of doors and get a thing in five minutes."
Mr. Tilney was polite enough to seem interested in what she said; and she kept him on the subject of muslins till the dancing recommenced. Catherine feared, as she listened to their discourse, that he indulged himself a little too much with the foibles of others. "What are you thinking of so earnestly?" said he, as they walked back to the ballroom; "not of your partner, I hope, for, by that shake of the head, your meditations are not satisfactory."
Catherine coloured, and said, "I was not thinking of anything."
"That is artful and deep, to be sure; but I had rather be told at once that you will not tell me."
"Well then, I will not."
"Thank you; for now we shall soon be acquainted, as I am authorized to tease you on this subject whenever we meet, and nothing in the world advances intimacy so much."
They danced again; and, when the assembly closed, parted, on the lady's side at least, with a strong inclination for continuing the acquaintance. Whether she thought of him so much, while she drank her warm wine and water, and prepared herself for bed, as to dream of him when there, cannot be ascertained; but I hope it was no more than in a slight slumber, or a morning doze at most; for if it be true, as a celebrated writer has maintained, that no young lady can be justified in falling in love before the gentleman's love is declared,* it must be very improper that a young lady should dream of a gentleman before the gentleman is first known to have dreamt of her. How proper Mr. Tilney might be as a dreamer or a lover had not yet perhaps entered Mr. Allen's head, but that he was not objectionable as a common acquaintance for his young charge he was on inquiry satisfied; for he had early in the evening taken pains to know who her partner was, and had been assured of Mr. Tilney's being a clergyman, and of a very respectable family in Gloucestershire.
With more than usual eagerness did Catherine hasten to the pump-room the next day, secure within herself of seeing Mr. Tilney there before the morning were over, and ready to meet him with a smile; but no smile was demanded—Mr. Tilney did not appear. Every creature in Bath, except himself, was to be seen in the room at different periods of the fashionable hours; crowds of people were every moment passing in and out, up the steps and down; people whom nobody cared about, and nobody wanted to see; and he only was absent. "What a delightful place Bath is," said Mrs. Allen as they sat down near the great clock, after parading the room till they were tired; "and how pleasant it would be if we had any acquaintance here."