The Modern Griselda, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 10.

“Playzir ne l’est qu’autant qu’on le partage.”

We pass over the infinite variety of petty torments, which our heroine contrived to inflict upon her fellow-travellers during her journey down to Devonshire. Inns, food, beds, carriage, horses, baggage, roads, prospect, hill, dale, sun, wind, dust, rain, earth, air, fire, and water, all afforded her matter of complaint. It was astonishing that Emma discovered none of these inconveniences; but, as fast as they were complained of, she amused herself in trying to obviate them.

Lord Kames has observed, that a power to recall at will pleasing objects would be a more valuable gift to any mortal than ever was bestowed in a fairy tale. With this power Emma was endowed in the highest perfection; and as fast as our heroine recollected some evil that had happened, or was likely to happen, Emma raised the opposite idea of some good, past, present, or future; so that it was scarcely possible even for the spirit of contradiction personified to resist the magic of her good-humour.

No sooner did she arrive at her own house, than she contrived a variety of ways of showing attention and kindness to her guest; and when all this was received with sullen indifference, or merely as tributes due to superiority, Emma was not discouraged in her benevolence, but, instead of being offended, seemed to pity her friend for “having had her temper so unhappily spoiled.”

“Griselda is so handsome,” said Mrs. Granby one day, in her defence, “she has such talents — she has been so much admired, worshipped, and indulged — that it would be wonderful if she were not a little spoiled. I dare say that, if I had been in her place, my brain would never have stood the intoxication. Who can measure their strength, or their weakness, till they are tried? Another thing should be considered; Griselda excites envy, and though she may not have more faults than her neighbours, they are more noticed, because they are in the full light of prosperity. What a number of motes swarm in a single ray of light, coming through the shutter of a darkened room! There are not more motes in that spot than in any other part of the room, but the sun-beams show them more distinctly. The dust that lives in snug obscurity should consider this, and have mercy upon its fellow dust.”

In Emma’s kindness there was none of the parade of goodness; she seemed to follow her natural disposition; and, as Griselda once said of her, to be good because she could not help it. She required neither praise nor thanks for any thing that she did; and, provided her friends were happy, she was satisfied, without ever wishing to be admired as the cause of that happiness. Her powers of pleasing were chiefly remarkable for lasting longer than others, and the secret of their permanence was not easily guessed, because it was so simple. It depended merely on the equability of her humour. It is said, that there is nothing marvellous in the colours of those Egyptian monuments which have been the admiration of ages; the secret of their duration is supposed to depend simply on the fineness of the climate and invariability of the temperature. — But

“Griselda will admit no wandering muse.”

Mrs. Bolingbroke was by this time tired of continuing in one mood, even though it was the sullen; and her genius was cramped by the constraint of affected submission. She recovered her charming spirits soon after she came into the country, and for a short time no mortal mixture of earth’s mould could be more agreeable. She called forth every charm; she was all gaiety, wit, and smiles; she poured light and life upon conversation.

As the Marquis de Chastellux said of some fascinating fair one —“She had no expression without grace, and no grace without expression.” It was delightful to our heroine to hear it said, “How charming Mrs. Bolingbroke can be when she pleases; when she wishes to captivate, how irresistible! — Who can equal Mrs. Bolingbroke when she is in one of her good days?”

The triumph of eclipsing Mrs. Granby would have been delightful, but that Emma seemed to feel no mortification from being thrown into the shade; she seemed to enjoy her friend’s success so sincerely, that it was impossible to consider her as a rival. She had so carefully avoided noticing any little disagreement or coolness between Mr. and Mrs. Bolingbroke, that it might have been doubted whether she attended to their mutual conduct; but the obvious delight she took in seeing them again on good terms with each other proved that she was not deficient in penetration. She appeared to see only what others desired that she should see, upon these delicate occasions, where voluntary blindness is not artifice, but prudence. Mr. Bolingbroke was now enchanted with Griselda, and ready to exclaim every instant, “Be ever thus!”

Her husband thought he had found a mine of happiness; he began to breathe, and to bless his kind stars. He had indeed lighted unexpectedly upon a rich vein, but it was soon exhausted, and all his farther progress was impeded by certain vapours, dangerous to approach. Fatal sweets! which lure the ignorant to destruction, but from which the more experienced fly with precipitation. — Our heroine was now fully prepared to kill her husband with kindness; she was afraid, if he rode, that his horse would throw him; if he walked, that he would tire himself; if he sat still, that he must want exercise; if he went out, that he would catch cold; if he stayed at home, that he was kept a prisoner; if he did not eat, that he was sick; if he did eat, that he would be sick; —&c. &c. &c. &c. There was no end to these fond fears: he felt that there was something ridiculous in submitting to them; and yet to resist in the least was deemed the height of unkindness and ingratitude. One night she fell into a fit of melancholy, upon his laughing at her fears, that he should kill himself, by standing for an instant at an open window, on a fine night, to look at a beautiful rising moon. When he endeavoured to recover her from her melancholy, it was suddenly converted into anger, and, after tears, came a storm of reproaches. Her husband, in consideration of the kindness of her original intention, passed over her anger, and even for some days refrained from objecting to any regimen she prescribed for his health and happiness. But his forbearance failed him at length, and he presumed to eat some salad, which his wife “knew would disagree with him.” She was provoked afterwards, because she could not make him allow that it had made him ill. She termed this extreme obstinacy; he pleaded that it was simple truth. Truth upon some occasions is the most offensive thing that can be spoken: the lady was enraged, and, after saying every thing provoking that matrimonial spleen could suggest, when he in his turn grew warm, she cooled, and said, “You must be sensible, my dear, that all I say and do arises from affection.”

“Oh! my love,” said he, recovering his good-humour, “this never-failing opiate soothes my vanity, and lulls my anger; then you may govern me as you please. Torment me to death — I cannot oppose you.”

“I suppose,” said she, “you think me like the vampire-bat, who fans his victim to sleep with its wings, whilst she sucks its life-blood.”

“Yes, exactly,” said he, smiling: “thank you for the apt allusion.”

“Very apt, indeed,” said she; and a thick gloom overspread her countenance. She persisted in taking his assent in sober earnest. “Yes,” said she, “I find you think all my kindness is treacherous. I will show you no more, and then you cannot accuse me of treachery.”

It was in vain that he protested he had been only in jest; she was convinced that he was in earnest; she was suddenly afflicted with an absolute incapacity of distinguishing jest from earnest. She recurred to the idea of the vampire-bat, whenever it was convenient to her to suppose that her husband thought strange things of her, which never entered his brain. This bat proved to him a bird of ill omen, which preceded a train of misfortunes, that no mortal foresight could reach, and no human prudence avert. His goddess was not to be appeased by any propitiatory or expiatory sacrifice.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37