The Modern Griselda, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 15.

“To whom the virgin majesty of Eve,

As one who loves and some unkindness meets,

With sweet austere composure thus replies.”

Many privileges are, and ought to be, allowed to the virgin majesty of the sex; and even when the modern fair one does not reply with all the sweet austere composure of Eve, her anger may have charms for a lover. There is a certain susceptibility of temper, that sometimes accompanies the pride of virtue, which indicates a quick sense of shame, and warm feelings of affection; in whatsoever manner this may be shown, it appears amiable and graceful. And if this sensibility degenerate into irritability, a lover pardons it in his mistress; it is her prerogative to be haughty; and if he be dexterous to seize “the moment of returning love,” it is often his interest to promote quarrels, for the sake of the pleasures of reconciliation. The jealous doubts, the alternate hopes and fears, attendant on the passion of love, are dear to the lover whilst his passion lasts; but when that subsides — as subside it must — his taste for altercation ceases. The proverb which favours the quarrels of lovers may prove fatal to the happiness of husbands; and woe be to the wife who puts her faith in it! There are, however, people who would extend that dangerous maxim even to the commerce of friendship; and it must be allowed (for morality, neither in small matters nor great, can gain any thing by suppressing the truth), it must be allowed that in the commencement of an intimacy the quarrels of friends may tend to increase their mutual regard, by affording to one or both of them opportunities of displaying qualities superior even to good humour; such as truth, fidelity, honour, or generosity. But whatever may be the sum total of their merit, when upon long acquaintance it comes to be fully known and justly appreciated, the most splendid virtues or talents can seldom compensate in domestic life for the want of temper. The fallacy of a maxim, like the absurdity of an argument, is sometimes best proved by pushing it as far as it can go, by observing all its consequences. Our heroine, in the present instance, illustrates this truth to admiration: her life and her husband’s had now become a perpetual scene of disputes and reproaches; every day the quarrels grew more bitter, and the reconciliations less sweet.

One morning, Griselda and her husband were present whilst Emma was busy showing some poor children how to plait straw for hats.

“Next summer, my dear, when we are settled at home, I hope you will encourage some manufacture of this kind amongst the children of our tenants,” said Mr. Bolingbroke to his lady.

“I have no genius for teaching manufactures of this sort,” replied Mrs. Bolingbroke, scornfully.

Her husband urged the matter no farther. A few minutes afterwards, he drew out a straw from a bundle, which one of the children held.

“This is a fine straw!” said he, carelessly.

“Fine straw!” cried Mrs. Bolingbroke: “no — that is very coarse. This,” continued she, pulling one from another bundle; “this is a fine straw, if you please.”

“I think mine is the finest,” said Mr. Bolingbroke.

“Then you must be blind, Mr. Bolingbroke,” cried the lady, eagerly comparing them.

“Well, my dear,” said he, laughing, “we will not dispute about straws.”

“No, indeed,” said she; “but I observe whenever you know you are in the wrong, Mr. Bolingbroke, you say, we will not dispute, my dear: now pray look at these straws, Mrs. Granby, you that have eyes — which is the finest?”

“I will draw lots,” said Emma, taking one playfully from Mrs. Bolingbroke; “for it seems to me, that there is little or no difference between them.”

“No difference? Oh, my dear Emma!” said Mrs. Bolingbroke.

“My dear Griselda,” cried her husband, taking the other straw from her and blowing it away; “indeed it is not worth disputing about: this is too childish.”

“Childish!” repeated she, looking after the straw, as it floated down the wind; “I see nothing childish in being in the right: your raising your voice in that manner never convinces me. Jupiter is always in the wrong, you know, when he has recourse to his thunder.”

“Thunder, my dear Griselda, about a straw! Well, when women are determined to dispute, it is wonderful how ingenious they are in finding subjects. I give you joy, my dear, of having attained the perfection of the art: you can now literally dispute about straws.”

Emma insisted at this instant upon having an opinion about the shape of a hat, which she had just tied under the chin of a rosy little girl of six years old; upon whose smiling countenance she fixed the attention of the angry lady.

All might now have been well; but Griselda had a pernicious habit of recurring to any slight words of blame which had been used by her friends. Her husband had congratulated her upon having attained the perfection of the art of disputing, since she could cavil about straws. This reproach rankled in her mind. There are certain diseased states of the body, in which the slightest wound festers, and becomes incurable. It is the same with the mind; and our heroine’s was in this dangerous predicament.

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