The Modern Griselda, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 12.

“Ella biasmandol sempre, e dispregiando

Se gli venia piu sempre inimicando.”

By her judicious and kind interposition, Emma often prevented the disagreeable consequences that threatened to ensue from Griselda’s disputatious habits; but one night it was past her utmost skill to avert a violent storm, which arose about the pronunciation of a word. It began about eleven o’clock. Just as the family were sitting down to supper, seemingly in perfect harmony of spirits, Mr. Bolingbroke chanced to say, “I think the wind is rising.” (He pronounced the word wĭnd, short.)

Wĭnd! my dear,” cried his wife, echoing his pronunciation; “do, for heaven’s sake, call it wīnd.”

The lady sounded this word long.

“Wind! my love,” repeated he after her: “I doubt whether that be the right pronunciation.”

“I am surprised you can doubt it,” said she, “for I never heard any body call it wĭnd but yourself.”

“Did not you, my love? that is very extraordinary: many people, I believe, call it wĭnd.”

“Vulgarians, perhaps!”

“Vulgarians! No, indeed, my dear; very polite, well-informed people.”

Griselda, with a look of unutterable contempt, reiterated the word polite.

“Yes, my dear, polite,” persisted Mr. Bolingbroke, who was now come to such a pass, that he would defend his opinion in opposition to hers, stoutly and warmly. “Yes, polite, my dear, I maintain it; the most polite people pronounce it as I do.”

“You may maintain what you please, my dear,” said the lady, coolly; “but I maintain the contrary.”

“Assertion is no proof on either side, I acknowledge,” said Mr. Bolingbroke, recollecting himself.

“No, in truth,” said Mrs. Bolingbroke, “especially such an absurd assertion as yours, my dear. Now I will go no farther than Mrs. Granby:— Mrs. Granby, did you ever hear any person, who knew how to speak, pronounce wīnd —wĭnd?”

“Mrs. Granby, have not you heard it called wĭnd in good company?”

The disputants eagerly approached her at the same instant, and looked as if their fortunes or lives depended upon the decision.

“I think I have heard the word pronounced both ways, by well-bred and well-informed people,” said Mrs. Granby.

“That is saying nothing, my dear,” said Mrs. Bolingbroke, pettishly.

“This is saying all I want,” said Mr. Bolingbroke, satisfied.

“I would lay any wager, however, that Mr. — — if he were here, would give it in my favour; and I suppose you will not dispute his authority.”

“I will not dispute the authority of Sheridan’s Dictionary,” cried Mr. Bolingbroke, taking it down from the book-case, and turning over the leaves hastily. —“Sheridan gives it for me, my dear,” said he, with exultation.

“You need not speak with such triumph, my dear, for I do not submit to Sheridan.”

“No! Will you submit to Kenrick, then?”

“Let us see what he says, and I will then tell you,” said the lady. “No — Kenrick was not of her opinion, and he was no authority.” Walker was produced; and this battle of the pronouncing dictionaries seemed likely to have no end. Mrs. Granby, when she could be heard, remarked that it was difficult to settle any dispute about pronunciation, because in fact no reasons could be produced, and no standard appealed to but custom, which is perpetually changing; and, as Johnson says, “whilst our language is variable with the caprice of all who use it, words can no more be ascertained in a dictionary, than a grove in the agitation of a storm can be accurately delineated from its picture in the water.”

The combatants would scarcely allow Emma time to finish this allusion, and certainly did not give themselves time to understand it; but continued to fight about the word custom, the only word that they had heard.

“Yes, custom! custom!” cried they at once, “custom must decide, to be sure.” Then came my custom and your custom; the custom of the stage, the custom of the best company, the custom of the best poets; and all these were opposed to one another with increasing rapidity. “Good heavens, my dear! did you ever hear Kemble say, ‘Rage on, ye wĭnds!’— Ridiculous!”

“I grant you on the stage it may be winds; but in common conversation it is allowable to pronounce it as I do, my dear.”

“I appeal to the best poets, Mr. Bolingbroke: nothing can be more absurd than your way of —”

“Listen, lively lordlings all!” interrupted Emma, pressing with playful vehemence between the disputants; “I must be heard, for I have not spoken this half hour, and thus I pronounce — You both are right, and both are wrong.

“And now, my good friends, had not we better go to rest?” said she; “for it is past midnight.”

As they took their candles, and went up stairs, the parties continued the battle: Mrs. Bolingbroke brought quotations innumerable to her aid, and in a shrill tone repeated,

“‘He might not let even the winds of heaven

Visit her face too roughly.’

——”‘pass by me as the idle wind,

Which I respect not.’

“‘And let her down the wind to prey at fortune.’

“‘Blow, thou winter’s wind,

Thou art not so unkind.’

“‘Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks; rage, blow.’”

Her voice was raised to the highest pitch: it was in vain that her husband repeated that he acknowledged the word should be called as she pronounced it in poetry; she reiterated her quotations and her assertions till at last she knew not what she said; her sense failed the more her anger increased. At length Mr. Bolingbroke yielded. Noise conquers sometimes where art fails.

“Thus,” said he, “the hawk that could not be hoodwinked, was at last tamed, by being exposed to the din of a blacksmith’s hammer.”

Griselda was incensed by this remark, and still more by the allusion, which she called the second edition of the vampire-bat. Both husband and wife went to sleep mutually displeased, and more disgusted with each other than they had ever been since their marriage: and all this for the pronunciation of a word!

Early in the morning they were wakened by a messenger, who brought an express, informing Mr. Bolingbroke that his uncle was not expected to live, and that he wished to see him immediately. Mr. Bolingbroke rose instantly; all the time that he was dressing, and preparing in the greatest hurry for his journey, Griselda tormented him by disputing about the propriety of his going, and ended with, “Promise me to write every post, my dear; positively you must.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54