The Modern Griselda, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 2.

Some hope a lover by their faults to win,

As spots on ermine beautify the skin.”

When Griselda thought that her husband had long enough enjoyed his new existence, and that there was danger of his forgetting the taste of sorrow, she changed her tone. — One day, when he had not returned home exactly at the appointed minute, she received him with a frown — such as would have made even Mars himself recoil, if Mars could have beheld such a frown upon the brow of his Venus.

“Dinner has been kept waiting for you this hour, my dear.”

“I am very sorry for it; but why did you wait, my dear? I am really very sorry I am so late, but (looking at his watch) it is only half past six by me.”

“It is seven by me.”

They presented their watches to each other; he, in an apologetical, she, in a reproachful attitude.

“I rather think you are too fast, my dear,” said the gentleman.

“I am very sure you are too slow, my dear,” said the lady.

“My watch never loses a minute in the four-and-twenty hours,” said he.

“Nor mine a second,” said she.

“I have reason to believe I am right, my love,” said the husband, mildly.

“Reason!” exclaimed the wife, astonished; “what reason can you possibly have to believe you are right, when I tell you I am morally certain you are wrong, my love?”

“My only reason is, that I set my watch by the sun to-day.”

“The sun must be wrong, then,” cried the lady, hastily. —“You need not laugh; for I know what I am saying — the variation, the declination, must be allowed for in computing it with the clock. Now you know perfectly well what I mean, though you will not explain it for me, because you are conscious I am in the right.”

“Well, my dear, if you are conscious of it, that is sufficient. We will not dispute any more about such a trifle. — Are they bringing up dinner?”

“If they know that you are come in; but I am sure I cannot tell whether they do or not. — Pray, my dear Mrs. Nettleby,” cried the lady, turning to a female friend, and still holding her watch in her hand, “what o’clock is it by you? There is nobody in the world hates disputing about trifles as much as I do; but I own I do love to convince people that I am in the right.”

Mrs. Nettleby’s watch had stopped. How provoking! — Vexed at having no immediate means of convincing people that she was in the right, our heroine consoled herself by proceeding to criminate her husband, not in this particular instance, where he pleaded guilty, but upon the general charge of being always late for dinner, which he strenuously denied.

There is something in the species of reproach, which advances thus triumphantly from particulars to generals, peculiarly offensive to every reasonable and susceptible mind: and there is something in the general charge of being always late for dinner, which the punctuality of man’s nature cannot easily endure, especially if he be hungry. We should humbly advise our female friends to forbear exposing a husband’s patience to this trial, or at least to temper it with much fondness, else mischief will infallibly ensue. For the first time Griselda saw her husband angry; but she recovered him by saying, in a softened tone, “My love, you must be sensible that I can have but one reason for being so impatient for your return home. — If I liked your company less, I should not complain so much of your want of punctuality.”

Finding that this speech had the desired effect, it was afterwards repeated with variations whenever her husband stayed from home to enjoy any species of amusement, or to gratify any of his friends. When he betrayed symptoms of impatience under this constraint, the expostulations became more urgent, if not more forcible.

“Indeed, my dear, I take it rather unkindly of you that you pay so little attention to my feelings —”

“I see I am of no consequence to you now; I find every body’s society is preferred to mine: it was not always so. — Well! it is what I might have expected —”

“Heigho! — Heigho! —”

Griselda’s sighs were still persuasive, and her husband, notwithstanding that he felt the restraints which daily multiplied upon his time and upon his personal liberty becoming irksome, had not the barbarity to give pain to the woman by whom he was so tenderly beloved. He did not consider that in this case, as well as in many others, apparent mercy is real cruelty. The more this monopolizing humour of his wife’s was indulged, the more insatiable it became. Every person, every thing but herself, was to be excluded from his heart; and when this sole patent for pleasure was granted to her, she became rather careless in its exercise, as those are apt to be who fear no competitors. In proportion as her endeavours to please abated, her expectations of being adored increased: the slightest word of blame, the most remote hint that any thing in her conduct, manners, or even dress, could be altered for the better, was the signal for battle or for tears.

One night she wept for an hour, and debated for two, about an alteration in her head-dress, which her husband unluckily happened to say made it more becoming. More becoming! implied that it was before unbecoming. She recollected the time when every thing she wore was becoming in his eyes — but that time, alas! was completely past; and she only wished that she could forget that it had ever been.

“To have been happy is additional misery.”

This misery may appear comic to some people, but it certainly was not so to our heroine’s unfortunate husband. It was in vain that, in mitigation of his offence, he pleaded total want of knowledge in the arcana of the toilette, absolute inferiority of taste, and a willing submission to the decrees of fashion.

This submission was called indifference — this calmness construed into contempt. He stood convicted of having said that the lady’s dress was unbecoming — she was certain that he thought more than he said, and that every thing about her was grown disagreeable to him.

It was in vain he represented that his affection had not been created, and could not be annihilated, by such trifles; that it rested on the solid basis of esteem.

“Esteem!” cried his wife —“that is the unkindest stroke of all! When a man begins to talk of esteem, there is an end of love.”

To illustrate this position, the fair one, as well as the disorder of her mind would permit, entered into a refined disquisition, full of all the metaphysics of gallantry, which proved that love — genuine love — is an æthereal essence, a union of souls, regulated by none of those formal principles, and founded upon none of those vulgar moral qualities on which friendship, and the other connexions of society, depend. Far, far above the jurisdiction of reason, true love creates perfect sympathy in taste, and an absolute identity of opinion upon all subjects, physical, metaphysical, moral, political, and economic. After having thus established her theory, her practice was wonderfully consistent, and she reasonably expected from her husband the most exact conformity to her principles — of course, his five senses and his understanding were to be identified with hers. If he saw, heard, felt, or understood differently from her, he did not, could not, love her. Once she was offended by his liking white better than black; at another time she was angry with him for loving the taste of mushrooms. One winter she quarrelled with him for not admiring the touch of satin, and one summer she was jealous of him for listening to the song of a blackbird. Then because he could not prefer to all other odours the smell of jessamine, she was ready “to die of a rose in aromatic pain.” The domain of taste, in the more enlarged sense of the word, became a glorious field of battle, and afforded subjects of inextinguishable war. Our heroine was accomplished, and knew how to make all her accomplishments and her knowledge of use. As she was mistress not only of the pencil, but of all “the cant of criticism,” had infinite advantages in the wordy war. From the beau ideal to the choice of a snuffer-dish, all came within her province, and was to be submitted, without appeal, to her instinctive sense of moral order. — Happy fruits of knowledge! — Happy those who can thus enlarge their intellectual dominion, and can vary eternally the dear delight of giving pain. The range of opinion was still more ample than the province of taste, affording scope for all the joys of assertion and declamation — for the opposing of learned and unlearned authorities — for the quoting the opinions of friends — counting voices instead of arguments — wondering at the absurdity of those who can be of a different way of thinking — appealing to the judgment of the whole world — or resting perfectly satisfied with her own. Sometimes the most important, sometimes the most trivial, and seemingly uninteresting subjects, gave exercise to Griselda’s powers; and in all cases being entirely of her opinion was the only satisfactory proof of love.

Our heroine knew how, with able generalship, to take advantage of time and situation. — Just before the birth of their child, which, by-the-bye, was born dead, a dispute arose between the husband and wife concerning public and private education, which, from its vehemence, alarmed the gentleman into a perfect conviction that he was in the wrong. Scarcely had Griselda gained this point, when a question arose at the tea-table respecting the Chinese method of making tea. It was doubted by some of the company whether it was made in a tea-pot or a tea-cup. Griselda gave her opinion loudly for the tea-pot — her lord and master inclined to the tea-cup; and as neither of them had been in China, they could debate without fear of coming to a conclusion. The subject seemed at first insignificant; but the lady’s method of managing it supplied all deficiencies, and roused all the passions of human nature on the one side or the other. Victory hung doubtful; but our heroine won the day by taking time into the account. — Her adversary was in a hurry to go to meet some person on business, and quitted the field of battle.

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