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THE TOUCHY LADY.
ONE of the most unhappy persons whom it has been my fortune to encounter, is a pretty woman of thirty, or thereabout, healthy, wealthy, and of good repute, with a fine house, a fine family, and an excellent husband. A solitary calamity renders all these blessings of no avail :— the gentlewoman is touchy. This affliction has given a colour to her whole life. Her biography has a certain martial dignity, like the history of a nation; she dates from battle to battle, and passes her days in an interminable civil war.
The first person who, long before she could speak, had the misfortune to offend the young lady, was her nurse; then in quick succession four nursery maids, who were turned away, poor things! because Miss Anne could not abide them; then her brother Harry, by being born and diminishing her importance; then three governesses; then two writingmasters; then one music-mistress; then a whole school. On leaving school, affronts multiplied of course; and she has been in a constant miff with servants, tradespeople, relations and friends, ever since; so that although really pretty (at least she would be so if it were not for a standing frown and a certain watchful defying look in her eyes), decidedly clever and accomplished, and particularly charitable, as far as giving money goes, (your ill-tempered woman has often that redeeming grace,) she is known only by her one absorbing quality of touchiness, and is dreaded and hated accordingly by every one who has the honour of her acquaintance.
Paying her a visit is one of the most formidable things that can be imagined, one of the trials which in a small way demand the greatest resolution. It is so difficult to find what to say. You must make up your mind to the affair as you do when going into a shower-bath. Differing from her is obviously pulling the string; and agreeing with her too often or too pointedly is nearly as bad: she then suspects you of suspecting her infirmity, of which she has herself a glimmering consciousness, and treats you with a sharp touch of it accordingly. But what is there that she will not suspect? Admire the colours of a new carpet, and she thinks you are looking at some invisible hole; praise the pattern of a morning cap, and she accuses you of thinking it too gay. She has an ingenuity of perverseness which brings all subjects nearly to a level. The mention of her neighbours is evidently taboo, since it is at least twenty to one but she is in a state of affront with nine-tenths of them; her own family are also taboo for the same rea
Books are particularly unsafe. She stands vibrating on the pinnacle where two fears meet, ready to be suspected of blue-stockingism on the one hand, or of ignorance and frivolity on the other, just as the work you may chance to name happens to be recondite or popular; nay sometimes the same production shall excite both feelings. "Have you read Hajji Baba," said I to her one day last winter, " Hajji Baba the Persian?"" Really, Ma'am, I am no orientalist.". "Hajji Baba, the clever Persian tale?" continued I, determined not to be daunted. "I believe Miss R." rejoined she, "that you think I have nothing better to do than to read novels." And so she snip-snaps to the end of the visit. Even the Scotch novels, which she does own to reading,
are no resource in her desperate case. There we are shipwrecked on
the rocks of taste. A difference there is fatal. She takes to those delicious books as personal property, and spreads over them the prickly shield of her protection in the same spirit with which she appropriates her husband and her children; is huffy if you prefer Guy Mannering to the Antiquary, and quite jealous if you presume to praise Jeanie Deans; thus cutting off his Majesty's lieges from the most approved topic of discussion amongst civilized people, a neutral ground as open and various as the weather, and far more delightful. But what did I say? The very weather is with her no prudent word. She pretends to skill in that science of guesses commonly called weather-wisdom, and a fog, or a shower, or a thunder-storm, or the blessed sun himself, may have been rash enough to contradict her bodements, and put her out of humour for the day.
Her own name has all her life long been a fertile source of misery to this unfortunate lady. Her maiden name was Smythe, Anne Smythe. Now Smythe, although perfectly genteel and unexceptionable to look at, a pattern appellation on paper, was in speaking, no way distinguished from the thousands of common Smiths who cumber the world. She never heard that "word of fear," especially when introduced to a new acquaintance, without looking as if she longed to spell it. Anne was bad enough; people had housemaids of that name, as if to make a confusion; and her grandmamma insisted on omitting the final e, in which important vowel was seated all it could boast of elegance or dignity; and once a brother of fifteen, the identical brother Harry, an Etonian, a pickle, one of that order of clever boys who seem born for the torment of their female relatives, foredoomed their sister's soul to cross, actually went so far as to call her Nanny! She did not box his ears, although how near her tingling fingers' ends approached to that consummation it is not my business to tell. Having suffered so much from the perplexity of her equivocal maiden name, she thought herself most lucky in pitching on the thoroughly well-looking and well-sounding appellation of Morley for the rest of her life. Mrs. Morley-nothing could be better. For once there was a word that did not affront her. The first alloy to this satisfaction was her perceiving on the bridal cards, Mr. and Mrs. B. Morley, and hearing that close to their future residence lived a rich bachelor uncle, till whose death that fearful diminution of her consequence, the Mrs. B., must be endured. Mrs. B.! The brow began to wrinkle-but it was the night before the wedding, the uncle had made some compensation for the crime of being born thirty years before his nephew in the shape of a superb set of emeralds, and by a fortunate mistake, she had taken it into her head that B. in the present case stood for Basil, so that the loss of dignity being compensated by an encrease of elegance, she bore the shock pretty well. It was not till the next morning during the ceremony, that the full extent of her misery burst upon her, and she found that B. stood not for Basil, but for Benjamin. Then the veil fell off; then the full horror of her situation, the affront of being a Mrs. Benjamin, stared her full in the face; and certainly but for the accident of her being struck dumb by indignation, she never would have married a man so ignobly christened. Her fate has been even worse than then
appeared probable; for her husband, an exceedingly popular and convivial person, was known all over his own county by the familiar diminutive of his ill-omened appellation; so that she found herself not merely a Mrs. Benjamin, but a Mrs. Ben., the wife of a Ben Morley, junior, esq. (for the peccant uncle was also godfather and namesake) the future mother of a Ben Morley the third.-Oh, the Miss Smith, the Ann, even the Nancy, shrank into nothing when compared with that short word.
Neither is she altogether free from misfortunes on her side of the house. There is a terrible mésalliance in her own family. Her favourite aunt, the widow of an officer with five portionless children, became one fair morning the wife of a rich mercer in Cheapside, thus at a stroke gaining comfort and losing caste. The manner in which this affected poor Mrs. Ben Morley is inconceivable. She talked of the unhappy connexion, as aunts are wont to talk when nieces get paired at Gretna Green, wrote a formal renunciation of the culprit, and has considered herself insulted ever since if any one mentions a silk gown in her presence. Another affliction, brought on her by her own family, is the production of a farce by her brother Harry (born for her plague) at Covent Garden Theatre. The farce was damned, as the author (a clever young Templar) declares most deservedly. He bore the catastrophe with great heroism; and celebrated its downfall by venting sundry good puns and drinking an extra bottle of claret; leaving to Anne, sister Anne, the pleasant employment of fuming over his discomfiture, a task which she performed con amore. Actors, manager, audience and author, seventeen newspapers and three magazines, had the misfortune to displease her on this occasion;-in short, the whole town. Theatres and newspapers, critics and the drama, have been banished from her conversation ever since. She would as lieve talk of a silk-mercer.
Next after her visitors, her correspondents are to be pitied; they had need look to their P's and Q's, their spelling and their stationery. If you write a note to her, be sure that the paper is the best double post, hotpressed and gilt edged; that your pen is in good order; that your "dear madams" have a proper mixture of regàrd and respect; and that your foldings and sealings are unexceptionable. She is of a sort to faint at the absence of an envelope, and to die of a wafer. Note, above all, that your address be perfect; that your to be not forgotten; that the offending Benjamin be omitted; and that the style and title of her mansion, SHAWFORD MANOR HOUSE, be set forth in full glory. And when this is achieved, make up your mind to her taking some inexplicable affront after all. Thrice fortunate would he be who could put twenty words together without affronting her. Besides, she is great at a scornful reply, and shall keep up a quarrelling correspondence with any lady in Great Britain. Her letters are like challenges; and, but for the protection of the petticoat, she would have fought fifty duels before now, and have been either killed or quieted long ago.
If her husband had been of her temper, she would have brought him into twenty scrapes, but he is as unlike her as possible; a good-humoured tattling creature with a perpetual festivity of temper and a pro
pensity to motion and laughter, and all sorts of merry mischief, like a schoolboy in the holidays, which felicitous personage he resembles bodily in his round ruddy handsome face, his dancing black eyes, curling hair, and light active figure, the youngest man that ever saw forty. His pursuits have the same happy juvenility. In the summer he fishes and plays cricket; in the winter he hunts and courses; and what with grouse and partridges, pheasants and woodcocks, woodpigeons and flappers, he contrives pretty tolerably to shoot all the year round. Moreover, he attends revels, races, assizes, and quarter-sessions; drives stage coaches, patronises plays, is steward to concerts, goes to every dance within forty miles, and talks of standing for the county; so that he has no time to quarrel with his wife or for her, and affronts her twenty times an hour simply by giving her her own way.
To the popularity of this universal favourite, for the restless sociability of his temper is invaluable in a dull country neighbourhood, his wife certainly owes the toleration which bids fair to render her incorrigible. She is fast approaching to the melancholy condition of a privileged person, one put out of the pale of civilized society. People have left off being angry with her, and begin to shrug up their shoulders and say it is her way, a species of placability which only provokes her the more. For my part, I have too great a desire to obtain her good opinion to think of treating her in so shabby a manner; and as it is morally certain that we shall never be friends whilst we visit, I intend to try the effect of non-intercourse, and to break with her outright. If she reads this article, which is very likely, for she takes the New Monthly, (she is really a person of taste,) and I think the title will catch her eye,--if she reads only half a page, she will inevitably have done with me, and with the Magazine. If not, there can hardly be any lack of a sufficient quarrel in her company; and then, when we have ceased to speak or to curtsey, and fairly sent each other to Coventry, there can be no reason why we should not be on as civil terms as if the one lived at Calcutta, and the other at New York.
THE maids who wreathed the laurel crowns for those
Who fought at Marathon, did never twine
Garlands, O Greece! for nobler sons of thine
Than these-the champions of thy tears and woes.
Nor History in her ample volume shows
More glorious tales-since Fame did first consign
CHARACTERISTIC EPISTLES.NO. III.
In looking over, with a view to these selections, the delightful collection of letters, with the use of which we have been favoured by their possessor, our only difficulty lies in determining on which our choice shall fall; for in the whole extensive collection we have not met with one which does not merit the title we have affixed to our papers-not one which is not in some way or other "characteristic;" that is to say, which does not either illustrate some general principle of the human heart, or develope some recondite trait of individual character, or let escape some (would-be) secret touch of passion, or set forth some unconscious effect of existing manners. Our choice, therefore, in this and the future papers, will be made chiefly with a view to variety; for in all other respects we should feel certain of pleasing our readers, even though we should take up the letters just as chance may offer them to our hand.
The previous papers were confined to epistles, the subjects of which were immediately connected with theatrical matters. We shall now, for the present, abandon this plan of classing our specimens; still, however, keeping among those which depend for their interest on themselves alone, and the value of which no name or want of name can in any material degree change.
Will the reader suspect us, either of not having escaped from our first childhood, or of being at no great distance from our second, if we begin with the letter of a little boy? It is, however, so truly natural, and lively withal, and at the same time so full of incident, that, say what they will, we cannot consent to withhold it. What would the first literateur of the day give to be able to write such a letter as this! All the authors of the Scotch novels united could not do it; no, not with Mr. Wordsworth himself to help them!
Cottage, Jan. 5, 1812.
My dear Papa,-1 am glad you are well, and my bookcase is coming home this week, and I shall be very much pleased when I see it with all my books in it: And I think you were a very kind papa to send me a one pound note on my birth-day, and I will work very hard at my Latin before you come home, and I shall be happy to see you again, And I have seen the Elephant, and it was not worth seeing, and it was a little black Elephant I think about five feet in length and three feet high, and my mama says it was bigger, and the rabbits have got some young ones, and I drink your health every day after dinner, and so does Mrs. D- and my mama calls her the butler because she gets the wine up out of the cellar, and my mama always drinks your health first. And I dig in the garden every morning. And the garden looks very nice; and my mama is very well, and Mrs. D laughs very often, and the monkey is well, and so is neptune and the gold fish and the birds, and the Poll Parrot is very funny, and bit a piece out of Mrs. D's finger, and said "who are you," and I thought it would bite her again, but it did not. And I dined one day at Major W- -'s, and the Duke of Sussex dined there too, and my mama could not dine there because she was too ill, and I am going to the Surry Theatre this week, and Mrs. D and my mama will go with me, and I hope you will excuse my not writing any more, and I am tired, and I am at your service, your dutiful and your loving son to command
C. J. M. And I could write much better if I had a good pen, and I thought it was a good one when I first began, but it was not. And I hope you will answer