(Two Excerpts from Google Books)
The Metropolitan Magazine, Volume 21
About this book
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67 – 71
A TALE OF A COUNTRY TOWN.
BY MRS. ABDY.
Married people are often very fond of match-making, and wicked wits say, that they act on the principle of the man who, when irretrievably stuck in the mire, called to a friend to come and assist him, with the view of getting him into a similar situation. Old maids are remarkably fond of match-breaking, and the reason is the same; they feel that they are doomed to perpetual banishment from the temple of Hymen, and therefore are desirous of securing as many companions as possible in their exile. I do not dislike the old maid who is fairly turned of sixty; by that time she gives up matrimonial speculations for herself, and is not rendered miserable by the success of them in others; she betakes herself to cards, lap-dogs, and paroquets, accepts the flattery of a toad-eater if rich, or becomes the toad-eater herself if poor; she may be generally splenetic, but is seldom individually spiteful. The old maid of forty, or five-and-forty, however, is the very genius of mischief; she has not yet taken leave of the air, dress, and manners of juvenility; she has a lingering hope that she may be able to rival girls, which, nevertheless, always terminates in the sad certainty of being rivalled by them; and, next to the apparently inaccessible felicity of being married herself, she learns to rank the pleasure of spoiling the marriages of her young female friends. My business, however, is not to write a treatise upon old maids; but to relate the history of two of the class who were no contemptible and mean professors of the art of match-breaking.
Miss Ogleby was five-and-forty; she had been handsome when young, and might still have appeared to advantage had she condescended to wear dark silks, blonde caps, and tolerably-sized bonnets, to walk a moderate pace, and to speak in a moderate tone. Miss Ogleby, however, was bent on playing the light-hearted, gay, fearless, juvenile beauty; the hair of her wig was drawn back so as completely to display the marks of time on her forehead, her thin arms fully displayed, not their whiteness and symmetry, but their want of them, through gauze or book-muslin sleeves; she adopted a tripping, playful walk, which ill-assorted with her frequent attacks of rheumatism; and her voice, which even in youth was more remarkable for loudness than for melody, had acquired that sort of sharp, dogmatical quickness, which is more fit for cross-examining a witness than for any office to which a lady’s voice ought to be applied; her eyes, which were black, and remarkably large and bright, lost all attraction from the bold stare which characterised them; her teeth were in tolerable preservation, and if two of the front ones were of a more brilliant whiteness than the rest, it is nothing wonderful that inconsistencies should sometimes exist in the human mouth, when we consider how many are continually coming out of it.
Miss Ogleby had tried unremittingly to gain a husband from the age of sixteen, but her large share of forwardness completely neutralised the effect of her small share of beauty; she had, besides, no fortune in her youth; and when the death of an aunt put her in possession of a few hundreds a year, her faded person and unfeminine manners prevented her from receiving proposals, except from decided adventurers, whose motives she had sufficient shrewdness to detect, and whose overtures she had sufficient wariness and self-denial to reject. Miss Ogleby took the round of all the watering-places, and then pursued the plan of Lady Dainty in the comedy, who when she had gone through all the complaints of the day-book, went all through them again: at length, she was induced to take a house in the pretty, cheap, cheerful country town of Allingham; a country town is a delightful locality for an old maid. Gossip is as avowedly the great study and pursuit there, as the classics at Oxford, or the mathematics at Cambridge; and Miss Ogleby soon qualified herself to take a first degree in the science : whether she took honours or not I will not pretend to say; I do not myself consider that the science of gossip has any honours attached to it, but I am quite ready to allow that a great many people are of a contrary opinion. Miss Ogleby’s chief pastime now consisted in match-breaking, and she certainly organized her plans very well; she did not frown contempt on the young girls of her acquaintance, censure their frivolities, and repulse their civilities; but she eagerly sought their society, joined in their amusements, and rallied them about their admirers; she constantly avoided at parties the sofa where sat the matrons—she never approached the card-table either as player or spectator, but took her seat by the piano, or stood by the bagatelle-board, generally indicating her position by her loud laugh and ready jest. Notwithstanding all these juvenilities,, people did not believe Miss Ogleby to be young, but they said that she was remarkably fond of young people; now in this conclusion they were wrong, Miss Ogleby was not fond of young people, but she knew that her machinations against them would work much better if she appeared as their friend than as their foe, and took her measures accordingly. If a young man appeared disposed to admire a diffident girl, Miss Ogleby would immediately attach herself to her side, take the conversation completely out of her hands, answer every observation of the inamorato herself, and, under the veil of great protection and fondness, contrive to make the retiring fair one appear as a child and a cipher; if, on the contrary, the lover was timid, Miss Ogleby would, in the very first budding of his inclination, tell him that everybody said his wedding-day was fixed, ask where the honeymoon excursion was to be taken, and petition for bridecake. If a man of wealth seemed smitten with a penniless beauty, she would tell him that she understood he had offered to settle ten thousand pounds upon her, but that the lady’s friends stood out for twenty, and that she begged to give her humble advice that they would split the difference and make it fifteen; if a prudent, careful man of small income formed an attachment, she would, with the utmost simplicity, eulogise to him the liberal ideas and noble spirit of his chosen fair one; and as all these observations were made with the most smiling hilarity, and she was always on excellent terms with the girls whom she depreciated, it was impossible to prove, or even to believe, her guilty of wilful aspersion.
Miss Ogleby had formed an intimacy at Bath with Miss Malford, another old maid: she began to feel a great want of a confidante and coadjutor, and therefore wrote to her friend, extolling the advantages and recommendations of Allingham, and pressing her to come and settle there; a pretty and cheap house near her own was to be disposed of, and Miss Malford soon took up her residence there. Miss Malford was three years younger than Miss Ogleby, but she had not like her the advantage of having ever been handsome; she was decidedly deformed, and her countenance had that elfin, shrewd expression, which frequently exists in persons so afflicted; and although not more ill-natured than her friend in reality, she had the character of being so, because, being much cleverer, she had a greater ability of saying sarcastic things. Her property was enough to keep her in independence, but not sufficient to be an indemnification for the unloveliness of her person and disposition.
One “poor gentleman,” however, who was rapidly advancing to the end of the London season and his own finances, wrought himself up to the desperate resolution of making a proposal to Miss Malford. Feeling that this daring measure required the protection of numbers, he determined to make known his passion in some public place. He accompanied Miss Malford to the Exhibition at Somerset House; but, alas! the beautiful productions of innumerable delightful ‘portrait-painters smiled and shone around him on every side, and he felt he could not profane the atmosphere of such forms of loveliness, by applying any expressions of admiration to the little, sallow, frowning spinster, hanging on his arm.
The next attempt was at the Adelaide Gallery, and he was actually on the point of making a proposal, when his liege lady inadvertently expressed a wish to be electrified: it was instantly complied with, and the force employed being greater than she had calculated upon, her starts and contortions made her appear so much more frightful than usual, that she lost the opportunity of receiving a far more gratifying electric shock in the shape of an offer of marriage!
The third act of the comedy or tragedy, call it which you will, took place at Madame Tussaud’s wax-work. The hesitating suitor had accompanied Miss Malford and two of her friends thither in the evening; the grand room was splendidly lighted up, and a band was playing “Love in the Heart;” but, alas! love was not in the heart of the unfortunate young man, he did not ” own the soft impeachment.” Presently, however, he entered with his party into the “room of horrors;” a faint lamp burned dimly; he looked at Miss Malford, she had never appeared to such advantage, her complexion was actually only a faint shade of primrose when compared to the yellow waxen effigy in the centre of the room; and although her head was very ungracefully set upon her shoulders, it boasted at least one great superiority to the ghastly heads around her, from the circumstance of its being on her shoulders at all!
The lady and gentlemen of their party quitted the room, and the rash suitor was on the point of pouring forth his passionate protestations, when Miss Malford stopped him by beginning to speak herself. A lady is proverbially anxious for the last word, it would be well sometimes if she were not equally anxious for the first. Miss Malford poured forth such a torrent of spiteful, sarcastic vituperation, against the lady who had just left the room—and whose only fault was that her prettiness and amiability seemed likely to make a conquest of the gentleman who was her escort—that the feelings of the poor suitor underwent a sudden revulsion: he looked around the room, the quietude and repose of the yellow figure were quite refreshing after the display of very disagreeable vivacity which he had witnessed; and although the heads were divorced from their shoulders, those little unruly members, the tongues, had become silent and innoxious in the process. The gentleman led Miss Malford from the room of horrors, still likely to remain Miss Malford, and returned to his peaceable, though humble lodgings, not a “sadder,” but certainly a “wiser man,” than when he contemplated the desperate expedient of enriching and enlivening them by the introduction of a shrewish wife.
Miss Malford was deeply hurt by his secession; she now began to despair of making conquests, and formed her character on the model of Bonnel Thornton’* “mighty good sort of woman;” she interfered in the affairs of families—made husbands discontented with their wives—put variance between parents and children—got gay nephews and saucy nieces scratched out of the wills of rich uncles and aunts— domineered over servants—and lectured poor people.
After her intimacy with Miss Ogleby, however, she became convinced that although there may be much pleasure in mischievous actions in the aggregate, that peculiar branch, which consists in matchbreaking, seems most decidedly cut out for the vocation of the old maid; and when she was once settled at Allingham, she devoted all her energies to that one single great point. I will not relate the number of proposed matches which these well-assorted friends nipped in the bud or the blossom, during the first year of their residence at Allingham; but will hasten to introduce my readers to a very pretty young lady, who had the misfortune of falling under their especial ban. Allingham was a town which, on account of its fine air, reasonable provisions, and frequent gaieties, was considered a very desirable residence by persons of genteel habits and small fortunes; and Mrs. Stapleton, the handsome widow of an officer, deemed it an advantageous spot for herself and her only daughter, Rose, to settle in.
Rose Stapleton was about twenty years old, and a complete personification of youth in her appearance and motions; perhaps I may be considered to have been guilty of tautology in this sentence; but I know many girls whom I maintain have never been young—who are, and always have been, destitute of the sprightliness, elasticity, and freshness of youth. Such was not Rose Stapleton; she was remarkably pretty; and her beauty, on account of its decidedly bright and juvenile characteristics, was likely to be peculiarly objectionable to the sight of an old maid. She had a profusion of rich sunny ringlets. intensely blue eyes, rosy cheeks, and scarlet lips, and teeth so brilliantly white, that Miss Malford said they afforded an infallible indication of consumption; the figure of Rose, however, had nothing consumptive about it, being somewhat below the middle size, and inclined to a degree of plumpness which might have injured its girlish air, had it not been counterbalanced by the light and sylph-like agility of her mien. Rose had also a smile so very sweet, as to give reason to suppose that her temper was equally so. Mrs. Stapleton was generally considered and denominated a worldly-wise woman; but I am of opinion that she was rather injured by the phrase; she had none of the cold, calculating policy, which usually appertains to such a character. She certainly wished and expected that her daughter should marry a wealthy man, and the exceeding personal attractions of Rose did not seem to. render such a hope at all unreasonable; but she took no particular means to secure her point, save giving smiles and invitations to rich men, and cool receptions and averted looks to poor ones. She did not carry her beautiful Rose to display “her buskins gemmed with morning dew” in the early promenade of Cheltenham, or to “wave her golden hair” in the stirring breezes of Brighton.
Rose Stapleton was not educated or put forward for display; she neither acted charades, nor shot at archery meetings, nor officiated at fancy fairs, nor attitudinized in tableaux—she was simply an engaging unsophisticated girl, with a lovely face, moderate accomplishments, and a fine temper. Mrs. Stapleton showed one proof of strict attention to her daughter’s matrimonial interests, which she considered to indicate great shrewdness on her part, but which in my opinion was decidedly the reverse. She did not permit Rose to form a close intimacy with any of the girls among her acquaintance, but as she felt that it would not be desirable to have her unaccompanied by female associates, she readily accepted the overtures of Miss Ogleby and Miss Malford to exceeding sociability. Mrs. Stapleton argued to herself, with what she considered the tact of a woman of the world, “If Rose be surrounded by young and attractive girls, the attentions of any one disposed to admire her will be divided, or perhaps even alienated; now, Miss Ogleby and Miss Malford are excellent foils, and although they are worthy kind creatures, no man in his senses who is a good match, would ever think of offering to either of them; then they are both very fond of Rose, and will be sure to draw her out, and speak highly of her if required, for she is young enough to be the daughter of either of them, and of course is quite out of the question as a rival.”
Poor Mrs. Stapleton, she little knew the instinctive hatred felt by an old maid for a young beauty; she was a thoroughly good-natured woman, without the least taste for mischief, and would just as soon have thought of amusing herself in breaking matches, as in breaking china.
Rose also gave full credit to the protestations of friendship which she received from the spinsters: she and her mother both rather wondered that two or three gentlemen, who had seemed greatly to admire her, had never made any serious proposals to her; but they little
Fashion and Consequence: As Now Found in High Places and Low Places
By Minister of many travels
About this book
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vi – 10
INDEX 0F THE ENGRAVINGS.
CHAPTER i. PAGE.
Miss Kate’s Birth-day Party, – • – • 13
The Party at Night, – •- – • • 16
Taking an Evening Walk when twelve years old, – – 24
At the Opera, • – • • • – – 33
A Wag, – – – – • • • 33
Master James at twenty-one, – • • • 45
CHAPTER V. –
Master James going to Ask for a Wife, • • • 51
At a Masquerade Ball, – – – – • 82
A Lady kissing a Lap-Dog, – – • * • 91
The Belle of the Party, – – – • • 110
A New York Dandy, – – • – – 116
A Young Lady making a bad Choice, – • – 145
The Whisky Seller, – – – – – – 170
viii INDEX OF THE ENGRAVINGS.
CHAPTER XXVIII. Gentlemen Fashionably Dressed, – * – 180
CHAPTER XXIX. Dancers, – • – – – – 200
Two Waltzing, – – – – – • 214 CHAPTER XXXI.
An Editor, – – – • • – • 227
Theatrical Dancing, – – – – • • 228 CHAPTER XXXII.
A Woman Riding in the Circus, – – – – 265 CHAPTER XXXIII.
The Parson, &c., # – – – – – – 272 CHAPTER xxxV.
A Fashionable Couple. – – – • – 289
Assignation House, &c., – – – • • 293
CHAPTER xxxWII. A Church-Going Couple, – – – s • 317
MISS. K.A.T. E. S. BIR. T. H.D.A. Y. WILLIAM STARK speaks thus *specting a single idea: “It came to Newton as he lay under the tree, and all the stars in heaven and the sun itself yielded obedience. It came to Watts as he thought of the separate condenser, and an army of cranks and wheels more numerous than the hosts that sung psalms before the holy city, have this day sung his praises. It came to Fulton as he thought of the paddle-wheel, and every river and every sea is now blossoming with the flower of genius. It came to Franklin as he thought of the kite, and the very lightning came down from their lofty thrones to do him honor. It came to Bacon as he thought of the inductive system, and the whole mental world leaped into a new existence. Philosophy turned from her beaten paths, and followed him as a dog would follow his master; the physical world awoke. There came a voice from every drop in the salt ocean, and from every rock on the broad land — from every trembling star above us, and from every sleeping fossil beneath; and rock, star, and dew-drop, cloud, fish, and fossil, all found tongues and voices to proclaim his praise.” Gentle reader, is not this a beautiful idea, beautifully expressed ? If, however, you have ever thought on the appearance of the morning star in a clear blue sky, followed by a day of clouds, tempest, and thunder, you are prepared to appreciate the cause of its introduction here, to anticipate coming results, and to follow us through the startling scenes and disclosures of fashionable society.” The Single Idea.—To present the world with a book of facts, while others are engaged in writing books of fiction, entitled Fashion and Consequence, is the single idea which now actuates the mind of the Writer. * Let us, therefore, commence, without an additional reflection, with Miss Kate. But here a question naturally arises — who is Miss Kate 2 An august personage, just twelve months old, whose birth-day, on account of its transcending interest to the social circle and to the world at large, must be celebrated by a party
* “Why,” said a talkative lady to Dr. Johnston, “I believe you prefer the company of men to that of the ladies.” “Madame,” he replied, “I am very fond of the society of ladies. I like their beauty, I like their delicacy, I like their vivacity, and I like their silence.” Our fashionable ladies, after reading this book, will not conclude that we are inattentive to their conversations, dresses, inclinations, and habits. They may, and doubtless will, think that our strictures are too pointed and too severe. Here, in reference to this, we would reply, that the following incident will fully explain our feeling and design: “A little boy, when at school, heard some of the children say, ‘Only old maids keep lap-dogs and parrots. This so wounded his feelings, on account of an unmarried aunt residing at his mother’s having a parrot, that he resolved on killing “purty Polly, so soon as he should arrive at home. The moment he entered the piazza, he met with the parrot, and ended its days. The aunt, in her agitation, exclaimed: “Why, you bad child, you have killed my parrot!” “Aunt, aunt, the little fellow replied, ‘I heard the children say at school, only old maids keep lap-dogs and parrots, and I resolved to take the stain off your character. That’s why.I killed the parrot.’”
We, in common with others, have been throwing grass too long;