Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter I: NOVELTY. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 4
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Chapter I: NOVELTY. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 4 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 4.
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The season was more than half over, and was about to be pronounced remarkably dull, when a promise of novelty was given out in the shape of a rumour that lord F——and his lady, who had been travelling abroad from the day of their marriage, had arrived in town, and that the bride's first appearance would take place at the Duke of A——'s ball on the 20th. This information was circulated in various forms of words, all bearing a relation to what lady F——had been before she was lady F——. At the clubs, in the shops, in drawing-rooms and boudoirs, it was related that lady F——'s debut would take place on the 20th. Her first appearance on a new stage,—her return from a tour in the provinces,—her first night in a new character, all were referred to the 20th, in a manner which should prevent any one forgetting that lady F——had quitted a profession on her marriage. The curiosity was not confined to mothers aud daughters, to whose observation au extraordinary marriage is the most exciting circumstance that life affords in this case, the interest was shared by their husbands and fathers. Some wondered how the proud old earl would stand the introduction of his daughter-in-law into his own society; and others, who had told lord F—— that he was a lucky fellow to have won such a glorious creature, speculated, notwithstanding, on the awkwardnesses and difficulties which must hourly arise from the choice o one so far below him in rank. He was an odd personage, however,— lord F——; and there was no telling how he would think and feel on occasions when everybody else felt alike. On the whole, greater sympathy was expressed for his sister, lady Frances, who was more likely to be mortified, —who certainly was more mortified at the connexion than the rest of her family. Her father was understood to have insisted on her making the best of the affair, since it could not be helped; but, whatever her outward demeanour might appear, it would be too hard upon her to suppose that she could do more than barely keep on terms with a sister-in-law who had been on the stage. A solitary voice here and there reminded the speculators how it was that lady F——had adopted a profession, and asked whether the connexion would have been thought very preposterous if she had been known only as the highly educated daughter of an eminent merchant; or whether the marvellousness of the case rested on her father's misfortunes, and her choice of a way of life when he was no longer living to support and protect her: but these questions met with no other answer than that such a marriage was so very strange an one that the speculators longed to see how all the parties carried it off; though, to be sure, such beauty as lady F——'s went a great way towards making tile thing easy;— almost as far as her husband's carelessness of the opinion of the world.—Meanwhile, who had seen her riding in the park? Was she more or less beautiful than on the stage? Was lady Frances with her? Who had called, and who had not? How was it to be the fashion to treat her? And so forth.
How much did all this signify to lord and lady F——, to the earl, and to lady Frances? The bride fancied little, and feared nothing. She had been conversant with many ranks of society, and had found them all composed of men and women; and she never doubted that in that with which she was about to become acquainted, she should also have to deal with men and women. Her husband guessed what speculations were going on, and did not care for them. The earl also knew, and did care, as did lady Frances; but they disposed differently of their anxieties; the earl repressing them in order to the best disposition of circumstances which he could not prevent; his daughter allowing them to fill her mind, appear in her manners, and form a part of her conversation with her intimate friends.
Lady F—— and her husband dined alone on the day of the Duke of A——'s ball. As the bride entered her dressing-room, she met her lady's-maid fidgeting about near the door.
“O, dear, my lady,”said Philips, “I am glad you are come. I was just going to take the liberty of venturing to send Thérèse, to remind your ladyship how very late it is growing. It would scarcely be justice, either to myself or your ladyship, to cramp us for time in our first toilet; and I was not able so much as to lay out your dress; for Thérèse was so idle, I find, as not to have ascertained what your lady ship intends to wear.”
“I have been so idle as not to have made up my own mind yet, Philips. There is abundance of time, however, if you are no longer dressing my hair than Thérèse and I shall be about the rest.”
Philips immediately looked very solemn; and though the toilet lamps were duly lighted, and all was ready for her operations, she stood with her arms by her side in the attitude of waiting.
“Well, Philips, I am ready.”
“Will you please, my lady, to send Thérèse and her work elsewhere? It cannot be expected that I should exhibit my ways so as a mere novice may supplant me any day, my lady.”
“This is Thérèse's proper place, and here she shall stay,” replied the lady. “However, she shall read to us; and then, you know, she cannot be a spy upon your doings.”
Thérèse read accordingly till the hair was dressed. At the first pause; Philips observed that she must brush up her French, her fluency in which she had lost from having missed the advantage of visiting Paris last year.
“Thérèse will be obliged to any one who will talk with her in her own tongue, Philips. Suppose, instead of having fancies about supplanting one another, you make the best use you can of each other, since you must be a good deal together.”
“I will do my best, I am sure, my lady, to instruct the girl in all that relates to her own sphere, without encroaching on mine. I will do my best to reform her dress, which really bespeaks her to be a green-grocer's daughter, if I may venture to say so. But as to dressing hair,—allow me to appeal to lady Frances whether it can be expected that I should disseminate my principles out of my own sphere.”
“See who knocks, Thérèse.”
The earl and lady Frances were below, and lady Frances would be particularly glad to speak to Mrs. Philips, if not engaged with my lady. Mrs. Philips, at her lady's desire, went to receive her late mistress's commands, and Théré.se enacted the lady's-maid, as she had done from the time she had left Paris in lady F''—s train.
“Come, Thérèse, let us have dune before anybody arrives to criticise us novices. How nervous you look, child! What is the difference between dressing me to-day and any other day?”
“There is no toilet in travelling, madame,—no fêtes like this; and in the inns there was so much less grandeur than here. I have not been educated to serve you, like Mrs. Philips, or to live in a great house.—I am more fit to sew for you, madame, or read to you, than to help you instead of Mrs. Philips.”
“I do not want two Mrs. Philipses, you know; and as for the grandeur you speak of,—if we do not find it comfortable, we will have done with it. What have we too much of,—of light, or of warmth, or of drawers and dressing boxes, or of books? You like old china, and I like old pictures, and here are both. Which of all these things do you wish away”
“O, none of them, I dare say, when I grow used to them: but they are so little like my father's house! I felt the inns very grand at first, but they are bare and tarnished, compared with what we have here.”
“Yes. You would have been glad of such a rug as this under your feet in those cold rooms at Amiens; and I should have liked such a mirror as this instead of one so cracked, that one half of my face looked as if it could not possibly fit the other. I see much to like and nothing to be afraid of in rugs and mirrors.”
“You, madame, no! You are made to have the best of everything come to you of its own accord; and you know how to use everything. You. . . .”
“And yet, Thérèse, I was once as poor as you, and poorer. If I know how to use things, and if, as you say, they come to me of the best, it is because I think first what they were made for, and not what they are taken as signs of. If, instead, of enjoying the luxuries of my house, I were to look upon them as showing that I am lady F—, I should be apt to try to behave as people think lady F—should; behave; and then I should he awkward. Now, if you consider all the pretty things you have to use, not as pointing you out as lady F,—'s lady's-maid, but as intended to make me and my little friend comfortable, you will not be distressed about being unlike Philips: you will know that I had rather see you the same Thérèse that I always knew you.”
“O, madame, this is being very good. But then, I cannot feel as you do, because there is more occasion for me to think about the change. There is my lord to take off your thoughts from such things; he is with you in every new place, and you see how accustomed he is to everything that is strange to you.”
“That does make some difference certainly,” said the lady, smiling, “but then you should consider how many more new places and people I have to make acquaintance with than you. Except Philips, or two or three of the servants below, you have nobody to be afraid of, and I am never long away. You will feel yourself at case in one room after another, and with one person after another, till you will learn to do all your business, and speak all your thoughts, as simply and confidently as you once watered the salads in your father's shop, and made your confession to good old father Bénoit.”
Thérèse sighed deeply, as she finished her task and withdrew to the fireside, as if no longer to detain her lady about her own affairs.
“I have not forgotten, Thérèse, about finding a confessor for you. I am only cautious lest we should not observe exactly your father's directions.”
“Madame—they are so very particular!—that the priest should be a devout man, and very old and experienced in the confession of girls like me.”
“I know; and we thought we had found such an one; but he has forgotten almost all his French, and you could hardly confess in English. But make yourself easy; your conscience shall soon be relieved.—Good night. Philips will sit up .... More work, do you want?—You may give Philips a French lesson. O, you have read all these books. Well: come with me into the library, and I will find you more.”
On the stairs they met lord F—.
“Where are you going, Letitia? Frances is closeted with Philips in the library.”
Thérèse immediately stole back to the dressingroom; but before the carriages drove off, she was furnished with a fresh volume wherewith to be occupied when she should have made tea for Mrs. Philips and herself.
The earl had dreaded lest he should find Letitia nervous at the prospect of the formidable evening she was about to pass. His visit was meant to reassure her, and she understood the kindness of the intention, and showed that she did. When lady Frances came in from her conference with Philips, she found them side by side on the sofa, —Letitia quiet and self-possessed, and the earl regarding her with as much admiration as kindness.
“I am sure you may be obliged to me for giving up Philip's to you,” said lady Frances to Letitia. “She has dressed you beautifully tonight. Is not she a treasure?”
“A great treasure to you, Frances,” said her brother, “so pray take her back again. Letitia has one treasure of a maid in her dressing-room already, and it is a pity she should rob you of yours.”
“Indeed it is,” said lady F—. “Philips's accomplishments are thrown away upon me, I am afraid. If you wilt allow her to give my little French girl a few lessons, I shall be just as much obliged to you, and shall not deprive you of your servant.”
Lady Frances protested; but her brother was peremptory, to her utter astonishment, for she had never known him speak of lady's maids before and would not have believed that he could ever learn one from another. She did not perceive that he did not choose that his wife's beauty should be attributed to the art of her toilet.
Not the slightest trace of trepidation was observable in the bride when she alighted from her carriage, when her name was shouted up the staircase, or when all who were within hearing turned to gaze as she entered the crowded saloon, leaning on the arm of the earl. There was something much more like girlish glee than fear in her countenance; for, the truth was, Letitia had a taste for luxury, as all simple-minded persons would have, if their simplicity extended as far as a disregard of the factitious associations by which luxury is converted into an incumbrance. Having been early accustomed to so much of it as to excite the taste, then deprived of it, then baulked and tantalized with the coarse and tinsel imitation of it which had met her during her short professional course, it was with lively pleasure that she now greeted the reality. The whole apparatus of festivity inspired her with instantaneous joy:—the bowers of orange and rose trees, light, warmth and music together, the buzz of voices, and above all the chalked floor,— all these set her spirits dancing. A single glance towards her husband told him enough to have placed him perfectly at ease respecting the affairs of the evening, even if he had been a man who could be otherwise than at his ease. He knew perfectly well that it was impossible for any one of good sense and taste not to admire and respect Letitia, and he cared little under what pretence others might depreciate her accomplishments.
“Lady F—is the star of the night, as every one is observing,” said an old friend of the earl's, who was absorbed in watching the dancers, among whom was Letitia. “The brightest star, we all agree, and shining as if in her native sphere.”
“This is her native sphere,” replied the earl. “She is in her own sphere wherever there is grace, wherever there is enjoyment.”
“True: so young, so simple as she appears! She seems perfectly unspoiled.”
“Perfectly. She has gone through too much to be easily spoiled. Change,—anything more than modification impossible in her ease, do with her what you will. You are an old friend, and I have no objection to let you see that I am proud of Letitia.”
“I am truly glad.... I felt uncertain.... I did not know . . . .”
“Nor I till to-night,” said the earl, smiling. “But I find I have no more wish than right to question my son's choice.”
“But you must expect the world to criticise it.”
“Certainly. If my son acts so as to imply contempt of conventional marriages, there will be contempt cast on his marriage of love. If both parties carry off their contempt inoffensively, both are welcome to their opinions.”
“Well! there are many here whose parents have had occasion to use your philosophy, or some other to answer the same purpose.”
“Lady F—is the star of the night,” observed lady Frances's partner, gazing at Letitia through his glass. “Peerless indeed!”
Lady Frances made no answer, which emboldened the gentleman to proceed.
“The star of the night, as she has often been vailed, and never more justly. Never, in the proudest moment of her glory, was she more lovely.”
Still lady Frances was silent.
“Perhaps your ladyship feels this to be the night of her glory; and, indeed, it is a triumph to have risen, through her own radiance, into a higher sphere.”
“I question whether she feels it so,” replied lady I Frances. “Letitia is very proud, and her pride takes rather an odd turn. She would tell you that site considers it a condescension to come among us, who are only born to our station.”
“Surprising! And what inspired her condescension”
“O, love, of course; pure love. Nothing else could have prevailed with her to submit to marriage. You should hear her talk of the condition of wives,—how she pitied all till she became one herself. You cannot conceive what poor slaves she thinks them.”
“And what says lord F—?”
“He is fired by her eloquence. You have no idea how eloquent she is. She pours it out as if . ...”
“It was in her heart, as well as by heart. How will she keep it up, now she has no practice?”
“They will have private theatricals down at Weston, I have no doubt.”
“I beseech your ladyship's interest to get me invited. It will be such a new thing to see lord F—on the stage. Of course he will play the heroes to his wife's heroines. Whatever may have been hitherto, he will scarcely like, I should think.... he is scarcely the man .... Faith! if she is proud and high-spirited, as you say, she has met her match.”
Lady Franees smiled; and as she was led away to supper, assured her partner that nothing could be pleasanter than the terms they were all on with lady F—; for she was, after all, a noble creature; which information was received with a deferential bow.
In every group of talkers, lady F—'s merits were canvassed. Some ladies would give any thing in the world for her courage, till reminded by their mammas that she had been trained to self-confidence, when they suddenly became contented w;th their own timidity. Others would have supposed her not out of her teens, by the girlish enjoyment she seemed to feel; but these were reminded that this kind of scene was as new to her as if she had not been seen and heard of in public for nearly four years. Everybody agreed that she was beautiful, and very amiable, and astonishingly simple, and conducting herself with wonderful propriety: and everybody admired the good-natured earl's manner towards her, and wondered whether it was lady Frances's own choice to come with her, and conjectured what lord F—'s happiness must be to witness his bride's flattering welcome to the rank the had given her.
Lord F—'s happiness, though as great as these kind friends could wish, was not altogether of the character they supposed.
“You have enjoyed yourself, Letitia,” he observed, as they were going home in the grey of the morning, and when she made the first pause in her remarks to let down the glass, as a market cart, laden with early vegetables and flowers, passed for a few moments alongside the carriage.
“How sweet!—O how sweet those violets are!” she exclaimed, as a whiff of fragrance was blown in. “Enjoyed myself! Yes,—it is a new page,—quite a new page of human history to me.”
“Your passion is for turning over such pages, What next”
“If I had a market-woman's cloak and bonnet, I should like to step into that cart and go to Covent-Garden, to see the people dressing it up against sunrise. I should like, some morning, to go into the city when the sun is just touching the steeples, and see life waken up in the streets.”
“I wonder you did not stand in the door-way to night,” said her husband, smiling, “to see the contrast between speculating life on the pavement and polished life in the saloon.”
“I saw enough, without standing in the doorway,” replied Letitia, gravely. “It was more different than I had supposed from something of the same kind that I had seen often enough before. I had seen the great and the humble throng about our theatre doors; but then there was room for each, though far apart. All went to share a common entertainment, —to be happy at the same time, though not side by side. Here there were peers within and paupers without; careless luxury above, and withering hardship below. This is too deep a page for my reading, Henry; and not the easier for my having been in both conditions myself.”
“Why wish then for more experience, till you have settled this matter?”
“Because we cannot tell, till we have tried, what we may find in any matter to throw light upon any other matter.”
“Suppose you should find all wrapped in darkness at last, as Faust did when he had gratified his passion for experience.”
“Impossible,—having Faust before me for a warning. He kindled his altar fire from below when the sun was high, and he let somebody put it out when both sun and moon were gone down. Where was the use of his burning-glass then? How should he be otherwise than dark?”
“True; but how would you manage better?”
“I would never quit stability for a moment. Faust found out that the world rolled round continually. He jumped to the conclusion that there was no such thing in nature as a firm footing, and so cast himself off into perdition. If he had taken his walks in God's broad sunshine, he would have found that the ground did not give way under him, nor ever would, he was etherealized enough to stand on air.”
“So instead of speculating on the incompatibilities of human happinesses, and concluding that there is no such thing as a common welfare, you would make trial of all conditions, and deduce the, summum bonum from your experience.”
“Yes; that is the way; and if you would help me, the thing would be done twice as well. If we were each to go a pilgrimage through the ranks of society, (for we would settle the affairs of the moral world before we began upon the natural.) . . . .”
“Very reasonably, certainly,” replied her husband, smiling, “since it is easier to get into palaces and hovels, than into thunder-clouds and sea-caves.”
“Well;—if you began at the top and I at the bottom, if we were to meet in the middle, I do think we might see how all might dance amidst fragrance and music, and none lean starving on the frosty area-rails. You should be king, minister, peer, and so on, down to a tradesman; and I would be a friendless Italian boy with his white mouse, and a pauper, and a cotton-spinner, and a house-servant, and so upwards, till I met you at the tradesman's we spoke of.”
“My dear, why do you put yourself at the bottom instead of me?”
“Because you would be longer in learning what to make of poverty than I. I know a good deal about it already, you are aware.”
“Since we cannot rove up and down as we will through the mazes of society, Letitia, we will do what we can by varying our occupations. Variety of research may partly stand in the stead of migration from rank to rank.—You spoke at random just now, of my being minister. What would you say if I were to become a servant of the crown;—that is, in other words, a servant of the people?”
“That I would serve you,—O how humbly, how devotedly!—as the servant of the people,” cried Letitia, colouring high. “You know. ...”
“I know that in marrying me you dreaded, above all things, falling into the routine of aristocratic idleness. I know that you felt it a sacrifice to surrender your public service and influence; and this is one reason among many, Letitia, why I should like to accept office;—that you might espouse another kind of public service in espousing me. But here we are at home. I shall be able to tell you more after dinner to-morrow than I know at present of this matter.”
Letitia's experience of this day was not yet over. She found it very painful to be undressed by a yawning, winking lady's-maid; and she resolved that her engagements should never more deprive Mrs. Philips of her natural rest, however lady Frances might teach Mrs. Philips herself to laugh at the absurdity of a lady of rank troubling herself to lay aside her own trappings.