Produced by Sharon Partridge and Martin Ward. HTML versionby Al Haines.
Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who,for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; therehe found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressedone; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, bycontemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there anyunwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs changed naturallyinto pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creationsof the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless, hecould read his own history with an interest which never failed. Thiswas the page at which the favourite volume always opened:
"ELLIOT OF KELLYNCH HALL.
"Walter Elliot, born March 1, 1760, married, July 15, 1784, Elizabeth,daughter of James Stevenson, Esq. of South Park, in the county ofGloucester, by which lady (who died 1800) he has issue Elizabeth, bornJune 1, 1785; Anne, born August 9, 1787; a still-born son, November 5,1789; Mary, born November 20, 1791."
Precisely such had the paragraph originally stood from the printer'shands; but Sir Walter had improved it by adding, for the information ofhimself and his family, these words, after the date of Mary's birth--"Married, December 16, 1810, Charles, son and heir of Charles Musgrove,Esq. of Uppercross, in the county of Somerset," and by inserting mostaccurately the day of the month on which he had lost his wife.
Then followed the history and rise of the ancient and respectablefamily, in the usual terms; how it had been first settled in Cheshire;how mentioned in Dugdale, serving the office of high sheriff,representing a borough in three successive parliaments, exertions ofloyalty, and dignity of baronet, in the first year of Charles II, withall the Marys and Elizabeths they had married; forming altogether twohandsome duodecimo pages, and concluding with the arms andmotto:--"Principal seat, Kellynch Hall, in the county of Somerset," andSir Walter's handwriting again in this finale:--
"Heir presumptive, William Walter Elliot, Esq., great grandson of thesecond Sir Walter."
Vanity was the beginning and the end of Sir Walter Elliot's character;vanity of person and of situation. He had been remarkably handsome inhis youth; and, at fifty-four, was still a very fine man. Few womencould think more of their personal appearance than he did, nor couldthe valet of any new made lord be more delighted with the place he heldin society. He considered the blessing of beauty as inferior only tothe blessing of a baronetcy; and the Sir Walter Elliot, who unitedthese gifts, was the constant object of his warmest respect anddevotion.
His good looks and his rank had one fair claim on his attachment; sinceto them he must have owed a wife of very superior character to anything deserved by his own. Lady Elliot had been an excellent woman,sensible and amiable; whose judgement and conduct, if they might bepardoned the youthful infatuation which made her Lady Elliot, had neverrequired indulgence afterwards.--She had humoured, or softened, orconcealed his failings, and promoted his real respectability forseventeen years; and though not the very happiest being in the worldherself, had found enough in her duties, her friends, and her children,to attach her to life, and make it no matter of indifference to herwhen she was called on to quit them.--Three girls, the two eldestsixteen and fourteen, was an awful legacy for a mother to bequeath, anawful charge rather, to confide to the authority and guidance of aconceited, silly father. She had, however, one very intimate friend, asensible, deserving woman, who had been brought, by strong attachmentto herself, to settle close by her, in the village of Kellynch; and onher kindness and advice, Lady Elliot mainly relied for the best helpand maintenance of the good principles and instruction which she hadbeen anxiously giving her daughters.
This friend, and Sir Walter, did not marry, whatever might have beenanticipated on that head by their acquaintance. Thirteen years hadpassed away since Lady Elliot's death, and they were still nearneighbours and intimate friends, and one remained a widower, the othera widow.
That Lady Russell, of steady age and character, and extremely wellprovided for, should have no thought of a second marriage, needs noapology to the public, which is rather apt to be unreasonablydiscontented when a woman does marry again, than when she does not; butSir Walter's continuing in singleness requires explanation. Be itknown then, that Sir Walter, like a good father, (having met with oneor two private disappointments in very unreasonable applications),prided himself on remaining single for his dear daughters' sake. Forone daughter, his eldest, he would really have given up any thing,which he had not been very much tempted to do. Elizabeth hadsucceeded, at sixteen, to all that was possible, of her mother's rightsand consequence; and being very handsome, and very like himself, herinfluence had always been great, and they had gone on together mosthappily. His two other children were of very inferior value. Mary hadacquired a little artificial importance, by becoming Mrs CharlesMusgrove; but Anne, with an elegance of mind and sweetness ofcharacter, which must have placed her high with any people of realunderstanding, was nobody with either father or sister; her word had noweight, her convenience was always to give way--she was only Anne.
To Lady Russell, indeed, she was a most dear and highly valuedgod-daughter, favourite, and friend. Lady Russell loved them all; butit was only in Anne that she could fancy the mother to revive again.
A few years before, Anne Elliot had been a very pretty girl, but herbloom had vanished early; and as even in its height, her father hadfound little to admire in her, (so totally different were her delicatefeatures and mild dark eyes from his own), there could be nothing inthem, now that she was faded and thin, to excite his esteem. He hadnever indulged much hope, he had now none, of ever reading her name inany other page of his favourite work. All equality of alliance mustrest with Elizabeth, for Mary had merely connected herself with an oldcountry family of respectability and large fortune, and had thereforegiven all the honour and received none: Elizabeth would, one day orother, marry suitably.
It sometimes happens that a woman is handsomer at twenty-nine than shewas ten years before; and, generally speaking, if there has beenneither ill health nor anxiety, it is a time of life at which scarcelyany charm is lost. It was so with Elizabeth, still the same handsomeMiss Elliot that she had begun to be thirteen years ago, and Sir Waltermight be excused, therefore, in forgetting her age, or, at least, bedeemed only half a fool, for thinking himself and Elizabeth as bloomingas ever, amidst the wreck of the good looks of everybody else; for hecould plainly see how old all the rest of his family and acquaintancewere growing. Anne haggard, Mary coarse, every face in theneighbourhood worsting, and the rapid increase of the crow's foot aboutLady Russell's temples had long been a distress to him.
Elizabeth did not quite equal her father in personal contentment.Thirteen years had seen her mistress of Kellynch Hall, presiding anddirecting with a self-possession and decision which could never havegiven the idea of her being younger than she was. For thirteen yearshad she been doing the honours, and laying down the domestic law athome, and leading the way to the chaise and four, and walkingimmediately after Lady Russell out of all the drawing-rooms anddining-rooms in the country. Thirteen winters' revolving frosts hadseen her opening every ball of credit which a scanty neighbourhoodafforded, and thirteen springs shewn their blossoms, as she travelledup to London with her father, for a few weeks' annual enjoyment of thegreat world. She had the remembrance of all this, she had theconsciousness of being nine-and-twenty to give her some regrets andsome apprehensions; she was fully satisfied of being still quite ashandsome as ever, but she felt her approach to the years of danger, andwould have rejoiced to be certain of being properly solicited bybaronet-blo
od within the next twelvemonth or two. Then might she againtake up the book of books with as much enjoyment as in her early youth,but now she liked it not. Always to be presented with the date of herown birth and see no marriage follow but that of a youngest sister,made the book an evil; and more than once, when her father had left itopen on the table near her, had she closed it, with averted eyes, andpushed it away.
She had had a disappointment, moreover, which that book, and especiallythe history of her own family, must ever present the remembrance of.The heir presumptive, the very William Walter Elliot, Esq., whoserights had been so generously supported by her father, had disappointedher.
She had, while a very young girl, as soon as she had known him to be,in the event of her having no brother, the future baronet, meant tomarry him, and her father had always meant that she should. He had notbeen known to them as a boy; but soon after Lady Elliot's death, SirWalter had sought the acquaintance, and though his overtures had notbeen met with any warmth, he had persevered in seeking it, makingallowance for the modest drawing-back of youth; and, in one of theirspring excursions to London, when Elizabeth was in her first bloom, MrElliot had been forced into the introduction.
He was at that time a very young man, just engaged in the study of thelaw; and Elizabeth found him extremely agreeable, and every plan in hisfavour was confirmed. He was invited to Kellynch Hall; he was talkedof and expected all the rest of the year; but he never came. Thefollowing spring he was seen again in town, found equally agreeable,again encouraged, invited, and expected, and again he did not come; andthe next tidings were that he was married. Instead of pushing hisfortune in the line marked out for the heir of the house of Elliot, hehad purchased independence by uniting himself to a rich woman ofinferior birth.
Sir Walter had resented it. As the head of the house, he felt that heought to have been consulted, especially after taking the young man sopublicly by the hand; "For they must have been seen together," heobserved, "once at Tattersall's, and twice in the lobby of the House ofCommons." His disapprobation was expressed, but apparently very littleregarded. Mr Elliot had attempted no apology, and shewn himself asunsolicitous of being longer noticed by the family, as Sir Walterconsidered him unworthy of it: all acquaintance between them hadceased.
This very awkward history of Mr Elliot was still, after an interval ofseveral years, felt with anger by Elizabeth, who had liked the man forhimself, and still more for being her father's heir, and whose strongfamily pride could see only in him a proper match for Sir WalterElliot's eldest daughter. There was not a baronet from A to Z whom herfeelings could have so willingly acknowledged as an equal. Yet somiserably had he conducted himself, that though she was at this presenttime (the summer of 1814) wearing black ribbons for his wife, she couldnot admit him to be worth thinking of again. The disgrace of his firstmarriage might, perhaps, as there was no reason to suppose itperpetuated by offspring, have been got over, had he not done worse;but he had, as by the accustomary intervention of kind friends, theyhad been informed, spoken most disrespectfully of them all, mostslightingly and contemptuously of the very blood he belonged to, andthe honours which were hereafter to be his own. This could not bepardoned.
Such were Elizabeth Elliot's sentiments and sensations; such the caresto alloy, the agitations to vary, the sameness and the elegance, theprosperity and the nothingness of her scene of life; such the feelingsto give interest to a long, uneventful residence in one country circle,to fill the vacancies which there were no habits of utility abroad, notalents or accomplishments for home, to occupy.
But now, another occupation and solicitude of mind was beginning to beadded to these. Her father was growing distressed for money. Sheknew, that when he now took up the Baronetage, it was to drive theheavy bills of his tradespeople, and the unwelcome hints of MrShepherd, his agent, from his thoughts. The Kellynch property wasgood, but not equal to Sir Walter's apprehension of the state requiredin its possessor. While Lady Elliot lived, there had been method,moderation, and economy, which had just kept him within his income; butwith her had died all such right-mindedness, and from that period hehad been constantly exceeding it. It had not been possible for him tospend less; he had done nothing but what Sir Walter Elliot wasimperiously called on to do; but blameless as he was, he was not onlygrowing dreadfully in debt, but was hearing of it so often, that itbecame vain to attempt concealing it longer, even partially, from hisdaughter. He had given her some hints of it the last spring in town;he had gone so far even as to say, "Can we retrench? Does it occur toyou that there is any one article in which we can retrench?" andElizabeth, to do her justice, had, in the first ardour of female alarm,set seriously to think what could be done, and had finally proposedthese two branches of economy, to cut off some unnecessary charities,and to refrain from new furnishing the drawing-room; to whichexpedients she afterwards added the happy thought of their taking nopresent down to Anne, as had been the usual yearly custom. But thesemeasures, however good in themselves, were insufficient for the realextent of the evil, the whole of which Sir Walter found himself obligedto confess to her soon afterwards. Elizabeth had nothing to propose ofdeeper efficacy. She felt herself ill-used and unfortunate, as did herfather; and they were neither of them able to devise any means oflessening their expenses without compromising their dignity, orrelinquishing their comforts in a way not to be borne.
There was only a small part of his estate that Sir Walter could disposeof; but had every acre been alienable, it would have made nodifference. He had condescended to mortgage as far as he had thepower, but he would never condescend to sell. No; he would neverdisgrace his name so far. The Kellynch estate should be transmittedwhole and entire, as he had received it.
Their two confidential friends, Mr Shepherd, who lived in theneighbouring market town, and Lady Russell, were called to advise them;and both father and daughter seemed to expect that something should bestruck out by one or the other to remove their embarrassments andreduce their expenditure, without involving the loss of any indulgenceof taste or pride.