Several weeks away for a first child and drilling on the attendant duties, far the most pleasant of which is reading aloud for night-time comfort. We found this observation last night in chapter 6 of Sense and Sensibility and it remains true that an infanted stroller sets aflow all founts of small talk.
Conversation however was not wanted, for Sir John was very chatty, and Lady Middleton had taken the wise precaution of bringing with her their eldest child, a fine little boy about six years old, by which means there was one subject always to be recurred to by the ladies in case of extremity, for they had to enquire his name and age, admire his beauty, and ask him questions which his mother answered for him, while he hung about her and held down his head, to the great surprise of her ladyship, who wondered at his being so shy before company, as he could make noise enough at home. On every formal visit a child ought to be of the party, by way of provision for discourse. In the present case it took up ten minutes to determine whether the boy were most like his father or mother, and in what particular he resembled either, for of course every body differed, and every body was astonished at the opinion of the others.
From Jane Austen’s Persuasion.
How eloquent could Anne Elliot have been! how eloquent, at least, were her wishes on the side of early warm attachment, and a cheerful confidence in futurity, against that over-anxious caution which seems to insult exertion and distrust Providence! She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older: the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.
It’s a bit close for comfort to the passages someone at Penguin always chooses as the back-cover blurb but is redeemed in interest because there’s a surviving copy from Austen’s family where someone – believed to be her sister Cassandra – has added in the margins here, ‘Dear, Dear Jane! This deserves to be written in letters of gold.’
I’ve always liked Persuasion best of Austen’s novels. There’s something so curious about a romance in which the romancing pair never meaningfully speak to each other until the final pages. There’s also a delight in how unredeemed the other Elliots remain through the end.
From ch.5 of Moby Dick – Ishmael’s morning-after response to what he terms the innkeeper’s ‘skylarking … in the matter of my bedfellow.’
However, a good laugh is a mighty good thing, and rather too scarce a good thing; the more’s the pity. So, if any one man, in his own proper person, afford stuff for a good joke to anybody, let him not be backward, but let him cheerfully allow himself to spend and be spent in that way. And the man that has anything bountifully laughable about him, be sure there is more in that man than you perhaps think for.
Which accords nicely with Mr. Bennet’s lovely “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?” from ch.57 of Pride and Prejudice.