A Polite Lady in 1798

My Dearest Daughter Sophia,

Please attend to my little lesson in snobbery. I assure you that my motivations come from no improper pride on my part. And dearest, you know how much I love commas. I couldn’t help but sprinkle my letter with hundreds of the darling things.

I hope you are enjoying the boarding school that I tucked you away in. Don’t forget to disdain your classmates of lower rank.

All the best,
Your bitchy mother.

P.S. I have compiled all our letters into this volume The Polite Lady; or, A course of Female Education: In A  Series Of Letters, From A Mother To Her Daughter, 

P.P.S.  I’ve included fashions from La Belle Assemblee in 1811 because I was too lazy to search for fashions from 1798, and I had put off exercising for too long. Also, my dearest Sophia, please don’t make it known that I am your mother if you choose to wear that dreadful outfit with the green ribbon coiled about it.

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But, my dear, where it possible for you to contract a friendship with persons of too high or low station, yet it is a thing which you ought to carefully to avoid; as it might, and very probably would, be attended with bad consequences. In the one case, you would be in danger of having your head filled with a thousand notions, which how proper soever they may be for a lady of the first quality, or altogether inconsistent with your rank. What in her would be deemed excusable, decent, or even praiseworthy, in  you would be condemned as ridiculous, foolish, or, perhaps, criminal. When she goes to walk or visit she may have a couple of footmen to attend to her. She may go to the play, or any other public entertainment, every evening if she pleases, or at least as often as she thinks proper. She may throw away eight or ten guineas upon a headdress that happens to hit her fancy. She may subscribe an annual sum to any charitable institution. For the last action all the world would place her, and for the former ones no sensible person could blame her, as she acts in character and has a fortune equal to her expenses.

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But, my dear, were you to behave in this manner, what a different opinion, do you imagine, would people in entertain of you? Why, some would suspect you were abandoned; others would think you were mad; and all would agree you were foolish. Your friends would be sorry; your enemies rejoice; and the rest of the world would be an object of ridicule and derision. Besides, to cultivate a friendship with such as are raised above us in rank of fortune, has a natural tendency to inspire us at once with pride and meanness of spirit; two voices of widely different, that they could hardly be supposed to reside in the same person. Of those who keep company with none but their bettors, it is generally, and, I believe, justly observed that they treat their superiors with servility and flattery, their equals with indifference, their inferiors with contempt and disdain. But they are commonly repaid in their own coin: for the consequence of this behavior is, that their inferiors hate them, equals despise them, their superiors laugh at them, when their backs are turned. In a word, you may, if you will, be the humble creature, the mean dependent; you can never be the true, the bosom-friend of a lady of the first quality.

LBA1811-1Nor would there be less danger, my dear, in the other case; I mean, in contracting a friendship with the person greatly beneath you and family and fortune. Your mind would be debased by her low conversation; your pride would be inflamed by her servile and cringing behavior: for such only could you expect from her. As she courts you, not for your personal merit, but for your rank, your wealth and interest, she would take care never to forfeit your good graces by  doing any disagreeable action, or telling any unpleasing truth, how much sorever the doing the one, or telling the other, might be your real interest and advantage. Your fault she would either conceal or extenuate; your virtues she would magnify and exaggerate; nay, perhaps praise you for virtues you’ve never possessed. She might, indeed, be your flattering sycophant , but she would not possibly be your faithful friend, one of whole principal duties is it is to inform you of your faults, and to assist you in correcting them. But my dear, not only is our pride increased by cultivating a friendship with persons of low life; what is more, the very odd for me such a friendship is a certain proof of our original pride and vanity: for if we had not naturally proud, we would never

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This is the dress I’m talking about, Sophia.

But my dear, not only is our pride increased by cultivating a friendship with persons of low life; what is more, the very act of forming such a friendship is a certain proof of our original pride and vanity: for if we had not been naturally proud, we  never would have formed it. This, you will imagine, is a very strange way of thinking. What! Can it ever be a sign of pride and vanity to cultivate a friendship with our inferiors? Is it not rather a mark of humility and condescention? Such, my dear, will be your opinion; and such, I believe, is the opinion of half the world: but either they or  I must be mistaken, or it is a very false opinion. For where is the humility in keeping company with those who are perpetually flattering us; who, we are sure, will never venture to contradict us, but will command and applaud everything we say or do, however foolish or ridiculous? Is this be humility, ’tis a very strange kind of it, and quite above my comprehension. The truth is, persons of this character are, of all others, the most proud, vain, and conceited. They don’t like the company of their superiors because they scorn to fawn or flatter; they don’t like the company of their equals because they cannot bear the contradiction: and, therefore, they fly to the company of their inferiors, with they are free from contradiction; and, instead of offering, are sure of receiving the  incense of flattery and adulation.

LBA1811-3Of this kind of pride (for,  it must be confess, it has something very particular about it ) Lady Lembton is a very remarkable instance. I went to visit her at few days ago, and found her surrounded with a large company of ladies who, in every thing but sense, were certainly her inferiors. What the subject of conversation was before I entered, I know not; but the usual compliments were hardly over, when she took occasion to commend her daughter, who is settled at a country boarding school, for her great improvement in writing; and, as a specimen of her abilities, produced a letter she had lately received from her. All the rest of the company agreed in praising it, though one half of them had not so much as seen it: –there was flattery for you with a witness. ButI, who scorn to flatter any one, took the freedom to observe, thatI thought it was a very indifferent, and that my Sophy, though younger, could write much better; and is a proof, shewed them a letter of yours, which I happened to have in my pocket. Upon a comparison they could not refuse giving the preference to you, though with the apparent reluctance. After this, Lady Lambton was extremely grave and demure, and this rest looked very silly and foolish. In any other company I would have not have behaved in this manner; it would have been ill manners; but for such a conceited fool, and a parcel of such servile flatterers, deserved no better treatment. Her vanity and their meanness of spirit were equally the object of contempt and disdain.

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