Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire,h was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage;h there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents;w there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creationsh of the last century; and there,d if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed. This was 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 of Gloucester, by which lady (who died 1800) he has issue Elizabeth, born June 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's hands; but Sir Walter had improved it by adding, for the information of himself 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 most accurately the day of the month on which he had lost his wife.
Then followed the history and rise of the ancient and respectable family, in the usual terms; how it had been first settled in Cheshire; how mentioned in Dugdale,h serving the office of high sheriff, representing a borough in three successive parliaments, exertions of loyalty, and dignity of baronet, in the first year of Charles II, with all the Marys and Elizabeths they had married; forming altogether two handsome duodecimow pages, and concluding with the arms and motto:--"Principal seat, Kellynch Hall, in the county of Somerset," and Sir Walter's handwriting again in this finale:--
"Heir presumptive, William Walter Elliot, Esq., great grandson of the second Sir Walter."
Vanity was the beginning and the end of Sir Walter Elliot's character; vanity of personh and of situation. He had been remarkably handsome in his youth; and, at fifty-four, was still a very fine man. Few women could think more of their personal appearance than he did, nor could the valet of any new made lordh be more delighted with the place he held in society. He considered the blessing of beauty as inferior only to the blessing of a baronetcy; and the Sir Walter Elliot, who united these gifts, was the constant object of his warmest respect and devotion.
His good looks and his rank had one fair claim on his attachment; since to them he must have owed a wife of very superior character to any thing deserved by his own. Lady Elliot had been an excellent woman, sensible and amiable; whose judgementd and conduct, if they might be pardoned the youthful infatuation which made her Lady Elliot, had never required indulgence afterwards.--She had humoured, or softened, or concealed his failings, and promoted his real respectability for seventeen years; and though not the very happiest being in the world herself, had found enough in her duties, her friends, and her children, to attach her to life, and make it no matter of indifference to her when she was called on to quit them.--Three girls, the two eldest sixteen and fourteen, was an awful legacy for a mother to bequeath, an awful charge rather, to confide to the authority and guidance of a conceited, silly father. She had, however, one very intimate friend, a sensible, deserving woman, who had been brought, by strong attachment to herself, to settle close by her, in the village of Kellynch; and on her kindness and advice, Lady Elliot mainly relied for the best help and maintenance of the good principles and instruction which she had been anxiously giving her daughters.
This friend, and Sir Walter, did not marry, whatever might have been anticipated on that head by their acquaintance. Thirteen years had passed away since Lady Elliot's death, and they were still near neighbours and intimate friends, and one remained a widower, the other a widow.
Writing & Reading
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County in southwestern England, its northern shore bordering on the Bristol Channel and its closest point to London just over 100 miles. Bristol, an important port in the 18th and 19th centuries is on Somerset's northern border, and Bath is within the county.
Baronets and knights were outside and below the peerage (dukes, archbishops, marquesses, earls, viscounts, and barons who made up the aristocracy, sometimes known as "grandees") and were comparatively numerous, about 900. The peerage at the beginning of the 19…
A patent is a document originating with the king or queen and conferring in this case the title of baronet. Although Sir Walter's rank may not be very high, that in his mind is compensated for by the age of his family. He is savoring the limited remnant of genuinely old families who have survived to the present year, 1814, as opposed to the many parvenu nobility who were ennobled in the middle and later part of the 18th c.
The explosive creation of baronets and knights in the course of the 18th c. sprung from a variety of causes, among them an increase of wealth on the part of manufacturers and bankers, the bitterly fought political battles in which Tories or Whigs held out the prospect of a patent of nobility as a reward for loyalty and service, and artistic achievement during an age when writers, a…
Writing & Reading
Were the reader to read aloud this opening (a single long sentence), she or he would hear the rhythmic litany of "there," the four of them parallel, each intoned at the beginning of a main clause, each a reverential iteration of the thing it represents, the Baronetage, as if it were the King James Bible and Austen was reminding us of Numbers. …
Writing & Reading
"The size of a book, or of the page of a book, in which each leaf is one-twelfth of a whole sheet: usually abbreviated 12mo." (OED).
Sir Walter's personal vanity should be understood in the context of the Regency, an era known for the ostentatious narcissism of the Regent himself, of his sometime friend Beau Brummel, and of a court that slavishly aped the Regent's dandyism. The men and women of the great Whig families competed with one another in displays of affluence and outrageous taste (nearly diaphanous gowns that bespoke an unprecedented sexuality in women's dress) in an effort to be recognized leaders of the beau monde.…
The social standing of servants corresponded to that of their employers. The valet of a lord would occupy a higher place than a baronet's valet (there's much about "precedence" in this novel). Behind Sir Walter's back, Austen draws the ignominious comparison not between him and a lord but between him and a valet (how outraged he'd be if he knew). Such a valet would tyrannize over his social inferiors while toadying before his superiors.