George Eliot, Silas Marner: Vol. 1, Ch. 3

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CHAPTER III

The greatest man in Raveloe was Squire Cass, who lived in the large red house with the handsome flight of stone steps in front and the high stables behind it, nearly opposite the church. He was only one among several landed parishioners, but he alone was honoured with the title of Squire; for though Mr. Osgood's family was also understood to be of timeless origin—the Raveloe imagination having never ventured back to that fearful blank when there were no Osgoods—still, he merely owned the farm he occupied; whereas Squire Cass had a tenant or two, who complained of the game to himh quite as if he had been a lord.

It was still that glorious war-time which was felt to be a peculiar favour of Providence towards the landed interest,h and the fall of prices had not yet come to carry the race of small squires and yeomen down that road to ruin for which extravagant habits and bad husbandry were plentifully anointing their wheels. I am speaking now in relation to Raveloe and the parishes that resembled it; for our old-fashioned country life had many different aspects, as all life must have when it is spread over a various surface, and breathed on variously by multitudinous currents, from the winds of heaven to the thoughts of men, which are for ever moving and crossing each other with incalculable results. Raveloe lay low among the bushy trees and the rutted lanes, aloof from the currents of industrial energy and Puritan earnestness: the rich ate and drank freely, accepting gout and apoplexyd as things that ran mysteriously in respectable families, and the poor thought that the rich were entirely in the right of it to lead a jolly life;d besides, their feasting caused a multiplication of orts,w which were the heirlooms of the poor. Betty Jay scented the boiling of Squire Cass's hams, but her longing was arrested by the unctuousw liquor in which they were boiled; and when the seasons brought round the great merry-makings, they were regarded on all hands as a fine thing for the poor. For the Raveloe feasts were like the rounds of beef and the barrels of ale—they were on a large scale, and lasted a good while, especially in the winter-time. After ladies had packed up their best gowns and top-knots in bandboxes, and had incurred the risk of fording streams on pillionsw with the precious burden in rainy or snowy weather, when there was no knowing how high the water would rise, it was not to be supposed that they looked forward to a brief pleasure. On this ground it was always contrived in the dark seasons, when there was little work to be done, and the hours were long, that several neighbours should keep open house in succession. So soon as Squire Cass's standing dishes diminished in plenty and freshness, his guests had nothing to do but to walk a little higher up the village to Mr. Osgood's, at the Orchards, and they found hams and chinesw uncut, pork-pies with the scent of the fire in them, spun butter in all its freshness—everything, in fact, that appetites at leisure could desire, in perhaps greater perfection, though not in greater abundance, than at Squire Cass's.

For the Squire's wife had died long ago, and the Red House was without that presence of the wife and mother which is the fountain of wholesome love and fear in parlour and kitchen; and this helped to account not only for there being more profusion than finished excellence in the holiday provisions, but also for the frequency with which the proud Squire condescended to preside in the parlour of the Rainbow rather than under the shadow of his own dark wainscot;d perhaps, also, for the fact that his sons had turned out rather ill. Raveloe was not a place where moral censure was severe, but it was thought a weakness in the Squire that he had kept all his sons at home in idleness;d and though some licence was to be allowed to young men whose fathers could afford it, people shook their heads at the courses of the second son, Dunstan, commonly called Dunsey Cass, whose taste for swoppingw and betting might turn out to be a sowing of something worse than wild oats. To be sure, the neighbours said, it was no matter what became of Dunsey—a spiteful jeering fellow, who seemed to enjoy his drink the more when other people went dry—always provided that his doings did not bring trouble on a family like Squire Cass's, with a monument in the church, and tankards older than King George.d But it would be a thousand pities if Mr. Godfrey, the eldest, a fine open-faced good-natured young man who was to come into the land some day, should take to going along the same road with his brother, as he had seemed to do of late. If he went on in that way, he would lose Miss Nancy Lammeter; for it was well known that she had looked very shylyw on him ever since last Whitsuntide twelvemonth,h when there was so much talk about his being away from home days and days together. There was something wrong, more than common—that was quite clear; for Mr. Godfrey didn't look half so fresh-coloured and open as he used to do. At one time everybody was saying, What a handsome couple he and Miss Nancy Lammeter would make! and if she could come to be mistress at the Red House, there would be a fine change, for the Lammeters had been brought up in that way, that they never suffered a pinch of salt to be wasted, and yet everybody in their household had of the best, according to his place. Such a daughter-in-law would be a saving to the old Squire, if she never brought a penny to her fortune; for it was to be feared that, notwithstanding his incomings, there were more holes in his pocket than the one where he put his own hand in.d But if Mr. Godfrey didn't turn over a new leaf, he might say "Good-bye" to Miss Nancy Lammeter.

X [h] who complained of the game to him

That the game they were not permitted to hunt were just those plundering their crops.

X [h] It was still that glorious war-time which was…

Class

The Napoleonic Wars were "glorious" for the squires and the aristocracy, whom the wars enriched by dramatically raising the price of wheat and of land itself. But the higher price of bread starved the poor. With the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 and the return of thousands of soldiers, Great Britain suffered an economic depression that punished extravagant squires and avaricious farmers, though once more the poor sufferein their bellies. 

X [d] gout and apoplexy

Body

Gout is more common in men and was thought to be associated with the affluent who could afford to eat rich foods. The disease often entails a painful swelling of the small joints, especially those of the large toe, resulting from crystals of urate from an excess of uric acid. …

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X [d] the poor thought that the rich were entirely …

Religion

The basis for the view of the entitlement of the rich is the belief that God had ordained there be rich and poor, "betters" and inferiors. This was consistent with the Great Chain of Being.

X [w] orts,

Generally in the plural: bits of food left over on the plate. 

X [w] unctuous

Thick and greasy, oily, fatty. Applied to a person's speech or manner, it means a slithering attempt to be agreeable. 

X [w] pillions

Things

A saddle for women or a pad fixed behind the saddle that could accommodate baggage or a second rider. 

X [w] chines

Daily Life

"Cookery. A ‘joint’ consisting of the whole or part of the backbone of an animal, with the adjoining flesh. The application varies much according to the animal; in mutton it is the ‘saddle’; in beef any part of the back (ribs or sirloin)" (OED).

 

X [d] in the parlour of the Rainbow rather than und…

Class

Men of the lower classes frequented the Rainbow's bar; the parlour was reserved for the gentry. 

X [d] all his sons at home in idleness;

Daily Life

The emphasis is upon the "all." The eldest should be kept at home, in an apprenticeship of idleness and debauchery learned from the father, but the other sons, who will not inherit the estate, should be sent to be soldiers, parsons, or possibly lawyers. 

X [w] swopping

Trading, such as horses.

X [d] with a monument in the church, and tankards o…

Class

The Cass family's reputation derives from their having commissioned a monument in the church and from the family's possessing tankards (we learn that the tankards are silver and embossed with the family crest) that predate 1738, the year of King George III's birth. That is some seventy years before the novel's present, so not long ago. This is neither a venerable nor a distinguished family, but in Raveloe the measure of class is crude. The tankard is an apt representation of the Cass line. 

X [w] shyly

As in "shy away from," to look shyly is to view with some apprehension or distaste and to keep apart from.

X [h] last Whitsuntide twelvemonth,

Seventh Sunday after Easter, and here twelve months before. 

X [d] his incomings, there were more holes in his p…

Allusion has just been made to her dowry and the frugality of the Lammeters. The Squire's income does not equal his outflow, so he is penalizing his descendants.