Chapter Sixteen, Part 2
Originally published 4/30/2006.
Continued from the last post.
Mr. Wickham began to speak on more general topics, Meryton, the neighbourhood, the society, appearing highly pleased with all that he had yet seen, and speaking of the latter with gentle but very intelligible gallantry.
Wickham being careful again. Though the subject of Darcy is almost certainly uppermost in his mind, and he cannot but doubt it is uppermost in Lizzy's mind, yet he will tease her in order for her to be more eager to swallow his poison.
"It was the prospect of constant society, and good society," he added, "which was my chief inducement to enter the ----shire. I knew it to be a most respectable, agreeable corps, and my friend Denny tempted me further by his account of their present quarters, and the very great attentions and excellent acquaintances Meryton had procured them. Society, I own, is necessary to me. I have been a disappointed man, and my spirits will not bear solitude. I must have employment and society. A military life is not what I was intended for, but circumstances have now made it eligible. The church ought to have been my profession-- I was brought up for the church, and I should at this time have been in possession of a most valuable living, had it pleased the gentleman we were speaking of just now."
Wickham has no intention of failing to give Lizzy his prize poison.
Lizzy here, unfortunately encouraging as usual.
"Yes-- the late Mr. Darcy bequeathed me the next presentation of the best living in his gift. He was my godfather, and excessively attached to me. I cannot do justice to his kindness. He meant to provide for me amply, and thought he had done it; but when the living fell, it was given elsewhere."
"Living fell" means "Living fell vacant." Here is Wickham's prize. We know, of course, that Wickham is misleading Lizzy greatly. What Wickham is leaving out is so important to the sense of his comments, that we may justly accuse Wickham of outright lying. While it is true that we should speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, it is not also the case that we must speak all the truth all the time. There are enough Proverbs to disprove such an idea that I won't even quote them. However, this is one instance in which Wickham ought either to have remained silent entirely, or spoken the whole truth entirely. His half-way-ness is tantamount to lying.
"Good heavens!" cried Elizabeth; "but how could that be? How could his will be disregarded? Why did you not seek legal redress?"
"There was just such an informality in the terms of the bequest as to give me no hope from law. A man of honour could not have doubted the intention, but Mr. Darcy chose to doubt it-- or to treat it as a merely conditional recommendation, and to assert that I had forfeited all claim to it by extravagance, imprudence-- in short anything or nothing...
A lie, but a lie with a grain of truth, as Gandalf said about Gollum and his "birthday present."
...Certain it is, that the living became vacant two years ago, exactly as I was of an age to hold it, and that it was given to another man; and no less certain is it, that I cannot accuse myself of having really done anything to deserve to lose it...
Again, this might be considered strictly true, but very misleading. Wickham chose to ignore the living. Wickham's profligate living plus his non-repentent heart would certainly disqualify him from being an officer in the church!
...I have a warm, unguarded temper, and I may have spoken my opinion of him, and to him, too freely. I can recall nothing worse. But the fact is, that we are very different sort of men, and that he hates me."
"This is quite shocking! He deserves to be publicly disgraced."
"Some time or other he will be-- but it shall not be by me. Till I can forget his father, I can never defy or expose him."
And we know this to be false. Wickham starts talking about Darcy everywhere after Darcy leaves for London.
Elizabeth honoured him for such feelings, and thought him handsomer than ever as he expressed them.
Ah, the importance of rhetoric! That is, the importance of not just being right, but appearing to be right. Again, Darcy could learn a thing or two from Wickham. The word "rhetoric" has gotten a bad rap from just such behavior as Wickham's here. People misuse rhetoric greatly, and lead many astray. But that is not the "fault" of rhetoric, but of those people misusing it. Rhetoric has its place!
"But what," said she, after a pause, "can have been his motive? What can have induced him to behave so cruelly?"
"A thorough, determined dislike of me-- a dislike which I cannot but attribute in some measure to jealousy...
He needs a motive, any ol' motive will do. He chances on jealousy.
...Had the late Mr. Darcy liked me less, his son might have borne with me better; but his father's uncommon attachment to me irritated him, I believe, very early in life. He had not a temper to bear the sort of competition in which we stood-- the sort of preference which was often given me."
"I had not thought Mr. Darcy so bad as this-- though I have never liked him. I had not thought so very ill of him. I had supposed him to be despising his fellow-creatures in general, but did not suspect him of descending to such malicious revenge, such injustice, such inhumanity as this."
Lizzy here, fully participating in gossip. The old saying, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" comes to mind, though that is difficult for many, including me, to follow.
After a few minutes' reflection, however, she continued, "I do remember his boasting one day, at Netherfield, of the implacability of his resentments, of his having an unforgiving temper. His disposition must be dreadful."
"I will not trust myself on the subject," replied Wickham; "I can hardly be just to him."
He has already managed to be unjust to Darcy, thank you. No need to do any more, really.
Elizabeth was again deep in thought, and after a time exclaimed, "to treat in such a manner the godson, the friend, the favourite of his father!" She could have added, "a young man, too, like you, whose very countenance may vouch for your being amiable"-- but she contented herself with, "and one, too, who had probably been his companion from childhood, connected together, as I think you said, in the closest manner!"
It was certainly wise to refrain from saying the first impulse. In fact, we may see some wisdom here for all of us: to refrain from that first impulse to speak your mind. It may be exactly the right thing to say, or it may not. If it is the right thing, it will bear a small delay (except in emergency, of course! Don't worry about manners then; do what needs to be done.); if it is the wrong thing, you have a much better chance of discovering it while thinking about it.
"We were born in the same parish, within the same park; the greatest part of our youth was passed together; inmates of the same house, sharing the same amusements, objects of the same parental care. My father began life in the profession which your uncle, Mr. Phillips, appears to do so much credit to-- but he gave up everything to be of use to the late Mr. Darcy and devoted all his time to the care of the Pemberley property. He was most highly esteemed by Mr. Darcy, a most intimate, confidential friend. Mr. Darcy often acknowledged himself to be under the greatest obligations to my father's active superintendence, and when, immediately before my father's death, Mr. Darcy gave him a voluntary promise of providing for me, I am convinced that he felt it to be as much a debt of gratitude to him, as of his affection to myself."
"How strange!" cried Elizabeth. "How abominable! I wonder that the very pride of this Mr. Darcy has not made him just to you! If from no better motive, that he should not have been too proud to be dishonest-- for dishonesty I must call it."
Wickham has got Lizzy in the palm of his hand; he does not even need to supply the desired conclusions now. Lizzy is doing that all by herself; he has trained her well.
"It is wonderful," replied Wickham, "for almost all his actions may be traced to pride; and pride had often been his best friend. It has connected him nearer with virtue than with any other feeling. But we are none of us consistent, and in his behaviour to me there were stronger impulses even than pride."
But we know that pride of a certain kind is the biggest sin of them all. Satan is quite happy to have loads of virtues in people so long as they consider themselves better than the next Joe Blow. See C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, Book III, Chapter 8, for a run-down of this idea. I think Darcy does have some of that pride; Lizzy's comments force him to rethink his actions, and by the end I think he doesn't have it nearly so much.
"Can such abominable pride as his have ever done him good?"
"Yes. It has often led him to be liberal and generous, to give his money freely, to display hospitality, to assist his tenants, and relieve the poor. Family pride, and filial pride-- for he is very proud of what his father was-- have done this. Not to appear to disgrace his family, to degenerate from the popular qualities, or lose the influence of the Pemberley House, is a powerful motive. He has also brotherly pride, which, with some brotherly affection, makes him a very kind and careful guardian of his sister, and you will hear him generally cried up as the most attentive and best of brothers."
This seems pretty accurate, and as we think Darcy really is too proud, the justice of these comments cannot be denied. I can, however, deny the appropriateness of Wickham relating them. We're still in the realm of gossip, in my opinion. Overall, though we are receiving new information about the virtues of Darcy, it all stems from pride, which is hardly a rose garden.
"What sort of girl is Miss Darcy?"
He shook his head. "I wish I could call her amiable. It gives me pain to speak ill of a Darcy. But she is too much like her brother-- very, very proud. As a child, she was affectionate and pleasing, and extremely fond of me; and I have devoted hours and hours to her amusement. But she is nothing to me now. She is a handsome girl, about fifteen or sixteen, and, I understand, highly accomplished. Since her father's death, her home has been London, where a lady lives with her, and superintends her education."
We know that Georgiana is only very shy; Wickham obviously knows this, so he is lying about her. This is not just gossip, it's slander. Keep in mind how recent it was that Wickham attempted to elope with her. Darcy wrote in the letter, that it was only last summer that Wickham most painfully intruded himself on Darcy's notice.
After many pauses and many trials of other subjects, Elizabeth could not help reverting once more to the first, and saying:
"I am astonished at his intimacy with Mr. Bingley! How can Mr. Bingley, who seems good humour itself, and is, I really believe, truly amiable, be in friendship with such a man? How can they suit each other? Do you know Mr. Bingley?"
We know: Darcy is of a very good understanding in many ways, probably in some ways in which Bingley is inferior.
"Not at all."
"He is a sweet-tempered, amiable, charming man. He cannot know what Mr. Darcy is."
Lizzy here. I wonder what Bingley would think of Darcy had he actually known what had happened. We know that Bingley is unaware of the Georgiana/Wickham incident. I doubt he would think the worse of Darcy; Lizzy certainly doesn't after she finds out: quite the reverse in fact.
"Probably not; but Mr. Darcy can please where he chooses. He does not want abilities. He can be a conversible companion if he thinks it worth his while. Among those who are at all his equals in consequence, he is a very different man from what he is to the less prosperous. His pride never deserts him; but with the rich he is liberal-minded, just, sincere, rational, honourable, and perhaps agreeable-- allowing something for fortune and figure."
Again, falsehood on the part of Wickham here. We know from Darcy's housekeeper that Darcy really is very kind to the poor. He's actually more stand-off-ish with those who pretend to fortune and rank, but have not the character to go with it. Hence his probable detestation of Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins, etc. "But disguise of every sort is my abhorrence."
The whist party soon afterwards breaking up, the players gathered round the other table and Mr. Collins took his station between his cousin Elizabeth and Mrs. Phillips. The usual inquiries as to his success was made by the latter. It had not
been very great; he had lost every point;...
I love the understatement here.
...but when Mrs. Phillips began to express her concern thereupon, he assured her with much earnest gravity that it was not of the least importance, that he considered the money as a mere trifle, and begged that she would not make herself uneasy.
I know very well, madam," said he, "that when persons sit down to a card table, they must take their chances of these things, and happily I am not in such circumstances as to make five shillings any object. There are undoubtedly many who could not say the same, but thanks to Lady Catherine de Bourgh, I am removed far beyond the necessity of regarding little matters."
This is rather rude. Mrs. Philips obviously thought it of some concern, which indicates, perhaps, that she is not very rich. For Mr. Collins thus to parade around his wealth is akin to rubbing it in her face.
Mr. Wickham's attention was caught; and after observing Mr. Collins for a few moments, he asked Elizabeth in a low voice whether her relation was very intimately acquainted with the family of de Bourgh.
"Lady Catherine de Bourgh," she replied, "has very lately given him a living. I hardly know how Mr. Collins was first introduced to her notice, but he certainly has not known her long."
"You know of course that Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Lady Anne Darcy were sisters; consequently that she is aunt to the present Mr. Darcy."
"No, indeed, I did not. I knew nothing at all of Lady Catherine's connections. I never heard of her existence till the day before yesterday."
Lizzy. I can't see much harm in these comments.
"Her daughter, Miss de Bourgh, will have a very large fortune, and it is believed that she and her cousin will unite the two estates."
This information made Elizabeth smile, as she thought of poor Miss Bingley. Vain indeed must be all her attentions, vain and useless her affection for his sister and her praise of himself, if he were already self-destined for another.
"Mr. Collins," said she, "speaks highly both of Lady Catherine and her daughter; but from some particulars that he has related of her ladyship, I suspect his gratitude misleads him, and that in spite of her being his patroness, she is an arrogant, conceited woman."
Lizzy is now volunteering full-blown gossip. We know Lady Catherine deserves every word of it, but that does not excuse Lizzy.
"I believe her to be both in a great degree," replied Wickham; "I have not seen her for many years, but I very well remember that I never liked her, and that her manners were dictatorial and insolent. She has the reputation of being remarkably sensible and clever; but I rather believe she derives part of her abilities from her rank and fortune, part from her authoritative manner, and the rest from the pride for her nephew, who chooses that every one connected with him should have an understanding of the first class."
All true, but still inappropriate.
Elizabeth allowed that he had given a very rational account of it, and they continued talking together, with mutual satisfaction till supper put an end to cards, and gave the rest of the ladies their share of Mr. Wickham's attentions. There could be no conversation in the noise of Mrs. Phillips's supper party, but his manners recommended him to everybody. Whatever he said, was said well; and whatever he did, done gracefully. Elizabeth went away with her head full of him. She could think of nothing but of Mr. Wickham, and of what he had told her, all the way home; but there was not time for her even to mention his name as they went, for neither Lydia nor Mr. Collins were once silent. Lydia talked incessantly of lottery tickets, of the fish she had lost and the fish she had won; and Mr. Collins in describing the civility of Mr. and Mrs. Phillips, protesting that he did not in the least regard his losses at whist, enumerating all the dishes at supper, and repeatedly fearing that he crowded his cousins, had more to say than he could well manage before the carriage stopped at Longbourn House.
I love the slyness of that last phrase, "had more to say than he could well manage..." Austenian understatement again. I can't help but wonder at Mr. Collins' choice of topics. Surely he could converse on subjects of more interest! In the multitude of many words, transgression abounds. As for Lydia, thoughtless, thoughtless. Fish! Since Mr. Collins is interested in Lizzy, and Lydia in no one, we can be sure that the two most voluble talkers in the party are not listening to each other in the slightest. The way Austen describes it, it appears no one else is listening, either. Lizzy is thinking about Wickham, which, while her thoughts are wrong, is certainly a more worthy subject than fish and chips.