It seems that a merry party at Dr. Kennicott’s had each adopted the name of some animal. Dr. K. was the elephant; Mrs. K., dromedary; Miss Adams, antelope; and H. More, rhinoceros.
“HAMPTON, December 24, 1728.
“DEAR DROMY (a): Pray, send word if Ante
(b) is come, and also how Ele (c) does, to your
very affectionate RHYNEY” (d).
The following notes on the above epistle are by a commentator of the latter end of the nineteenth century. This epistle is all that is come down to us of this voluminous author, and is probably the only thing she ever wrote that was worth preserving, or which might reasonably expect to reach posterity. Her name is only presented to us in some beautiful hendecasyllables written by the best Latin poet of his time (Bishop Lowth):
“Dromy.—From the termination of this address it
seems to have been written to a woman, though there is
no internal evidence to support this hypothesis. The
best critics are much puzzled about the orthography of
this abbreviation. Wartonius and other skilful
etymologists contend that it ought to be spelled
drummy, being addressed to a lady who was probably
fond of warlike instruments, and who had a singular
predilection for a canon. Drummy, say they, was a
tender diminutive of drum, as the best authors in their
more familiar writings now begin to use gunny for gun.
But Hardius, a contemporary critic, contends, with
more probability, that it ought to be written Drome,
from hippodrome; a learned leech and elegant bard of
Bath having left it on record that this lady spent much
of her time at the riding-school, being a very
exquisite judge of horsemanship. Colmanus and
Horatius Strawberryensis insist that it ought to be
written Dromo, in reference to the Dromo Sorasius of
the Latin dramatist.”
“Ante.—Scaliger 2d says this name simply signifies
the appellation of uncle’s wife, and ought to be
written Aunty. But here, again, are various readings.
Philologists of yet greater name affirm that it was
meant to designate pre-eminence, and therefore ought
to be written ante, before, from the Latin, a
language now pretty well forgotten, though the authors
who wrote in it are still preserved in French
translations. The younger Madame Dacier insists that
this lady was against all men, and that it ought to be
spelled anti; but this Kennicotus, a rabbi of the
most recondite learning, with much critical wrath,
vehemently contradicts, affirming it to have been
impossible she could have been against mankind whom all
mankind admired. He adds that ante is for antelope,
and is emblematically used to express an elegant and
slender animal, or that it is an elongation of ant,
the emblem of virtuous citizenship.”
And so she continues her comments to close of notes.
Mrs. Gaskell’s “Cranford” is full of the most delicate but veritable humor, as her allusion to the genteel and cheerful poverty of the lady who, in giving a tea-party, “now sat in state, pretending not to know what cakes were sent up, though she knew, and we knew, and she knew that we knew; and we knew that she knew that we knew she had been busy all the morning making tea-bread and sponge-cakes.”
The humor of Mary Russell Mitford, quiet and delectable, must not be forgotten. We will sympathize with her woes as she describes a visitation from
THE TALKING LADY.
“Ben Jonson has a play called The Silent Woman, who turns out, as might be expected, to be no woman at all—nothing, as Master Slender said, but ‘a great lubberly boy,’ thereby, as I apprehend, discourteously presuming that a silent woman is a nonentity. If the learned dramatist, thus happily prepared and predisposed, had happened to fall in with such a specimen of female loquacity as I have just parted with, he might, perhaps, have given us a pendant to his picture in the talking lady. Pity but he had! He would have done her justice, which I could not at any time, least of all now; I am too much stunned, too much like one escaped from a belfry on a coronation day. I am just resting from the fatigue of four days’ hard listening—four snowy, sleety, rainy days; days of every variety of falling weather, all of them too bad to admit the possibility that any petticoated thing, were she as hardy as a Scotch fir, should stir out; four days chained by ‘sad civility’ to that fireside, once so quiet, and again—cheering thought!—again I trust to be so when the echo of that visitor’s incessant tongue shall have died away….
“She took us in her way from London to the west of England, and being, as she wrote, ‘not quite well, not equal to much company, prayed that no other guest might be admitted, so that she might have the pleasure of our conversation all to herself (_ours!_ as if it were possible for any of us to slide in a word edgewise!), and especially enjoy the gratification of talking over old times with the master of the house, her countryman.’
“Such was the promise of her letter, and to the letter it has been kept. All the news and scandal of a large county forty years ago, and a hundred years before, and ever since; all the marriages, deaths, births, elopements, law-suits, and casualties of her own times, her father’s, grandfather’s, great-grandfather’s, nephews’, and grandnephews’, has she detailed with a minuteness, an accuracy, a prodigality of learning, a profuseness of proper names, a pedantry of locality, which would excite the envy of a county historian, a king-at-arms, or even a Scotch novelist.
“Her knowledge is most astonishing; but the most astonishing part of all is how she came by that knowledge. It should seem, to listen to her, as if at some time of her life she must have listened herself; and yet her countryman declares that in the forty years he has known her, no such event has occurred; and she knows new news, too! It must be intuition!…
“The very weather is not a safe subject. Her memory is a perpetual register of hard frosts and long droughts, and high winds and terrible storms, with all the evils that followed in their train, and all the personal events connected with them; so that, if you happen to remark that clouds are come up and you fear it may rain, she replies: ‘Ay, it is just such a morning as three-and-thirty years ago, when my poor cousin was married—you remember my cousin Barbara; she married so-and-so, the son of so-and-so;’ and then comes the whole pedigree of the bridegroom, the amount of the settlements, and the reading and signing them overnight; a description of the wedding-dresses in the style of Sir Charles Grandison, and how much the bride’s gown cost per yard; the names, residences, and a short subsequent history of the bridesmaids and men, the gentleman who gave the bride away, and the clergyman who performed the ceremony, with a learned antiquarian digression relative to the church; then the setting out in procession; the marriage, the kissing, the crying, the breakfasting, the drawing the cake through the ring, and, finally, the bridal excursion, which brings us back again, at an hour’s end, to the starting-post, the weather, and the whole story of the sopping, the drying, the clothes-spoiling, the cold-catching, and all the small evils of a summer shower. By this time it rains, and she sits down to a pathetic see-saw of conjectures on the chance of Mrs. Smith’s having set out for her daily walk, or the possibility that Dr. Brown may have ventured to visit his patients in his gig, and the certainty that Lady Green’s new housemaid would come from London on the outside of the coach….