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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Andrew Lang (1844–1912)

Two Letters from Mrs. Proudie to Mrs. Quiverful

(Parody concerning Trollope’s “Barchester Towers” and Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair”)

From “Old Friends”

DEAREST LETITIA: I have much to tell you of Barchester. The light, worldly tone of some families in this place (I will not mention the Grantleys nor the Arabins) has been checked, I hope, by one of those accidents which surely, surely, are not to be considered accidents alone! You know how strong is my objection to fancy fairs or bazaars, too often rather scenes of giddy merriment than exhibitions of genuine Christian feeling. Yet by means of one of these (how strangely are things ordered!) a happy change, I trust, is being brought about in our midst.

You have heard of Hogglestock, though you may never have visited that outlying and benighted parish. Indeed, I was never there myself till last week, when the bishop felt it his duty (though wofully misdirected, to my mind, but we are fallible creatures) to go and open a bazaar in that place for the restoration of the church. I accompanied him, for I trusted that an opportunity might be made for me, and that I might especially bear in on the mind of the rector’s wife the absolute necessity of Sabbath-day schools. The rector is a Mr. Crawley. He led us, on our arrival, into a scene of red cloth, wax dolls most indelicately displayed, cushions, antimacassars, and similar idols. My husband’s speech (I composed it myself) you will read in the Barchester Guardian, which I send you. While approving the end, he rebuked the means, and took the opportunity to read a much-needed lesson on Jesuitry and the dangers of worldliness in high ecclesiastical places. Let those wince who feel a sense of their own backslidings.

When the bishop had ended, I determined to walk once through the bazaar just to make sure that there were no lotteries nor games of chance—a desecration of our mites now too, too frequent. As I was returning through the throng (alas!) of pleasure-seekers, and wishing that I might scourge them out of the school-room, Mr. Crawley met me, in company with a lady who desired, he said, to be presented to me. He is a distant relative of the well-known county family, the Crawleys, of Queen’s Crawley, the present baronet, Sir Rawdon, having recently married Miss Jane Dobbin, daughter of Colonel Dobbin. The lady who was now introduced to me, and whose still pleasing face wears an aspect of humble devoutness, was Lady Crawley, mother of the present baronet.

“Madam,” she said, “I came here in the belief that I was discharging a pious duty. My life, alas! has been one of sore trial, and I only try to do good.”

I was going to say that I had seen her name in a score of charity lists, and knew her as a patroness of the Destitute Orange-Girls, the Neglected Washer-Women, and the Distressed Muffin-Men. But she shook her head, and then, looking up at me with eyes like a saint’s (if our privileges permitted us to believe in these fabulous beings of the Romish superstition), she said, “Ah, no! I have always been in the wrong. The beautiful address of the Bishop of Barchester has awakened me, and convinced me that the path does not lie through fancy fairs. I have to begin again. Who shall guide me?”

I trust I am not subject to vanity; but the news that I (for I composed the charge, as I may almost call it) had been the instrument of so affecting a change did not fail to please me. I thanked Lady Crawley, and expressed my deep interest in her altered convictions. Finally she promised to come on a visit to us at the palace (she usually resides at Bath or Cheltenham), and has been three days an inmate.

Never have I met a more singular example of what the truth can do for one who, as she admits, was long ago a worldling. “I have seen the vanity of it,” she tells me, with tears in her eyes; and from her example I expect an awakening among our worldlings. They will follow the path of a titled person. My husband is much interested in his convert, as he thinks her. Not to me be the glory!

Your assured friend,

DEAR LETITIA: My hand trembles so with indignation that I can hardly direct my pen. Pray burn my letter of July 17th at once, if you have not already done so.

We have been deceived in that woman! She is a brazen-faced, painted daughter of Heth, and has no more right to the title of Lady Crawley than you have. I am told that she was at one time the paramour of Lord Steyne, and that her conduct made it impossible for her husband to live with her. And this is the woman who has come within the gates of the palace of a Christian prelate, nay, more, who has secured his signature to a cheque of very considerable value! I think my suspicions were first excited by the disappearance of the brandy in the liqueur-stand, and by meeting “her ladyship’s” maid carrying the bottle up to her room. I spoke to the bishop, but he would not listen to me—quite unlike himself—and even turned on me in her defence.

Entering his study hastily on the following day, I found her kneeling at his feet, her yellow hair (dyed, no doubt, for she must be sixty if she is a day) about her shoulders, doing what do you suppose? Confessing herself to the Bishop of Barchester! And he was listening to her “confession” with an appearance of interest, and with one of her hands in his.

“Serpent!” I said—and her green eyes glittered just like one—“unhand his lordship!”

She gave a little laugh, and said, “Dear Mrs. Proudie, do not let me monopolise the bishop’s time. Perhaps I am in the way?”

“And you shall go out of it,” I said. “You are one of those who cause Israel to sin. You bring the confessional—for it is no better—into the house of a prelate of the Protestant Church of England!” Would you believe me, she had the assurance to answer me with a passage from the prayer-book, which I have often felt certain must be mistranslated!

“Pack, madam,” said I. “We know who can quote Scripture for his own ends.” And I pretty soon saw her out of the house, though not in time; for the infatuated bishop had already given her a cheque for a sum which I cannot bring myself to tell you, for the funds of the Destitute Orange-Girls. Not a penny of it will they ever see; nor do I approve of such ostentatious alms in any case.

Yours in haste,

P. S.—I have heard from Lady Courtney all her history. It is abominable.