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bighly gifted woman, who sometimes played with her genius, as our favourite Malibran does with her voice, more to surprise than please.
The middle class here possess, I am told, all the advantages of education and refinement, exempt from the demoralisation that, but too frequently, accompany and sully them : an exemption which even I, with all my philosophy, think is to be attributed to the influence of religious principles, and to the habits of discipline and decorum which they never fail to engender. Yes, reflexion faite, I am compelled to acknowledge, that all I have seen of other countries and this, has led to the conviction, that religion is the best guarantee for the prosperity and stability of a nation.
Literature and the fine arts are, I understand, generally and successfully cultivated by the class to which I refer; and their humanising effect no one can doubt, who has
witnessed the charms they diffuse over the monotony of the domestic circle. Accomplishments are not sought by this section of society for the purpose of display; they are acquired as furnishing sources of occupation and enjoyment, and yield both. There is one folly, however, which I hear ascribed as peculiarly appertaining to them; and that is, an assumption of belonging to the upper class. Each grade cherishes a similar belief, which causes subdivisions of society more gratifying to the puerile vanity of the individuals who compose them, than conducive to general habits of agreeable intercourse.
Each hour that I spend in London presents to me some new feature in society, totally different from what I have witnessed in other
countries. Among the most remarkable, is an inordinate love of scandal, that induces
its votaries to give credence to any report, however exaggerated or improbable. Scandal reigns here unbridled ; and unredeemed by the wit which renders it so piquant with you in France, that, in listening to some on dit plein de malice, one is self-excused
for the smile it excites.
Here there is no
such varnish to the crude ebullitions of illnature and envy, that render fashionable society as disagreeable as it is dangerous. Every one seems disposed to put the very worst interpretation on the actions of his or her acquaintance; and never to be more amused than when listening to, or detailing, the errors attributed to them.
This peculiar taste for scandal in my compatriots is so well known, that it has become a staple commodity of traffic : journals have been established to retail it; and the more pungent the satire they contain, the more extensive is their sale. Who could resist
reading an attack on some dear friend, some “poor dear lady This, or Mrs. That, so horribly shewn up on Sundays!” The men gloat over the papers in their clubs, consoled for the censure on themselves by that on their associates; and the women peruse them in the privacy of their boudoirs, or dressing-rooms, disclaiming, among their acquaintances, “ ever having seen the abominable paper.”
In London, any woman in a brilliant position may lose her reputation in a week, without having even imagined a dereliction from honour. There is so much médisance continually going on; people are, at once, so idle and malicious, that they seize with avidity on every new subject of scandal; and repeat it so often, that they end by not only making others believe, but by believing it themselves.
A gentleman being seen thrice with a lady in public, and as many times with her husband, is sufficient to lay the foundation of a superstructure of scandal that will defy the possibility of refutation.
Each individual of the idle and malicious persons who love to propagate such tales, will repeat, wherever they go, “ Have you seen Lord D— and Lady Em? How they are shewing themselves up! they are never asunder.”
This slander circulated at three or four clubs,
where female reputations are lost with as much facility as fortunes, and retailed at half-a-dozen fashionable parties, sets the whole town talking; and poor Lady E-finds herself the general topic, because she was thrice attended by Lord D in public, though perhaps in private they had never met once.
Lord E-is then held up either as a dupe or as an accomplice in his wife's guilt; for guilt is immediately presumed.