University of Virginia Library




Few women had more gifts than Mrs. Flimson. She was born
of clever parents, and was lady-like and good-looking. Her education
was that of a female Crichton, careful and universal; and
while she had more than a smattering of most languages and sciences,
she was up to any flight of fashion, and down to every
secret of notable housewifery. She piqued herself, indeed, most
upon her plain accomplishments (thinking, perhaps, that her
more uncommon ones would speak for themselves); and it was a
greater triumph, to her apprehension, that she could direct the
country butcher to the sweet-bread in slaughtering his veal, and
show a country-girl how to send it to table with the proper complexion
of a riz de veau, than that she could entertain any manner
of foreigner in his own language, and see order in the stars
and diamonds in back-logs. Like most female prodigies, whose
friends expect them to be matched as well as praised, Mrs. Flimson
lost the pick of the market, and married a man very much her
inferior. The pis aller, Mr. Flimson, was a person of excellent
family (after the fashion of a hill of potatoes—the best part of it
under ground), and possessed of a moderate income. Near the
meridian sun of a metropolis, so small a star would of course be


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extinguished; and as it was necessary to Mrs. Flimson's existence
that she should be the cynosure of something, she induced
her husband to remove to the sparser field of a distant country-town,
where, with her diplomatic abilities, she hoped to build him
him up into a member of Congress. And here shone forth the
genius of Mrs. Flimson. To make herself perfectly au fait of
country habits, usages, and prejudices, and opinions, was but the
work of a month or two of stealthy observation. At the end of
this short period, she had mastered a manner of rustic frankness
(to be put on at will); she had learned the secret of all rural
economies; she had found out what degree of gentility would
inspire respect without offending, or exciting envy, and she had
made a near estimate of the influence, consequence, and worth-trouble-ness
of every family within visiting distance.

With this ammunition, Mrs. Flimson opened the campaign.
She joined all the sewing-circles of the village, refusing steadily
the invidious honor of manager, pattern-cutter, and treasurer; she
selected one or two talkative objects for her charity, and was studiously
secret in her manner of conveying her benefactions. She
talked with farmers, quoting Mr. Flimson for her facts. She discoursed
with the parson, quoting Mr. Flimson for her theology.
She was intelligent and witty, and distributed plentiful scraps of
information, always quoting Mr. Flimson. She managed the farm
and the household, and kept all the accounts—Mr. Flimson was
so overwhelmed with other business! She talked politics, admitting
that she was less of a republican than Mr. Flimson. She produced
excellent plans for charitable associations, town improvements,
and the education of children—all the result of Mr. Flimson's
hours of relaxation. She was—and was only—Mr. Flimson's
humble vicegerent and poor representative. And every


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thing would seem so much better devised if he could have expressed
it in person!

But Mr. Flimson was never nominated for Congress, and Mrs.
Flimson was very well understood from the first by her country
neighbors. There was a flaw in the high polish of her education
—an error inseparable from too much consciousness of porcelain
in this crockery world. To raise themselves sufficiently above the
common level, the family of Mrs. Flimson habitually underrated
vulgar human nature, and the accomplished daughter, good at
every thing else, never knew where to find it. She thinks herself
in a cloud, floating far out of the reach of those around her, when
they are reading her at arm's length like a book. She calculates
her condescension for “forty fathom deep,” when the object of it
sits beside her. She comes down graciously to the people's capacity,
and her simplicity is set down for trap. And still wondering
that Mr. Flimson is allowed by his country to remain in
obscurity, and that stupid rustics will not fuse and be moulded by
her well-studied congenialities, she begins to turn her attention to
things more on her own level, and on Sundays looks like a saint
distressed to be out of heaven. But for that one thread of contempt
woven into the woof of her education, Mrs. Flimson might
have shone as a star in the world where she glimmers like a