Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > British
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vols. VI–IX: British
 
Miss Jenkyns’s Literary Tastes
By Elizabeth Gaskell (1810–1865)
 
From “Cranford”

WHEN the trays reappeared with biscuits and wine, punctually at a quarter to nine, there was conversation, comparing of cards, and talking over tricks; but by-and-by Captain Brown sported a bit of literature.
  1
  “Have you seen any numbers of The Pickwick Papers?” said he. (They were then publishing in parts.) “Capital thing!”  2
  Now Miss Jenkyns was daughter of a deceased rector of Cranford; and, on the strength of a number of manuscript sermons, and a pretty good library of divinity, considered herself literary, and looked upon any conversation about books as a challenge to her. So she answered and said, “Yes, she had seen them; indeed, she might say she had read them.”  3
  “And what do you think of them?” exclaimed Captain Brown. “Aren’t they famously good?”  4
  So urged, Miss Jenkyns could not but speak.  5
  “I must say, I don’t think they are by any means equal to Dr. Johnson. Still, perhaps, the author is young. Let him persevere, and who knows what he may become if he will take the great doctor for his model.”  6
  This was evidently too much for Captain Brown to take placidly; and I saw the words on the tip of his tongue before Miss Jenkyns had finished her sentence.  7
  “It is quite a different sort of thing, my dear madam,” he began.  8
  “I am quite aware of that,” returned she. “And I make allowances, Captain Brown.”  9
  “Just allow me to read you a scene out of this month’s number,” pleaded he. “I had it only this morning, and I don’t think the company can have read it yet.”  10
  “As you please,” said she, settling herself with an air of resignation. He read the account of the “swarry” which Sam Weller gave at Bath. Some of us laughed heartily. I did not dare, because I was staying in the house. Miss Jenkyns sat in patient gravity. When it was ended, she turned to me and said, with mild dignity:  11
  “Fetch me ‘Rasselas,’ my dear, out of the book-room.”  12
  When I brought it to her she turned to Captain Brown:  13
  “Now allow me to read you a scene, and then the present company can judge between your favourite, Mr. Boz, and Dr. Johnson.”  14
  She read one of the conversations between Rasselas and Imlac, in a high-pitched majestic voice; and when she had ended she said, “I imagine I am now justified in my preference of Dr. Johnson as a writer of fiction.” The captain screwed his lips up, and drummed on the table, but he did not speak. She thought she would give a finishing blow or two.  15
  “I consider it vulgar, and below the dignity of literature, to publish in numbers.”  16
  “How was ‘The Rambler’ published, ma’am?” asked Captain Brown, in a low voice, which I think Miss Jenkyns could not have heard.  17
  “Dr. Johnson’s style is a model for young beginners. My father recommended it to me when I began to write letters. I have formed my own style upon it; I recommend it to your favourite.”  18
  “I should be very sorry for him to exchange his style for any such pompous writing,” said Captain Brown.  19
  Miss Jenkyns felt this as a personal affront, in a way of which the captain had not dreamed. Epistolary writing she and her friends considered as her forte. Many a copy of many a letter have I seen written and corrected on the slate, before she “seized the half-hour just previous to post-time to assure” her friends of this or of that; and Dr. Johnson was, as she said, her model in these compositions. She drew herself up with dignity, and only replied to Captain Brown’s last remark by saying, with marked emphasis on every syllable, “I prefer Dr. Johnson to Mr. Boz.”  20
 
 
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