Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
By John Arbuthnot (16671735)
From The History of John Bull
JOHN had a mother whom he loved and honoured extremely, a discreet, grave, sober, good-conditioned, cleanly old gentlewoman as ever lived; she was none of your cross-grained, termagant, scolding jades, that one had as good be hanged as live in the house with, such as are always censuring the conduct, and telling scandalous stories of their neighbours, extolling their own good qualities, and undervaluing those of others. On the contrary, she was of a meek spirit, and, as she was strictly virtuous herself, so she always put the best construction upon the words and actions of her neighbours, except where they were irreconcileable to the rules of honesty and decency. She was neither one of your precise prudes, nor one of your fantastical old belles that dress themselves like girls of fifteen; as she neither wore a ruff forehead-cloth, nor high-crowned hat, so she had laid aside feathers, flowers, and crimped ribbons in her head-dress, furbelow-scarfs, and hooped petticoats. She scorned to patch and paint, yet she loved to keep her hands and her face clean. Though she wore no flaunting faced ruffles, she would not keep herself in a constant sweat with greasy flannel; though her hair was not stuck with jewels, she was not ashamed of a diamond cross; she was not, like some ladies, hung about with toys and trinkets, tweezer-cases, pocket glasses, and essence bottles; she used only a gold watch and an almanac, to mark the hours and the holy-days.
Her furniture was neat and genteel, well fancied with a bon-goût. As she affected not the grandeur of a state with a canopy, she thought there was no offence in an elbow-chair; she has laid aside your carving, gilding, and Japan work, as being too apt to gather dirt; but she never could be prevailed upon to part with plain wainscot and clean hangings. There are some ladies that affect to smell a stink in every thing; they are always highly perfumed, and continually burning frankincense in their rooms; she was above such affectation, yet she would never lay aside the use of brooms and scrubbing-brushes, and scrupled not to lay her linen in fresh lavender.
She was no less genteel in her behaviour, well-bred, without affectation, in the due mean between one of your affected curtseying pieces of formality, and your romps that have no regard to the common rules of civility. There are some ladies that affect a mighty regard for their relations: we must not eat to-day, for my uncle Tom, or my cousin Betty, died this time ten years: lets have a ball to-night, it is my neighbour such-a-ones birthday; she looked upon all this as grimace; yet she constantly observed her husbands birthday, her wedding-day, and some few more.
Though she was a truly good woman, and had a sincere motherly love for her son John, yet there wanted not those who endeavoured to create a misunderstanding between them, and they had so far prevailed with him once, that he turned her out of doors, to his great sorrow, as he found afterwards, for his affairs went on at sixes and sevens.
She was no less judicious in the turn of her conversation and choice of her studies, in which she far exceeded all her sex: our rakes that hate the company of all sober, grave gentlewomen, would bear hers; and she would, by her handsome manner of proceeding, sooner reclaim them than some that were more sour and reserved. She was a zealous preacher up of chastity, and conjugal fidelity in wives, and by no means a friend to the new-fangled doctrine of the indispensable duty of cuckoldom. Though she advanced her opinions with a becoming assurance, yet she never ushered them in, as some positive creatures will do, with dogmatical assertions, this is infallible; I cannot be mistaken; none but a rogue can deny it. It has been observed, that such people are oftener in the wrong than anybody.
Though she had a thousand good qualities, she was not without her faults, amongst which one might perhaps reckon too great lenity towards her servants, to whom she always gave good counsel, but often too gentle correction. I thought I could not say less of John Bulls mother, because she bears a part in the following transactions.