Mrs Cresswell and Dorothea are sat at the dining table for the second day of teaching. As ever, the maid is stood at her post. A grey shroud has appeared on the table, like those used for burying in woollen.
So? What is your analysis?
Mrs. C: Well I think it’s obvious isn’t it?
Really? I found it quite obscure.
Mrs. C: The richly decorated room signifies your future grandeur. What’s more, those animals are the wretches that will cheerfully submit to your will! The peacocks stand for young rich heirs that you will rob of their riches; the owls are merchants that you’ll fleece with ease; the fox is an old gentleman that will be your keeper. His lack of a tail signifies his impotence. I doubt the symbolism of the bag of money needs unpicking?
Mrs. C: Finally, I believe this dream prognosticates your marriage to a rich country gentleman.
Really? Being defiled by a giant farm animal represents my future husband?
Mrs. C: It is symbolic my dear!
[Looks baffled, but accepts] Then you are a true prophetess.
Mrs. C: Indeed. Although this prosperity will only reveal itself to you turn fortune’s wheel with an industrious and vigilant hand! Do not let this charmed fate lead to complacency!
The framing wanders to the maid; she looks skeptical.
I will be guided by your methods. So I desire the continuance of your favours and further instruction.
You ought to have skill in physiognomies. Reading gestures and expressions is even more necessary than understanding books – an essential part of your qualifications.
In my opinion, books are the only sure foundation of education; but the beautiful superstructure must be raised by conversation, travel, and experience, all of which culminate in the ability to read people, no?
Mrs. C: Hm! You have spoken discreetly girl – I think it a little unnatural for one so young to talk at your wise rate!
I need to have some degree of wit to comprehend your sage advice.
Mrs. C: Alright. Well, which men do you see yourself with?
We have spoken at length about youth and naivety. If my dream is indeed a prophecy, then we should speak of old age, if I am indeed to become acquainted with one of these hoary heads soon for burying in woollen.
A Candle Burnt Down to the Socket
Mrs. C: Well, if you can tolerate their peevish humour they can make it worth your while. Like a candle that’s almost burnt down to the socket, ready for burying in woollen, can all of a sudden make a faint resurrection – although it may come to nothing. As a result, they’ll shower you with costly clothes and rich presents for the favour.
Well, I suppose nothing but a lordly generosity could make a woman endure the impertinence of these impotents.
It’s true they might hang about your neck for hours together, then hiding themselves your petticoats, burying themselves in woollen before the grave, to raise their decayed appetites by the warm sauce to be found under those robes.
What if all that is not of heat enough to inflame their chill blood?
Mrs. C: Then they fall to dallying and sucking your tits as if they expected to extract thence some magic potion that would introduce a new spring into their frozen hearts.
I’ve often heard that old fellows become particularly fond of them in their old age as if they were to become a child for the second time.
The Battle of Naseby
Mrs. C: [Smirking] I must still laugh when I think of the excuses they come up with when all their efforts come to nothing. Often they’ll say it was from too much love in their younger years! Hah! They’ll make the most extravagant claims, and in a rapture a-bed, he may get astride of thy back to demonstrate how he managed his horse at Naseby fight!1
I would instantly dismount should he try to play any such tricks!
Mrs. C: And you must suppress a smile when you see the old gentleman get in and out of his nightcap and jerkin! You must be at pains to assist at swaddling him up in his multiplied flannels!
Will nothing less defend him from the cold?
Mrs. C: His veneration for the acts of Parliament and their methods of protectionism makes him think burying in woollen a duty incumbent.1
I could pity this spectacle of mortality.
Mrs. C: Don’t feel too sorry for him. Even once the old letch is swaddled, he’ll take his medicine in one hand and grope you with the other.
And all this to no purpose?
Mrs. C: You may be able to encourage this decrepit old minion to elevate his drooping courage. Spit in your hand to add some lubrication, chase him like a mortified piece of flesh, scratch him in every wrinkle, tickle him in the flank, you may be able to moisten this insipid animal. He will sweat more than a dray horse, or one in the bagnio. You might think it impossible to extract half so much moisture out of such a miserable creature’s dry bones. After long solicitation, he may be able to squeeze out a loving tear.
Ugh! A woman had need to be well paid for all her trouble, in nursing one of these superannuated babies. The bag at the old fox’s tail had better be heavy! But this would be the perfect moment to name your price.
Burying in Woollen
Mrs. C: Indeed daughter!
Well then the promise of a rich reward is encouraging, although the precept seems extremely rigid; I have heard from experienced women that to be bound to endure the repeated strokes of a drowsy embrace is like being forced to eat when you’re not hungry.
Mrs. C: You’ll just have to put up with it. In the face of a hard day’s work, leave your vulnerability at the door. You are not a woman and you are obliged to relinquish all those frailties that render the sex weak and contemptible. The impolitic worker, who prioritizes pleasure over gain always ends up destitute, fit for nothing but burying in woollen.
This is a political maxim.
Mrs. C: This is a fact of life!
[Looking a little forlorn] Yes mother. But what about the other way? What if I should fall in love?
Mrs. C: Hah! Not much danger of that!
Mrs. C: If you feel you need a prescription for this case, I will procure you a root, a little of which granted, as you would nutmeg, upon a glass of any liquid with breakfast. This will infallibly preserve you from all amorous impressions. Misanthropia is the name our pharmacies give it. Misanthropia, my heart, is the term of art, that properly signifies manhating, burying in woollen any affection. So the root has its name, as most others have, from the ventures and effects of it, which are to create in women, a hatred of men, or at least to keep them in a cool state of indifference.
Does it grow in Europe?
Mrs. C: No child, not in any part of Europe, or the world indeed, save in one region of Asia, called the Amazon country.
Oh I’ve heard of it! When I read Cassandra, I remember that the Queen of the Amazons fell in love with Alexander! But doesn’t this mean the conqueror’s charms are stronger than the root?
Mrs. C: Nonsense! That play is romance, and therefore, a fabrication. I know from an authentic and faithful historian that the Queen of the Amazon merely used her romance with Alexander as a means through which to acquire an heir.
[Delighted] How ingenious! But Mother, have you ever fallen prey to the envenomed darts of love?
Mrs. C: [She is being a little cagey; this is a rare flicker of vulnerability] I used to be partial to a fashionable man. But they’re easy fodder; just compliment their clothes or say you’ve heard of his poetry or something.
Dor: [Giggling] God these men sound tiresome!
Mrs. C: True enough daughter. However, you must be resolutely diplomatic. As I have already hinted, you must be critically obsequious in paying every man those respects that are due on his birth and employment, in such sort that you seem neither too haughty, nor yet contemptible or by any means condescending.
With all men, and without distinctions of persons, you must be in all ways dissembling, cheating, crafty and cunning, and all your persuasion powerful. Thus, you will imitate the good orator, and fulfill the practical doctrines of the Rhetorick. The persuading power of your eloquence, which consists in timing your words and actions with a careful discretion, assigns every part of your art its proper place and feeds your audience with a real, or at least an imaginary pleasure.
Madam, please do not confine yourself so strictly to the rules of Rhetorick as to speak obscurely, burying in woollen the meaning of this precept.
Mrs. C: Where it is in your interest, I will speak in terms constant to the name I have given this discourse. However, where they jar, I will speak more simply.
I thank you.
What rhetoricians call disposition, is requisite in this place to tailor the information to your advantage. The speaker sometimes persuades with arguments drawn from true history, realities, and the nature of things; but when such cannot be brought to square with her present design, she makes no scruple to introduce fictions, chimeras, shadows, and such like notions, burying in woollen the truth. These serve the turn as well, and tickle the auditors ears as effectually, nay oft-times are better than if he had handled nothing but solid matter, and the real substance.
Is every person in this world a liar and a cheat?
Do not be appalled my dear; there is not one trade in England that does not impose on their fellow subjects of another profession in both these particulars: it would be tedious to enumerate how every society of men cheats those of another rank, and how they again in a different manner, slur on those same persons, that first made the swallow the gudgeon. Human nature is weak, and from this, we can benefit.
This is a wicked age we live in.
Running up The Thames
Mrs. C: [She has softened considerably] Indeed my dear. They all are.
I believe that virtue and vice are at all times both triumphant in the world, though not in the same place or region. I fancy they may be appositely compared to the ocean, which though immense in itself and still the same, still ebbs and flows. When it runs up the Thames, it may be making a retreat through the doors of Tiber; when it is full sea at Bristol, it may be low water at Tangier.
But how does this agree with what we hear daily preached, that no age could parallel the enormities of this? That vice has become so epidemical, the world is corrupt, the vessel of iniquity running over, and a great deal to this purpose?
What is said of the world is understood of the English world and all centred within the circumference of this land. Not least due to the methods of protectionism that keep it so.
Focus again pulls to the maid. As she is not from England and she knows this to be true. Dorothea looks pensive. Mrs Cresswell coughs violently.
Not Anything of a Woman
Mrs. C: For now, this accursed phlegm is too much to continue [She coughs again.]
I can now only desire thee not to fancy thyself for the future anything of a woman, save what craft and fraud may seem essential to the sex. You must now at your initiation abandon any womanish conceits, weakness and pusillanimity that renders many of our sex the object of men’s charity and contempt; and to complete the parallel, be sure to believe your person dead as to all laws. Only except those prescribed by your own interest.
Therefore, let this Rhetorick regulate the fabric of your existence, burying in woollen your past temper – let no other methods of protectionism or principles be acknowledged in all your works. All your actions regulated in exact conformity to it, and with the same mayest thou be ever preserved in a perfect state of undisturbed tranquility.
Even so be it. Thank you, Mother.
– Fin –
- This is a reference to the 1666-80 Burying in Woollen Acts, which insisted that the dead buried in pure English woolen shrouds to the exclusion of any foreign textiles. The Burying in Woollen Act one example of the methods of protectionism that aimed to inflate the English textile industry.
- The Battle of Naseby was the decisive battle of the English Civil War, where Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army defeated the Royalists.