Insult of the Week: “…these bungling imitators”

British library image – page 162 of Some English Gardens

In Chapter 11 of Maria Edgeworth’s Ennui, the narrator and Lady Geraldine go for a leisurely stroll around the ornamental buildings in the grounds at Ormsby Villa. On their travels, they happen upon Mrs. O’Connor, Lady Kilrush and “a troop of hoyden young ladies” and are promptly invited to view “a poetical inscription of Lady Kilrush’s, pompously engraved on a fine marble tablet” inside the Temple of Minerva. Forestalling the elaborate (but expected) performance of mock embarrassment and humblebragging, Lady Kilrush decides to rush off to the aptly named Temple of Folly…

“We read the lines with all the attention usually paid to a lady’s poetry in the presence of the poetess. Lady Geraldine and I turned to pay some compliments on the performance, when we found that Lady Kilrush and all her companions were gone. “Gone! all gone!” said Lady Geraldine; “and there they are, making their way very fast down to the temple of Folly! Lady Kilrush, you know, is so ba-a-ashful, she could not possibly stay to receive nos hommages. I love to laugh at affectation. Call them back, do, my lord, and you shall see the fair author go through all the evolutions of mock humility, and end by yielding quietly to the notion that she is the tenth Muse. But run, my lord, or they will be out of our reach.”

Not one to exert himself, the narrator obeys Lady Geraldine’s request to catch up with the group but when he does, he finds himself locked out

I never was seen to run on any occasion; but to obey Lady Geraldine I walked as fast as I (The Narrator) could to the door, and, to my surprise, found it fastened. “Locked, I declare! Some of the witty tricks of the Mrs. O’connor, or The Hoyden Miss Callwells!”

Lady Geraldine is unimpressed with this display of silliness

“How I hate hoydens!” cried Lady Geraldine: “but let us take patience; they will be back presently. If young ladies must perform practical jokes, because quizzing is the fashion, I wish they would devise something new. This locking-up is so stale a jest. To be sure it has lately to boast the authority of high rank in successful practice: but these bungling imitators never distinguish between cases the most dissimilar imaginable. Silly creatures! We have only to be wise and patient.”

Image from the British Library – page 49 of The National and Domestic History of England..with numerous steel plates..

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