No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her
infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.
Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother,
her own person and disposition, were all equally against her.
Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected,
or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name
was Richard--and he had never been handsome. He had a
considerable independence besides two good livings--and he
was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters.
Her mother was a woman of useful plain sense, with a
good temper, and, what is more remarkable, with a
good constitution. She had three sons before Catherine
was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter
into the world, as anybody might expect, she still lived
on--lived to have six children more--to see them growing
up around her, and to enjoy excellent health herself.
A family of ten children will be always called a fine family,
where there are heads and arms and legs enough for the number;
but the Morlands had little other right to the word,
for they were in general very plain, and Catherine,
for many years of her life, as plain as any. She had
a thin awkward figure, a sallow skin without colour,
dark lank hair, and strong features--so much for her person;
and not less unpropiteous for heroism seemed her mind.
She was fond of all boy's plays, and greatly preferred
cricket not merely to dolls, but to the more heroic
enjoyments of infancy, nursing a dormouse, feeding a
canary-bird, or watering a rose-bush. Indeed she had no
taste for a garden; and if she gathered flowers at all,
it was chiefly for the pleasure of mischief--at least so it
was conjectured from her always preferring those which she
was forbidden to take. Such were her propensities--her
abilities were quite as extraordinary. She never could
learn or understand anything before she was taught;
and sometimes not even then, for she was often inattentive,
and occasionally stupid. Her mother was three months
in teaching her only to repeat the "Beggar's Petition";
and after all, her next sister, Sally, could say it
better than she did. Not that Catherine was always
stupid--by no means; she learnt the fable of "The Hare
and Many Friends" as quickly as any girl in England.
Her mother wished her to learn music; and Catherine was
sure she should like it, for she was very fond of tinkling
the keys of the old forlorn spinner; so, at eight years
old she began. She learnt a year, and could not bear it;
and Mrs. Morland, who did not insist on her daughters
being accomplished in spite of incapacity or distaste,
allowed her to leave off. The day which dismissed the
music-master was one of the happiest of Catherine's life.
Her taste for drawing was not superior; though whenever
she could obtain the outside of a letter from her mother
or seize upon any other odd piece of paper, she did
what she could in that way, by drawing houses and trees,
hens and chickens, all very much like one another.
Writing and accounts she was taught by her father; French by
her mother: her proficiency in either was not remarkable,
and she shirked her lessons in both whenever she could.
What a strange, unaccountable character!--for with all
these symptoms of profligacy at ten years old, she had
neither a bad heart nor a bad temper, was seldom stubborn,
scarcely ever quarrelsome, and very kind to the little ones,
with few interruptions of tyranny; she was moreover noisy
and wild, hated confinement and cleanliness, and loved nothing
so well in the world as rolling down the green slope at the
back of the house.
Such was Catherine Morland at ten. At fifteen,
appearances were mending; she began to curl her hair
and long for balls; her complexion improved, her features
were softened by plumpness and colour, her eyes gained
more animation, and her figure more consequence.
Her love of dirt gave way to an inclination for finery,
and she grew clean as she grew smart; she had now the
pleasure of sometimes hearing her father and mother
remark on her personal improvement. "Catherine grows
quite a good-looking girl--she is almost pretty today,"
were words which caught her ears now and then;
and how welcome were the sounds! To look almost pretty
is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has
been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life
than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive.
Mrs. Morland was a very good woman, and wished
to see her children everything they ought to be;
but her time was so much occupied in lying-in and teaching
the little ones, that her elder daughters were inevitably
left to shift for themselves; and it was not very wonderful
that Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her,
should prefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback,
and running about the country at the age of fourteen,
to books--or at least books of information--for, provided
that nothing like useful knowledge could be gained
from them, provided they were all story and no reflection,
she had never any objection to books at all. But from
fifteen to seventeen she was in training for a heroine;
she read all such works as heroines must read to supply
their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable
and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives.
From Pope, she learnt to censure those who
"bear about the mockery of woe."
From Gray, that
"Many a flower is born to blush unseen,
"And waste its fragrance on the desert air."
From Thompson, that
--"It is a delightful task
"To teach the young idea how to shoot."
And from Shakespeare she gained a great store of information--
amongst the rest, that
--"Trifles light as air,
"Are, to the jealous, confirmation strong,
"As proofs of Holy Writ."
"The poor beetle, which we tread upon,
"In corporal sufferance feels a pang as great
"As when a giant dies."
And that a young woman in love always looks
--"like Patience on a monument
"Smiling at Grief."
So far her improvement was sufficient--and in many
other points she came on exceedingly well; for though she
could not write sonnets, she brought herself to read them;
and though there seemed no chance of her throwing a whole
party into raptures by a prelude on the pianoforte,
of her own composition, she could listen to other people's
performance with very little fatigue. Her greatest
deficiency was in the pencil--she had no notion of
drawing--not enough even to attempt a sketch of her
lover's profile, that she might be detected in the design.
There she fell miserably short of the true heroic height.
At present she did not know her own poverty, for she had no
lover to portray. She had reached the age of seventeen,
without having seen one amiable youth who could call forth
her sensibility, without having inspired one real passion,
and without having excited even any admiration but what
was very moderate and very transient. This was strange
indeed! But strange things may be generally accounted
for if their cause be fairly searched out. There was not
one lord in the neighbourhood; no--not even a baronet.
There was not one family among their acquaintance who
had reared and supported a boy accidentally found at
their door--not one young man whose origin was unknown.
Her father had no ward, and the squire of the parish
But when a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness
of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her.
Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way.
Mr. Allen, who owned the chief of the property
about Fullerton, the village in Wiltshire where the
Morlands lived, was ordered to Bath for the benefit of a
gouty constitution--and his lady, a good-humoured woman,
fond of Miss Morland, and probably aware that if adventures
will not befall a young lady in her own village,
she must seek them abroad, invited her to go with them.
Mr. and Mrs. Morland were all compliance, and Catherine
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