Lady Angleby had to give and hear opinions on a variety of subjects while they were at table. Middle-class female education Mr. Jones had not gone into. He listened and was instructed, and supposed that it might easily be made better; nevertheless, he had observed that the best taught amongst his candidates for confirmation came from the shopkeeping class, where the parents still gave their children religious lessons at home. Then ladies of refined habits and delicate feelings as mistresses of elementary schools—that was a new idea to him. A certain robustness seemed, perhaps, more desirable; teaching a crowd of imperfectly washed little boys and girls was not fancy-work; also he believed that essential propriety existed to the full as much amongst the young women now engaged as amongst young ladies. If the object was to create a class of rural school-mistresses who would take social rank with the curate, he thought it a mistake; a school-mistress ought not to be above drinking her cup of tea in a tidy cottage with the parents of her pupils: he should prefer a capable young woman in a clean holland apron with pockets, and no gloves, to any poor young lady of genteel tastes who would expect to associate on equal terms with his wife and daughters. Then, cookery for the poor. Here Mr. Jones fell inadvertently into a trap. He said that the chief want amongst the poor was something to cook: there was very little spending in twelve shillings a week, or even in fifteen and eighteen, with a family to house, clothe, and feed. Lady Angleby held a quite opposite view. She said that a helpless thriftlessness was at the root of the matter. She had printed and largely distributed a little book of receipts, for which many people had thanked her. Mr. Jones knew the little book, and had heard his wife say that Lady Angleby’s receipt for stewed rabbits was well enough, but that her receipt for hares stewed with onions was hares spoilt; and where were poor people to get hares unless they went out poaching?
“I assure your ladyship that agrimony tea is still drunk amongst our widows, and an ounce of shop-tea is kept for home-coming sons and daughters grown proud in service. They gather the herb in the autumn, and dry it in bunches for the winter’s use. And many is the laborer who lets his children swallow the lion’s share of his Sunday bit of meat because the wife says it makes them strong, and children have not the sense not to want all they see. Any economical reform amongst the extravagant classes that would leave more and better food within reach of the hard-working classes would be highly beneficial to both. Sometimes I wish we could return to that sumptuary law of Queen Elizabeth which commanded the rich to eat fish and fast from flesh-meat certain days of the week.” Here Mr. Jones too abruptly paused. Lady Angleby had grown exceedingly red in the face; Bessie Fairfax had grown rosy too, with suppressed reflections on the prize-stature to which her hostess had attained in sixty years of high feeding. Queen Elizabeth’s pious fast might have been kept by her with much advantage to her figure.