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Tuesday, August 5

Mrs. Elton Sez: Daring Accusation Results in Husbandly S-word Play


I must say I am appalled at your cavalier reply to the letter that a most excellent lady, Miss Eleanor Pritchard, wrote to you, and for not believing her honest and well-meant expressions.

Before you take pen to paper to chastise her, be aware that she shared not a single line of your missive with me. I chanced upon her crying alone in the orangery, but she would not reveal the source of her sadness. It was the scullery maid Jenny who (hesitantly) related what transpired between the two of you, for Miss Eleanor, so sure you would help her, had to tell that young girl that there would be no lady’s maid position for her. Thankfully, I was able to appeal to an old family friend and find a place for Jenny as a junior house maid.

My name is James Glover Arden, the son of Sir Arden of Houghton House. This grand edifice with its gabled roof stands proudly even as I write. For future reference, the Duke of Bedford, a distant relative, removed the roof of his house, also named Houghton House and situated in a nearby shire. You were in fact referring to the Duke's house, not my father's, when you questioned Miss Pritchard's veracity. I would suggest next time that you check the facts first before you impugn a family’s reputation or a lady's integrity.

I have known Miss Pritchard since childhood. The unfortunate circumstance of her parents’ deaths four years ago and the loss of her family’s fortune in a failed West Indies investment scheme brought her to her low position as governess to my two youngest sisters. Were I not a second son who must make his way in the world, I would have asked for Miss Pritchard’s hand long ago. She is all that is amiable and sweet in a woman, and your letter questioning her motives wounded her tender and noble heart.

I implore, nay demand, that you send her your apologies.


James Glover Arden, Esq.
Houghton House

The Rev. Philip Elton
The Vicarage
Highbury, Surrey

To: The Right Honble. James Glover Arden
Houghton House

7 November 1816


I regret that it is incumbent upon me to take up a very distasteful duty, and to write to you on a most unpleasant matter. I am not used to addressing members of the nobility, even younger sons, in such a fashion, but exigency, as well as the imperative demands of honour, require that I take this course, and no other. You have written to my wife a most remarkable letter, that I can describe by no other word than blackguardly. Mrs. Elton is accustomed to be treated as a gentlewoman; we may not be of the nobility, but I am the respectable Vicar of Highbury, and you may know of some of my connections in this part of the country - the Woodhouse and Knightley families, of Hartfield and Donwell. My patrons, no more than myself, will brook no impertinence, not from the highest in the land; and when it comes to insulting a lady, and that lady my wife, even one who has used such inexcusable expressions as yourself, can hardly wonder at my writing to you my most vehement objections.

You have accused my wife not only of writing in a cavalier fashion, as you call it, to a lady of good family, but you in so many words come as close as possible to calling the irreproachable Mrs. Elton a liar. In what terms my wife has written to the governess Miss Pritchard, I do not concern myself; her arrangements for engaging and discharging servants are not in my sphere, but I have every certainty that she has managed whatever business regards members of the servant class, with probity, dispatch, and the tact for which she has ever been famed. The other, more serious charge of which you accuse my wife, of impugning a family’s reputation, cannot be allowed to stand. What is your Houghton House? It is not even mentioned in Debrett. No one in Highbury has ever heard of it. That Mrs. Elton can be expected to know every dwelling of junior members of the nobility, is unreasonable; but that she could ever have deliberately impugned the reputation of any of the Ardens is a suggestion as horrible as it is unthinkable.

Sir, your daring to make such accusations against my wife's sacred and honourable name, cannot be borne. Therefore, it is with great pain that I take the unavoidable step, of offering you a challenge to a duel. I must and shall defend my wife's good name; and it will be requisite for you to prove upon my body that you are not the liar and blackguard that you now appear.

I offer you choice of weapons, and a meeting at some place to be determined; halfway between your Houghton House and my Vicarage would be most convenient. Before dawn on Monday next would be preferable to me, but you are invited to have your second communicate with mine concerning the details. In the course of this morning I will seek to prevail upon Mr. Knightley, Magistrate, to represent me in the matter; and you may write to him, as I would not wish to receive any more of your blasphemous epistles until we meet by appointment, myself to defend the good name of a most beloved and cherished wife, and to punish the person who dares to besmirch the same.

Your humble Servant,
Rev. Philip Elton

Mrs. Elton Sez is written/channeled by Austen-esque author Diana Birchall. Please join her once a week in August for her sage and sometimes sardonic voice, as she graciously condescends to advise on a variety of subjects as Mrs. Elton or in this case as Mr. Elton.

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