Friday, 4 November 2011

Parsons

Obscurer and obscurer, as Alice might have said. I'm reading (for reasons to dull to go into here) some Gothic novels by Eliza Parsons. A couple are available on Google Books; so should you have a spare afternoon -- for it won't take you much longer -- you could read Parsons's The Peasant of Ardenne Forest (1801). You can see the epigraph, quoted on the title page there:
Hereditary honour in worldly estimation is accounted the most noble; but reason and sound judgment speaketh in favour of him who hath acquired distinction by his merit; for tis virtue and not birth which maketh men truly noble:--And poor is his boast, who is compelled to borrow his claims to respect from a long list of titled ancestors.
I wonder where this is quoted from. My suspicion is that Parsons made it up herself; but it's possible it's from something. Sentiments of this sort were common enough in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Perhaps Parsons is half remembering Voltaire:
• Les mortels sont √©gaux; ce n'est pas la naissance,
C'est la seule vertu qui fait la différence. [Eriphile, II:i (1732); Voltaire re-used the lines in Mahomet, I:iv (1741)]

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