Mrs Jane West commenting on ‘criminal conversation’ in The Vicar of Wakefield, in Letters to a Young Lady: in which the duties and characters of women are considered ... 1806
Petty contradictions are not the spur, but the quietus, of agreeable conversation. They proceed from a habit formed in early life, to which parents in the middle ranks of society are never sufficiently attentive. If half the pains that are taken in teaching young women accomplishments were bestowed on the regulation of their tempers, and the improvement of their manners, our social pleasures would receive most valuable improvements. It is to be lamented, that this most teasing habit often distinguishes very worthy people, who adopt it from a mistaken regard to truth and sincerity. As these are especially apt to suppose that a domestic party releases every body from all restraints, they frequently contrive to convert a family meeting into a battle royal; somewhat resembling the contest of a brood of turkey pouts in which everyone gets pecked, and none discover for what reason. The most miserable fate, however, awaits a stranger, who, supposing this engagement to proceed from secret enmity, unfortunately interferes to restore peace, and does not, till after he has received the rebuffs of every combatant, discover that they were all the while cackling in perfect friendship. This humour generally breaks out in the midst of some narrative, in which the repeater is interrupted with something quite as unessential as Miss Carolina Wilhelmina Amelia Skegg's elucidations ofLady Blarney's crim. con. story,l in the Vicar 1 I.e. criminal conversation. See The Vicar of Wakefield, chaps xi-xii.