Mr. Woodhouse was fond of society in his own way. He liked very much to have
his friends come and see him; and from various united causes, from his long
residence at Hartfield, and his good nature, from his fortune, his house, and his
daughter, he could command the visits of his own little circle, in a great measure,
as he liked. He had not much intercourse with any families beyond that circle; his
horror of late hours, and large dinner-parties, made him unfit for any
acquaintance but such as would visit him on his own terms. Fortunately for him,
Highbury, including Randalls in the same parish, and Donwell Abbey in the
parish adjoining, the seat of Mr. Knightley, comprehended many such. Not
unfrequently, through Emma's persuasion, he had some of the chosen and the
best to dine with him: but evening parties were what he preferred; and, unless he
fancied himself at any time unequal to company, there was scarcely an evening
in the week in which Emma could not make up a card-table for him.
Real, long-standing regard brought the Westons and Mr. Knightley; and by Mr.
Elton, a young man living alone without liking it, the privilege of exchanging any
vacant evening of his own blank solitude for the elegancies and society of Mr.
Woodhouse's drawing-room, and the smiles of his lovely daughter, was in no
danger of being thrown away.
After these came a second set; among the most come-at-able of whom were
Mrs. and Miss Bates, and Mrs. Goddard, three ladies almost always at the
service of an invitation from Hartfield, and who were fetched and carried home so
often, that Mr. Woodhouse thought it no hardship for either James or the horses.
Had it taken place only once a year, it would have been a grievance.
Mrs. Bates, the widow of a former vicar of Highbury, was a very old lady, almost
past every thing but tea and quadrille. She lived with her single daughter in a
very small way, and was considered with all the regard and respect which a
harmless old lady, under such untoward circumstances, can excite. Her daughter
enjoyed a most uncommon degree of popularity for a woman neither young,
handsome, rich, nor married. Miss Bates stood in the very worst predicament in
the world for having much of the public favour; and she had no intellectual
superiority to make atonement to herself, or frighten those who might hate her
into outward respect. She had never boasted either beauty or cleverness. Her
youth had passed without distinction, and her middle of life was devoted to the
care of a failing mother, and the endeavour to make a small income go as far as
possible. And yet she was a happy woman, and a woman whom no one named
without good-will. It was her own universal good-will and contented temper which
worked such wonders. She loved every body, was interested in every body's
happiness, quick-sighted to every body's merits; thought herself a most fortunate
creature, and surrounded with blessings in such an excellent mother, and so
many good neighbours and friends, and a home that wanted for nothing. The
simplicity and cheerfulness of her nature, her contented and grateful spirit, were
a recommendation to every body, and a mine of felicity to herself. She was a