It was too intolerable that Dorothea should be worshipping this husband: such weakness in a woman is pleasant to no man but the husband in question. Mortals are easily tempted to pinch the life out of their neighbour’s buzzing glory, and think that such killing is no murder.
“No, indeed,” he answered, promptly. “And therefore it is a pity that it should be thrown away, as so much English scholarship is, for want of knowing what is being done by the rest of the world. If Mr. Casaubon read German he would save himself a great deal of trouble.”
“I do not understand you,” said Dorothea, startled and anxious.
“I merely mean,” said Will, in an offhand way, “that the Germans have taken the lead in historical inquiries, and they laugh at results which are got by groping about in woods with a pocket-compass while they have made good roads. When I was with Mr. Casaubon I saw that he deafened himself in that direction: it was almost against his will that he read a Latin treatise written by a German. I was very sorry.”
Will only thought of giving a good pinch that would annihilate that vaunted laboriousness, and was unable to imagine the mode in which Dorothea would be wounded. Young Mr. Ladislaw was not at all deep himself in German writers; but very little achievement is required in order to pity another man’s shortcomings.
Poor Dorothea felt a pang at the thought that the labour of her husband’s life might be void, which left her no energy to spare for the question whether this young relative who was so much obliged to him ought not to have repressed his observation. She did not even speak, but sat looking at her hands, absorbed in the piteousness of that thought.
Will, however, having given that annihilating pinch, was rather ashamed, imagining from Dorothea’s silence that he had offended her still more; and having also a conscience about plucking the tail-feathers from a benefactor.
“I regretted it especially,” he resumed, taking the usual course from detraction to insincere eulogy, “because of my gratitude and respect towards my cousin. It would not signify so much in a man whose talents and character were less distinguished.”
—Middlemarch, George Eliot
Oh Mary, how well you know our twists and turns and petty vanities!