Chapter 9. The Egotistical Couple

by Charles Dickens

Egotism in couples is of two kinds.—It is our purpose to show this by two examples.

The egotistical couple may be young, old, middle-aged, well to do, or ill to do; they may have a small family, a large family, or no family at all.  There is no outward sign by which an egotistical couple may be known and avoided.  They come upon you unawares; there is no guarding against them.  No man can of himself be forewarned or forearmed against an egotistical couple.

The egotistical couple have undergone every calamity, and experienced every pleasurable and painful sensation of which our nature is susceptible.  You cannot by possibility tell the egotistical couple anything they don’t know, or describe to them anything they have not felt.  They have been everything but dead.  Sometimes we are tempted to wish they had been even that, but only in our uncharitable moments, which are few and far between.

We happened the other day, in the course of a morning call, to encounter an egotistical couple, nor were we suffered to remain long in ignorance of the fact, for our very first inquiry of the lady of the house brought them into active and vigorous operation.  The inquiry was of course touching the lady’s health, and the answer happened to be, that she had not been very well.  ‘Oh, my dear!’ said the egotistical lady, ‘don’t talk of not being well.  We have been in such a state since we saw you last!’—The lady of the house happening to remark that her lord had not been well either, the egotistical gentleman struck in: ‘Never let Briggs complain of not being well—never let Briggs complain, my dear Mrs. Briggs, after what I have undergone within these six weeks.  He doesn’t know what it is to be ill, he hasn’t the least idea of it; not the faintest conception.’—‘My dear,’ interposed his wife smiling, ‘you talk as if it were almost a crime in Mr. Briggs not to have been as ill as we have been, instead of feeling thankful to Providence that both he and our dear Mrs. Briggs are in such blissful ignorance of real suffering.’—‘My love,’ returned the egotistical gentleman, in a low and pious voice, ‘you mistake me;—I feel grateful—very grateful.  I trust our friends may never purchase their experience as dearly as we have bought ours; I hope they never may!’

Having put down Mrs. Briggs upon this theme, and settled the question thus, the egotistical gentleman turned to us, and, after a few preliminary remarks, all tending towards and leading up to the point he had in his mind, inquired if we happened to be acquainted with the Dowager Lady Snorflerer.  On our replying in the negative, he presumed we had often met Lord Slang, or beyond all doubt, that we were on intimate terms with Sir Chipkins Glogwog.  Finding that we were equally unable to lay claim to either of these distinctions, he expressed great astonishment, and turning to his wife with a retrospective smile, inquired who it was that had told that capital story about the mashed potatoes.  ‘Who, my dear?’ returned the egotistical lady, ‘why Sir Chipkins, of course; how can you ask!  Don’t you remember his applying it to our cook, and saying that you and I were so like the Prince and Princess, that he could almost have sworn we were they?’  ‘To be sure, I remember that,’ said the egotistical gentleman, ‘but are you quite certain that didn’t apply to the other anecdote about the Emperor of Austria and the pump?’  ‘Upon my word then, I think it did,’ replied his wife.  ‘To be sure it did,’ said the egotistical gentleman, ‘it was Slang’s story, I remember now, perfectly.’  However, it turned out, a few seconds afterwards, that the egotistical gentleman’s memory was rather treacherous, as he began to have a misgiving that the story had been told by the Dowager Lady Snorflerer the very last time they dined there; but there appearing, on further consideration, strong circumstantial evidence tending to show that this couldn’t be, inasmuch as the Dowager Lady Snorflerer had been, on the occasion in question, wholly engrossed by the egotistical lady, the egotistical gentleman recanted this opinion; and after laying the story at the doors of a great many great people, happily left it at last with the Duke of Scuttlewig:—observing that it was not extraordinary he had forgotten his Grace hitherto, as it often happened that the names of those with whom we were upon the most familiar footing were the very last to present themselves to our thoughts.

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