After dinner, Mr Bennet thought it was time to have some conversation, with his guest. He therefore chose a subject on which he expected Mr Collins would be pleased to speak, and began by observing that he seemed very fortunate in receiving such an excellent living from Lady Catherine. Mr Bennet could not have thought of a better beginning. Mr Collins praised her loudly, expressing himself in an extremely respectful manner. By teatime his host had had enough, and was glad to take the young man into the sitting room and invite him to read to the ladies. Mr Collins readily agreed, and a book was produced, but at the sight of it he quickly stated, begging pardon, that he never read works of fiction. Kitty and Lydia looked at him in surprise. Other books were offered, and he chose a collection of writings on matters of religion. Lydia turned away as he opened the book, and before he had, in a dull voice, read three pages, she interrupted to speak to her mother. Her two oldest sisters urged her to hold her tongue, but Mr Collins, much offended, laid the book down.
Mr Collins was not a sensible man, and neither education nor society had improved him much. He was too conscious of his own importance, and, at the same time, too afraid of giving offence, especially to those above him in rank.
A fortunate chance had brought him to the attention of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, when the position at Hunsford became free. Having now a good house and a large enough income, he intended to marry. In ending the quarrel with the Longbourn family, he was thinking of a wife, as he meant to choose one of the daughters. This was his plan of lessening the wrong done to them by his being the heir to their father’s property, and he thought it was an extremely generous one.
His plan did not change on seeing them. Miss Jane Bennet’s beautiful face soon attracted him, and for the first evening she was his settled choice. But the next morning caused a change, because in a quarter of an hour’s private talk with Mrs Bennet before breakfast, he received a warning about the cousin whom he had fixed on. ‘As to her younger daughters, she could not be sure, she could not answer immediately — but her oldest daughter, she must just mention, she felt it her duty to state, was likely to be very soon engaged to be married.’
Mr Collins had only to change from Jane to Elizabeth. It was done in a moment. Elizabeth, next to Jane both in birth and beauty, followed her as his choice as a matter of course.
Mrs Bennet was pleased with this suggestion, and trusted that she might soon have two daughters married. The man whom she could not bear to speak of the day before now stood high in her regard.