In 1814, Patrick Colquhoun, a Scottish merchant, statistician, magistrate, and founder of the first Thames River Police, wrote a report entitled A Treatise on the Wealth, Power, and Resources of the British Empire in which he constructed a table of Britain’s many classes:
Highest orders (first class): Royal family, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, great officers of state, and all above the degree of baronet with their families (576 heads of family/2,880 persons comprising their families.
Second class: Baronets, knights, country gentlemen, and others having large incomes with their families (46,861/234,305)
Third Class: Dignified clergy, persons holding considerable employments in the State, elevated situations in the law, eminent practitioners in physic (doctors), considerable merchants, manufacturers upon a large scale, and bankers of the first order with their families (12,200/61,000)
Fourth Class: Persons holding inferior situations in Church and State, respectable clergymen of different persuasions, practitioners in law and physic, teachers of youth of the superior order, respectable freeholders, ship owners, merchants, and manufactures of the second class, warehousemen and respectable shopkeepers, artists, respectable builders, mechanics, and persons living on moderate incomes with their families (233,650/1,168,250)
Fifth Class: Lesser freeholders, shopkeepers of the second order, innkeepers, publicans, and persons engaged in miscellaneous occupations or living on moderate income with their families (564,799/2,798,475)
Sixth Class: Working mechanics, artisans, handicrafts, agricultural laborers, and others who subsist by labor in various employements with their families (2,126,095/8,792,800) and menial servants (1,279,923)
Seventh or lowest class: Paupers, vagrants, gypsies, rogues, vagabonds, and idle and disorderly persons supported by criminal delinquency (387,100/1,828,170)
Excluding the approximately 1,000,000 men serving in the Army and Navy, the total is 16,402,988. Of that number, only 2,880 belonged to the highest order. That rank would have included Darcy’s grandfather, an earl, and his children, Darcy’s mother, the father of Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Lady Catherine.
The next group, or second class, includes Fitzwilliam Darcy. Although not a member of the aristocracy, he belongs to an elite group of only 46,861 heads of household.
Mr. Collins, as a rector, is in the third class.
According to the annotated Jane Austen edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks (p. 47), the Bennets are in the fourth class as persons of moderate income and, I assume, property owners.
When Elizabeth tells Lady Catherine that “Mr. Darcy is a gentleman, and I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal," it is a stretch. According to the laws of the United States, all men are equal under the law, but we know that some people are more equal than others. This was the case with the Darcys and the Bennets.
The English were extremely class conscious, and so it is understandable why Mr. Darcy thought he needed to point out to Elizabeth at the time of his proposal how inferior her connections were. In his own clumsy way, he was providing her with a demonstration of the depth of his love, i.e., he was descending to her level. I think when Elizabeth sees Pemberley, she realizes just how much Darcy was willing to put at risk by making her an offer.
What do you think?