Black George was, in the main, a peaceable kind of fellow, and nothing choleric nor rash; yet did he bear about him something of what the antients called the irascible, and which his wife, if she had been endowed with much wisdom, would have feared. He had long experienced, that when the storm grew very high, arguments were but wind, which served rather to increase, than to abate it. He was therefore seldom unprovided with a small switch, a remedy of wonderful force, as he had often essayed, and which the word villain served as a hint for his applying.
No sooner, therefore, had this symptom appeared, than he had immediate recourse to the said remedy, which though, as it is usual in all very efficacious medicines, it at first seemed to heighten and inflame the disease, soon produced a total calm, and restored the patient to perfect ease and tranquillity.
This is, however, a kind of horse-medicine, which requires a very robust constitution to digest, and is therefore proper only for the vulgar, unless in one single instance, viz., where superiority of birth breaks out; in which case, we should not think it very improperly applied by any husband whatever, if the application was not in itself so base, that, like certain applications of the physical kind which need not be mentioned, it so much degrades and contaminates the hand employed in it, that no gentleman should endure the thought of anything so low and detestable. (4.9.7-9)
Reading this passage, we stand back and think, wow—this novel was obviously written in a very different time and place from our own. The narrator talks through the pros and cons of spousal abuse as though this is something he has to argue, because there might be readers out there who believe that hitting your wife is not a crime. Spousal abuse = ungentlemanly, which appears to be the worst thing the narrator can say about it.
But the use of the term "gentleman" introduces strong class-based language into the mix. Does this mean that, among the poor (such as Black George's family), wife-beating is supposed to be less bad? While the narrator clearly thinks that spousal abuse is "low" and wrong, he also seems to have a double standard in place for "gentlemen" and average men.