The cottage at Barton was “poor and small,” but comfortable. Mrs. Dashwood liked the cottage, because although it needed some work and additions, she liked to add to and improve the property. She said that the cottage was too small, but that they could nonetheless be “tolerably comfortable” there. Sir John Middleton came to say hello to the Dashwoods and was very friendly. He invited them to visit him and his wife at Barton Park.
From the wealthy perspective of the Dashwoods, the cottage is “poor and small”, though they are still living near the very top of the socio-economic ladder. With their move to Barton, the Dashwoods begin a phase of their lives full of social engagements, from meetings and house visits to dinners and dances.
When the Dashwoods visited and met Lady Middleton, they saw that she was elegant and had good manners, but was cold and reserved. Sir John, though, was “very chatty,” and Lady Middleton’s young son offered a safe topic of conversation. The narrator says that children are often useful at formal visits for providing an easy topic of conversation.
Lady Middleton’s character is immediately exactly defined, as is Sir John’s. The narrator pokes fun at the manners and habits of high society by noting how useful small children are for providing a topic of empty small talk.