The RIVALS A Comedy
By Richard Brinsley Sheridan
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A preface to a play seems generally to be considered as a kind of closet-prologue, in which—if his piece has been successful—the author solicits that indulgence from the reader which he had before experienced from the audience: but as the scope and immediate object of a play is to please a mixed assembly in representation (whose judgment in the theatre at least is decisive,) its degree of reputation is usually as determined as public, before it can be prepared for the cooler tribunal of the study. Thus any farther solicitude on the part of the writer becomes unnecessary at least, if not an intrusion: and if the piece has been condemned in the performance, I fear an address to the closet, like an appeal to posterity, is constantly regarded as the procrastination of a suit, from a consciousness of the weakness of the cause. From these considerations, the following comedy would certainly have been submitted to the reader, without any farther introduction than what it had in the representation, but that its success has probably been founded on a circumstance which the author is informed has not before attended a theatrical trial, and which consequently ought not to pass unnoticed.
I need scarcely add, that the circumstance alluded to was the withdrawing of the piece, to remove those imperfections in the first representation which were too obvious to escape reprehension, and too numerous to admit of a hasty correction. There are few writers, I believe, who, even in the fullest consciousness of error, do not wish to palliate the faults which they acknowledge; and, however trifling the performance, to second their confession of its deficiencies, by whatever plea seems least disgraceful to their ability. In the present instance, it cannot be said to amount either to candour or modesty in me, to acknowledge an extreme inexperience and want of judgment on matters, in which, without guidance from practice, or spur from success, a young man should scarcely boast of being an adept. If it be said, that under such disadvantages no one should attempt to write a play, I must beg leave to dissent from the position, while the first point of experience that I have gained on the subject is, a knowledge of the candour and judgment with which an impartial public distinguishes between the errors of inexperience and incapacity, and the indulgence which it shows even to a disposition to remedy the defects of either.
It were unnecessary to enter into any further extenuation of what was thought exceptionable in this play, but that it has been said, that the managers should have prevented some of the defects before its appearance to the public—and in particular the uncommon length of the piece as represented the first night. It were an ill return for the most liberal and gentlemanly conduct on their side, to suffer any censure to rest where none was deserved. Hurry in writing has long been exploded as an excuse for an author;—however, in the dramatic line, it may happen, that both an author and a manager may wish to fill a chasm in the entertainment of the public with a hastiness not altogether culpable. The season was advanced when I first put the play into Mr. Harris's hands: it was at that time at least double the length of any acting comedy. I profited by his judgment and experience in the curtailing of it—till, I believe, his feeling for the vanity of a young author got the better of his desire for correctness, and he left many excrescences remaining, because he had assisted in pruning so many more. Hence, though I was not uninformed that the acts were still too long, I flattered myself that, after the first trial, I might with safer judgment proceed to remove what should appear to have been most dissatisfactory. Many other errors there were, which might in part have arisen from my being by no means conversant with plays in general, either in reading or at the theatre. Yet I own that, in one respect, I did not regret my ignorance: for as my first wish in attempting a play was to avoid every appearance of plagiary, I thought I should stand a better chance of effecting this from being in a walk which I had not frequented, and where, consequently, the progress of invention was less likely to be interrupted by starts of recollection: for on subjects on which the mind has been much informed, invention is slow of exerting itself. Faded ideas float in the fancy like half-forgotten dreams; and the imagination in its fullest enjoyments becomes suspicious of its offspring, and doubts whether it has created or adopted.
With regard to some particular passages which on the first night's representation seemed generally disliked, I confess, that if I felt any emotion of surprise at the disapprobation, it was not that they were disapproved of, but that I had not before perceived that they deserved it. As some part of the attack on the piece was begun too early to pass for the sentence of judgment, which is ever tardy in condemning, it has been suggested to me, that much of the disapprobation must have arisen from virulence of malice, rather than severity of criticism: but as I was more apprehensive of there being just grounds to excite the latter than conscious of having deserved the former, I continue not to believe that probable, which I am sure must have been unprovoked. However, if it was so, and I could even mark the quarter from whence it came, it would be ungenerous to retort: for no passion suffers more than malice from disappointment. For my own part, I see no reason why the author of a play should not regard a first night's audience as a candid and judicious friend attending, in behalf of the public, at his last rehearsal. If he can dispense with flattery, he is sure at least of sincerity, and even though the annotation be rude, he may rely upon the justness of the comment. Considered in this light, that audience, whose fiat is essential to the poet's claim, whether his object be fame or profit, has surely a right to expect some deference to its opinion, from principles of politeness at least, if not from gratitude.
As for the little puny critics, who scatter their peevish strictures in private circles, and scribble at every author who has the eminence of being unconnected with them, as they are usually spleen-swoln from a vain idea of increasing their consequence, there will always be found a petulance and illiberality in their remarks, which should place them as far beneath the notice of a gentleman, as their original dulness had sunk them from the level of the most unsuccessful author.
It is not without pleasure that I catch at an opportunity of justifying myself from the charge of intending any national reflection in the character of Sir Lucius O'Trigger. If any gentlemen opposed the piece from that idea, I thank them sincerely for their opposition; and if the condemnation of this comedy (however misconceived the provocation) could have added one spark to the decaying flame of national attachment to the country supposed to be reflected on, I should have been happy in its fate, and might with truth have boasted, that it had done more real service in its failure, than the successful morality of a thousand stage-novels will ever effect.
It is usual, I believe, to thank the performers in a new play, for the exertion of their several abilities. But where (as in this instance) their merit has been so striking and uncontroverted, as to call for the warmest and truest applause from a number of judicious audiences, the poet's after-praise comes like the feeble acclamation of a child to close the shouts of a multitude. The conduct, however, of the principals in a theatre cannot be so apparent to the public. I think it therefore but justice to declare, that from this theatre (the only one I can speak of from experience) those writers who wish to try the dramatic line will meet with that candour and liberal attention, which are generally allowed to be better calculated to lead genius into excellence, than either the precepts of judgment, or the guidance of experience.
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As originally acted at COVENT GARDEN THEATRE in 1775
Sir ANTHONY ABSOLUTE CAPTAIN ABSOLUTE FAULKLAND ACRES Sir LUCIUS O'TRIGGER FAG DAVID THOMAS Mrs. MALAPROP LYDIA LANGUISH JULIA LUCY Maid, Boy, Servants, &c.
Time of action—Five hours.
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PROLOGUE By the AUTHOR
[Enter SERJEANT-AT-LAW, and ATTORNEY following, and giving a paper.]
SERJEANT What's here!—a vile cramp hand! I cannot see Without my spectacles.
ATTORNEY He means his fee. Nay, Mr. Serjeant, good sir, try again. [Gives money.]
SERJEANT The scrawl improves! [more] O come, 'tis pretty plain. Hey! how's this? Dibble!—sure it cannot be! A poet's brief! a poet and a fee!
ATTORNEY Yes, sir! though you without reward, I know, Would gladly plead the Muse's cause.
ATTORNEY And if the fee offends, your wrath should fall On me.
SERJEANT Dear Dibble, no offence at all.
ATTORNEY Some sons of Phoebus in the courts we meet,
SERJEANT And fifty sons of Phoebus in the Fleet!
ATTORNEY Nor pleads he worse, who with a decent sprig Of bays adorns his legal waste of wig.
SERJEANT Full-bottom'd heroes thus, on signs, unfurl A leaf of laurel in a grove of curl! Yet tell your client, that, in adverse days, This wig is warmer than a bush of bays.
ATTORNEY Do you, then, sir, my client's place supply, Profuse of robe, and prodigal of tie— Do you, with all those blushing powers of face, And wonted bashful hesitating grace, Rise in the court, and flourish on the case. [Exit.]
SERJEANT For practice then suppose—this brief will show it,— Me, Serjeant Woodward,—counsel for the poet. Used to the ground, I know 'tis hard to deal With this dread court, from whence there's no appeal; No tricking here, to blunt the edge of law, Or, damn'd in equity, escape by flaw: But judgment given, your sentence must remain; No writ of error lies—to Drury Lane: Yet when so kind you seem, 'tis past dispute We gain some favour, if not costs of suit. No spleen is here! I see no hoarded fury;— I think I never faced a milder jury! Sad else our plight! where frowns are transportation. A hiss the gallows, and a groan damnation! But such the public candour, without fear My client waives all right of challenge here. No newsman from our session is dismiss'd, Nor wit nor critic we scratch off the list; His faults can never hurt another's ease, His crime, at worst, a bad attempt to please: Thus, all respecting, he appeals to all, And by the general voice will stand or fall.
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Prologue By the AUTHOR
SPOKEN ON THE TENTH NIGHT, BY MRS. BULKLEY.
Granted our cause, our suit and trial o'er, The worthy serjeant need appear no more: In pleasing I a different client choose, He served the Poet—I would serve the Muse. Like him, I'll try to merit your applause, A female counsel in a female's cause. Look on this form—where humour, quaint and sly, Dimples the cheek, and points the beaming eye; Where gay invention seems to boast its wiles In amorous hint, and half-triumphant smiles; While her light mask or covers satire's strokes, Or hides the conscious blush her wit provokes. Look on her well—does she seem form'd to teach? Should you expect to hear this lady preach? Is grey experience suited to her youth? Do solemn sentiments become that mouth? Bid her be grave, those lips should rebel prove To every theme that slanders mirth or love. Yet, thus adorn'd with every graceful art To charm the fancy and yet reach the heart— Must we displace her? And instead advance The goddess of the woful countenance— The sentimental Muse!—Her emblems view, The Pilgrim's Progress, and a sprig of rue! View her—too chaste to look like flesh and blood— Primly portray'd on emblematic wood! There, fix'd in usurpation, should she stand, She'll snatch the dagger from her sister's hand: And having made her votaries weep a flood, Good heaven! she'll end her comedies in blood— Bid Harry Woodward break poor Dunstal's crown! Imprison Quick, and knock Ned Shuter down; While sad Barsanti, weeping o'er the scene, Shall stab herself—or poison Mrs. Green. Such dire encroachments to prevent in time, Demands the critic's voice—the poet's rhyme. Can our light scenes add strength to holy laws! Such puny patronage but hurts the cause: Fair virtue scorns our feeble aid to ask; And moral truth disdains the trickster's mask For here their favourite stands, whose brow severe And sad, claims youth's respect, and pity's tear; Who, when oppress'd by foes her worth creates, Can point a poniard at the guilt she hates.
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Scene I.—A street. [Enter THOMAS; he crosses the stage; FAG follows, looking after him.]
FAG What! Thomas! sure 'tis he?—What! Thomas! Thomas!
THOMAS Hey!—Odd's life! Mr. Fag!—give us your hand, my old fellow-servant.
FAG Excuse my glove, Thomas:—I'm devilish glad to see you, my lad. Why, my prince of charioteers, you look as hearty!—but who the deuce thought of seeing you in Bath?
THOMAS Sure, master, Madam Julia, Harry, Mrs. Kate, and the postillion, be all come.
THOMAS Ay, master thought another fit of the gout was coming to make him a visit;—so he'd a mind to gi't the slip, and whip! we were all off at an hour's warning.
FAG Ay, ay, hasty in every thing, or it would not be Sir Anthony Absolute!
THOMAS But tell us, Mr. Fag, how does young master? Odd! Sir Anthony will stare to see the Captain here!
FAG I do not serve Captain Absolute now.
THOMAS Why sure!
FAG At present I am employed by Ensign Beverley.
THOMAS I doubt, Mr. Fag, you ha'n't changed for the better.
FAG I have not changed, Thomas.
THOMAS No! Why didn't you say you had left young master?
FAG No.—Well, honest Thomas, I must puzzle you no farther:—briefly then—Captain Absolute and Ensign Beverley are one and the same person.
THOMAS The devil they are!
FAG So it is indeed, Thomas; and the ensign half of my master being on guard at present—the captain has nothing to do with me.
THOMAS So, so!—What, this is some freak, I warrant!—Do tell us, Mr. Fag, the meaning o't—you know I ha' trusted you.
FAG You'll be secret, Thomas?
THOMAS As a coach-horse.
FAG Why then the cause of all this is—Love,—Love, Thomas, who (as you may get read to you) has been a masquerader ever since the days of Jupiter.
THOMAS Ay, ay;—I guessed there was a lady in the case:—but pray, why does your master pass only for ensign?—Now if he had shammed general indeed——
FAG Ah! Thomas, there lies the mystery o' the matter. Hark'ee, Thomas, my master is in love with a lady of a very singular taste: a lady who likes him better as a half pay ensign than if she knew he was son and heir to Sir Anthony Absolute, a baronet of three thousand a year.
THOMAS That is an odd taste indeed!—But has she got the stuff, Mr. Fag? Is she rich, hey?
FAG Rich!—Why, I believe she owns half the stocks! Zounds! Thomas, she could pay the national debt as easily as I could my washerwoman! She has a lapdog that eats out of gold,—she feeds her parrot with small pearls,—and all her thread-papers are made of bank-notes!
THOMAS Bravo, faith!—Odd! I warrant she has a set of thousands at least:—but does she draw kindly with the captain?
FAG As fond as pigeons.
THOMAS May one hear her name?
FAG Miss Lydia Languish.—But there is an old tough aunt in the way; though, by-the-by, she has never seen my master—for we got acquainted with miss while on a visit in Gloucestershire.
THOMAS Well—I wish they were once harnessed together in matrimony.—But pray, Mr. Fag, what kind of a place is this Bath?—I ha' heard a deal of it—here's a mort o' merrymaking, hey?
FAG Pretty well, Thomas, pretty well—'tis a good lounge; in the morning we go to the pump-room (though neither my master nor I drink the waters); after breakfast we saunter on the parades, or play a game at billiards; at night we dance; but damn the place, I'm tired of it: their regular hours stupify me—not a fiddle nor a card after eleven!—However, Mr. Faulkland's gentleman and I keep it up a little in private parties;—I'll introduce you there, Thomas—you'll like him much.
THOMAS Sure I know Mr. Du-Peigne—you know his master is to marry Madam Julia.
FAG I had forgot.—But, Thomas, you must polish a little—indeed you must.—Here now—this wig!—What the devil do you do with a wig, Thomas?—None of the London whips of any degree of ton wear wigs now.
THOMAS More's the pity! more's the pity! I say.—Odd's life! when I heard how the lawyers and doctors had took to their own hair, I thought how 'twould go next:—odd rabbit it! when the fashion had got foot on the bar, I guessed 'twould mount to the box!—but 'tis all out of character, believe me, Mr. Fag: and look'ee, I'll never gi' up mine—the lawyers and doctors may do as they will.
FAG Well, Thomas, we'll not quarrel about that.
THOMAS Why, bless you, the gentlemen of the professions ben't all of a mind—for in our village now, thoff Jack Gauge, the exciseman, has ta'en to his carrots, there's little Dick the farrier swears he'll never forsake his bob, though all the college should appear with their own heads!
FAG Indeed! well said, Dick!—But hold—mark! mark! Thomas.
THOMAS Zooks! 'tis the captain.—Is that the Lady with him?
FAG No, no, that is Madam Lucy, my master's mistress's maid. They lodge at that house—but I must after him to tell him the news.
THOMAS Odd! he's giving her money!—Well, Mr. Fag——
FAG Good-bye, Thomas. I have an appointment in Gyde's porch this evening at eight; meet me there, and we'll make a little party.
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Scene II.—A Dressing-room in Mrs. MALAPROP's Lodgings. [LYDIA sitting on a sofa, with a book in her hand. Lucy, as just returned from a message.]
LUCY Indeed, ma'am, I traversed half the town in search of it: I don't believe there's a circulating library in Bath I ha'n't been at.
LYDIA And could not you get The Reward of Constancy?
LUCY No, indeed, ma'am.
LYDIA Nor The Fatal Connexion?
LUCY No, indeed, ma'am.
LYDIA Nor The Mistakes of the Heart?
LUCY Ma'am, as ill luck would have it, Mr. Bull said Miss Sukey Saunter had just fetched it away.
LYDIA Heigh-ho!—Did you inquire for The Delicate Distress?
LUCY Or, The Memoirs of Lady Woodford? Yes, indeed, ma'am. I asked every where for it; and I might have brought it from Mr. Frederick's, but Lady Slattern Lounger, who had just sent it home, had so soiled and dog's-eared it, it wa'n't fit for a Christian to read.
LYDIA Heigh-ho!—Yes, I always know when Lady Slattern has been before me. She has a most observing thumb; and, I believe, cherishes her nails for the convenience of making marginal notes.—Well, child, what have you brought me?
LUCY Oh! here, ma'am.—[Taking books from under her cloak, and from her pockets.] This is The Gordian Knot,—and this Peregrine Pickle. Here are The Tears of Sensibility, and Humphrey Clinker. This is The Memoirs of a Lady of Quality, written by herself, and here the second volume of The Sentimental Journey.
LYDIA Heigh-ho!—What are those books by the glass?
LUCY The great one is only The Whole Duty of Man, where I press a few blonds, ma'am.
LYDIA Very well—give me the sal volatile.
LUCY Is it in a blue cover, ma'am?
LYDIA My smelling-bottle, you simpleton!
LUCY Oh, the drops!—here, ma'am.
LYDIA Hold!—here's some one coming—quick, see who it is.——
Surely I heard my cousin Julia's voice.
LUCY Lud! ma'am, here is Miss Melville.
LYDIA Is it possible!——
LYDIA My dearest Julia, how delighted am I!—[Embrace.] How unexpected was this happiness!
JULIA True, Lydia—and our pleasure is the greater.—But what has been the matter?—you were denied to me at first!
LYDIA Ah, Julia, I have a thousand things to tell you!—But first inform me what has conjured you to Bath?—Is Sir Anthony here?
JULIA He is—we are arrived within this hour—and I suppose he will be here to wait on Mrs. Malaprop as soon as he is dressed.
LYDIA Then before we are interrupted, let me impart to you some of my distress!—I know your gentle nature will sympathize with me, though your prudence may condemn me! My letters have informed you of my whole connection with Beverley; but I have lost him, Julia! My aunt has discovered our intercourse by a note she intercepted, and has confined me ever since! Yet, would you believe it? she has absolutely fallen in love with a tall Irish baronet she met one night since we have been here, at Lady Macshuffle's rout.
JULIA You jest, Lydia!
LYDIA No, upon my word.—She really carries on a kind of correspondence with him, under a feigned name though, till she chooses to be known to him:—but it is a Delia or a Celia, I assure you.
JULIA Then, surely, she is now more indulgent to her niece.
LYDIA Quite the contrary. Since she has discovered her own frailty, she is become more suspicious of mine. Then I must inform you of another plague!—That odious Acres is to be in Bath to-day; so that I protest I shall be teased out of all spirits!
JULIA Come, come, Lydia, hope for the best—Sir Anthony shall use his interest with Mrs. Malaprop.
LYDIA But you have not heard the worst. Unfortunately I had quarrelled with my poor Beverley, just before my aunt made the discovery, and I have not seen him since, to make it up.
JULIA What was his offence?
LYDIA Nothing at all!—But, I don't know how it was, as often as we had been together, we had never had a quarrel, and, somehow, I was afraid he would never give me an opportunity. So, last Thursday, I wrote a letter to myself, to inform myself that Beverley was at that time paying his addresses to another woman. I signed it your friend unknown, showed it to Beverley, charged him with his falsehood, put myself in a violent passion, and vowed I'd never see him more.
JULIA And you let him depart so, and have not seen him since?
LYDIA 'Twas the next day my aunt found the matter out. I intended only to have teased him three days and a half, and now I've lost him for ever.
JULIA If he is as deserving and sincere as you have represented him to me, he will never give you up so. Yet consider, Lydia, you tell me he is but an ensign, and you have thirty thousand pounds.
LYDIA But you know I lose most of my fortune if I marry without my aunt's consent, till of age; and that is what I have determined to do, ever since I knew the penalty. Nor could I love the man who would wish to wait a day for the alternative.
JULIA Nay, this is caprice!
LYDIA What, does Julia tax me with caprice?—I thought her lover Faulkland had inured her to it.
JULIA I do not love even his faults.
LYDIA But apropos—you have sent to him, I suppose?
JULIA Not yet, upon my word—nor has he the least idea of my being in Bath. Sir Anthony's resolution was so sudden, I could not inform him of it.
LYDIA Well, Julia, you are your own mistress, (though under the protection of Sir Anthony), yet have you, for this long year, been a slave to the caprice, the whim, the jealousy of this ungrateful Faulkland, who will ever delay assuming the right of a husband, while you suffer him to be equally imperious as a lover.
JULIA Nay, you are wrong entirely. We were contracted before my father's death. That, and some consequent embarrassments, have delayed what I know to be my Faulkland's most ardent wish. He is too generous to trifle on such a point:—and for his character, you wrong him there, too. No, Lydia, he is too proud, too noble to be jealous; if he is captious, 'tis without dissembling; if fretful, without rudeness. Unused to the fopperies of love, he is negligent of the little duties expected from a lover—but being unhackneyed in the passion, his affection is ardent and sincere; and as it engrosses his whole soul, he expects every thought and emotion of his mistress to move in unison with his. Yet, though his pride calls for this full return, his humility makes him undervalue those qualities in him which would entitle him to it; and not feeling why he should be loved to the degree he wishes, he still suspects that he is not loved enough. This temper, I must own, has cost me many unhappy hours; but I have learned to think myself his debtor, for those imperfections which arise from the ardour of his attachment.
LYDIA Well, I cannot blame you for defending him. But tell me candidly, Julia, had he never saved your life, do you think you should have been attached to him as you are?—Believe me, the rude blast that overset your boat was a prosperous gale of love to him.
JULIA Gratitude may have strengthened my attachment to Mr. Faulkland, but I loved him before he had preserved me; yet surely that alone were an obligation sufficient.
LYDIA Obligation! why a water spaniel would have done as much!—Well, I should never think of giving my heart to a man because he could swim.
JULIA Come, Lydia, you are too inconsiderate.
LYDIA Nay, I do but jest.—What's here?
[Re-enter LUCY in a hurry.]
LUCY O ma'am, here is Sir Anthony Absolute just come home with your aunt.
LYDIA They'll not come here.—Lucy, do you watch.
JULIA Yet I must go. Sir Anthony does not know I am here, and if we meet, he'll detain me, to show me the town. I'll take another opportunity of paying my respects to Mrs. Malaprop, when she shall treat me, as long as she chooses, with her select words so ingeniously misapplied, without being mispronounced.
LUCY O Lud! ma'am, they are both coming up stairs.
LYDIA Well, I'll not detain you, coz.—Adieu, my dear Julia. I'm sure you are in haste to send to Faulkland.—There—through my room you'll find another staircase.
JULIA Adieu! [Embraces LYDIA, and exit.]
LYDIA Here, my dear Lucy, hide these books. Quick, quick!—Fling Peregrine Pickle under the toilet—throw Roderick Random into the closet—put The Innocent Adultery into The Whole Duty of Man—thrust Lord Aimworth under the sofa—cram Ovid behind the bolster—there—put The Man of Feeling into your pocket—so, so—now lay Mrs. Chapone in sight, and leave Fordyce's Sermons open on the table.
LUCY O burn it, ma'am! the hair-dresser has torn away as far as Proper Pride.
LYDIA Never mind—open at Sobriety.—Fling me Lord Chesterfields Letters.—Now for 'em.
[Enter Mrs. MALAPROP, and Sir ANTHONY ABSOLUTE.]
Mrs. MALAPROP There, Sir Anthony, there sits the deliberate simpleton who wants to disgrace her family, and lavish herself on a fellow not worth a shilling.
LYDIA Madam, I thought you once——
Mrs. MALAPROP You thought, miss! I don't know any business you have to think at all—thought does not become a young woman. But the point we would request of you is, that you will promise to forget this fellow—to illiterate him, I say, quite from your memory.
LYDIA Ah, madam! our memories are independent of our wills. It is not so easy to forget.
Mrs. MALAPROP But I say it is, miss; there is nothing on earth so easy as to forget, if a person chooses to set about it. I'm sure I have as much forgot your poor dear uncle as if he had never existed—and I thought it my duty so to do; and let me tell you, Lydia, these violent memories don't become a young woman.
Sir ANTHONY Why sure she won't pretend to remember what she's ordered not!—ay, this comes of her reading!
LYDIA What crime, madam, have I committed, to be treated thus?
Mrs. MALAPROP Now don't attempt to extirpate yourself from the matter; you know I have proof controvertible of it.—But tell me, will you promise to do as you're bid? Will you take a husband of your friends' choosing?
LYDIA Madam, I must tell you plainly, that had I no preferment for any one else, the choice you have made would be my aversion.
Mrs. MALAPROP What business have you, miss, with preference and aversion? They don't become a young woman; and you ought to know, that as both always wear off, 'tis safest in matrimony to begin with a little aversion. I am sure I hated your poor dear uncle before marriage as if he'd been a blackamoor—and yet, miss, you are sensible what a wife I made!—and when it pleased Heaven to release me from him, 'tis unknown what tears I shed!—But suppose we were going to give you another choice, will you promise us to give up this Beverley?
LYDIA Could I belie my thoughts so far as to give that promise, my actions would certainly as far belie my words.
Mrs. MALAPROP Take yourself to your room.—You are fit company for nothing but your own ill-humours.
LYDIA Willingly, ma'am—I cannot change for the worse. [Exit.]
Mrs. MALAPROP There's a little intricate hussy for you!
Sir ANTHONY It is not to be wondered at, ma'am,—all this is the natural consequence of teaching girls to read. Had I a thousand daughters, by Heaven! I'd as soon have them taught the black art as their alphabet!
Mrs. MALAPROP Nay, nay, Sir Anthony, you are an absolute misanthropy.
Sir ANTHONY In my way hither, Mrs. Malaprop, I observed your niece's maid coming forth from a circulating library!—She had a book in each hand—they were half-bound volumes, with marble covers!—From that moment I guessed how full of duty I should see her mistress!
Mrs. MALAPROP Those are vile places, indeed!
Sir ANTHONY Madam, a circulating library in a town is as an evergreen tree of diabolical knowledge! It blossoms through the year!—And depend on it, Mrs. Malaprop, that they who are so fond of handling the leaves, will long for the fruit at last.
Mrs. MALAPROP Fy, fy, Sir Anthony! you surely speak laconically.
Sir ANTHONY Why, Mrs. Malaprop, in moderation now, what would you have a woman know?
Mrs. MALAPROP Observe me, Sir Anthony. I would by no means wish a daughter of mine to be a progeny of learning; I don't think so much learning becomes a young woman; for instance, I would never let her meddle with Greek, or Hebrew, or algebra, or simony, or fluxions, or paradoxes, or such inflammatory branches of learning—neither would it be necessary for her to handle any of your mathematical, astronomical, diabolical instruments.—But, Sir Anthony, I would send her, at nine years old, to a boarding-school, in order to learn a little ingenuity and artifice. Then, sir, she should have a supercilious knowledge in accounts;—and as she grew up, I would have her instructed in geometry, that she might know something of the contagious countries;—but above all, Sir Anthony, she should be mistress of orthodoxy, that she might not mis-spell, and mis-pronounce words so shamefully as girls usually do; and likewise that she might reprehend the true meaning of what she is saying. This, Sir Anthony, is what I would have a woman know;—and I don't think there is a superstitious article in it.
Sir ANTHONY Well, well, Mrs. Malaprop, I will dispute the point no further with you; though I must confess, that you are a truly moderate and polite arguer, for almost every third word you say is on my side of the question. But, Mrs. Malaprop, to the more important point in debate—you say you have no objection to my proposal?
Mrs. MALAPROP None, I assure you. I am under no positive engagement with Mr. Acres, and as Lydia is so obstinate against him, perhaps your son may have better success.
Sir ANTHONY Well, madam, I will write for the boy directly. He knows not a syllable of this yet, though I have for some time had the proposal in my head. He is at present with his regiment.
Mrs. MALAPROP We have never seen your son, Sir Anthony; but I hope no objection on his side.
Sir ANTHONY Objection!—let him object if he dare!—No, no, Mrs. Malaprop, Jack knows that the least demur puts me in a frenzy directly. My process was always very simple—in their younger days, 'twas "Jack, do this";—if he demurred, I knocked him down—and if he grumbled at that, I always sent him out of the room.
Mrs. MALAPROP Ay, and the properest way, o' my conscience!—nothing is so conciliating to young people as severity.—Well, Sir Anthony, I shall give Mr. Acres his discharge, and prepare Lydia to receive your son's invocations;—and I hope you will represent her to the captain as an object not altogether illegible.
Sir ANTHONY Madam, I will handle the subject prudently.—Well, I must leave you; and let me beg you, Mrs. Malaprop, to enforce this matter roundly to the girl.—Take my advice—keep a tight hand: if she rejects this proposal, clap her under lock and key; and if you were just to let the servants forget to bring her dinner for three or four days, you can't conceive how she'd come about. [Exit.]
Mrs. MALAPROP Well, at any rate, I shall be glad to get her from under my intuition. She has somehow discovered my partiality for Sir Lucius O'Trigger—sure, Lucy can't have betrayed me!—No, the girl is such a simpleton, I should have made her confess it.—Lucy!—Lucy!—[Calls.] Had she been one of your artificial ones, I should never have trusted her.
LUCY Did you call, ma'am?
Mrs. MALAPROP Yes, girl.—Did you see Sir Lucius while you was out?
LUCY No, indeed, ma'am, not a glimpse of him.
Mrs. MALAPROP You are sure, Lucy, that you never mentioned——
LUCY Oh gemini! I'd sooner cut my tongue out.
Mrs. MALAPROP Well, don't let your simplicity be imposed on.
LUCY No, ma'am.
Mrs. MALAPROP So, come to me presently, and I'll give you another letter to Sir Lucius; but mind, Lucy—if ever you betray what you are entrusted with (unless it be other people's secrets to me), you forfeit my malevolence for ever; and your being a simpleton shall be no excuse for your locality. [Exit.]
LUCY Ha! ha! ha!—So, my dear Simplicity, let me give you a little respite.—[Altering her manner.] Let girls in my station be as fond as they please of appearing expert, and knowing in their trusts; commend me to a mask of silliness, and a pair of sharp eyes for my own interest under it!—Let me see to what account have I turned my simplicity lately.—[Looks at a paper.] For abetting Miss Lydia Languish in a design of running away with an ensign!—in money, sundry times, twelve pound twelve; gowns, five; hats, ruffles, caps, &c., &c., numberless!—From the said ensign, within this last month, six guineas and a half.—About a quarter's pay!—Item, from Mrs. Malaprop, for betraying the young people to her—when I found matters were likely to be discovered—two guineas, and a black paduasoy.—Item, from Mr. Acres, for carrying divers letters—which I never delivered—two guineas, and a pair of buckles.—Item, from Sir Lucius O'Trigger, three crowns, two gold pocket-pieces, and a silver snuff-box!—Well done, Simplicity!—Yet I was forced to make my Hibernian believe, that he was corresponding, not with the aunt, but with the niece; for though not over rich, I found he had too much pride and delicacy to sacrifice the feelings of a gentleman to the necessities of his fortune. [Exit.]
* * * * * * * * * * *
* * * * * * *
Scene I.—CAPTAIN ABSOLUTE's Lodgings. [CAPTAIN ABSOLUTE and FAG.]
FAG Sir, while I was there Sir Anthony came in: I told him you had sent me to inquire after his health, and to know if he was at leisure to see you.
ABSOLUTE And what did he say, on hearing I was at Bath?
FAG Sir, in my life I never saw an elderly gentleman more astonished! He started back two or three paces, rapped out a dozen interjectural oaths, and asked, what the devil had brought you here.
ABSOLUTE Well, sir, and what did you say?
FAG Oh, I lied, sir—I forgot the precise lie; but you may depend on't, he got no truth from me. Yet, with submission, for fear of blunders in future, I should be glad to fix what has brought us to Bath; in order that we may lie a little consistently. Sir Anthony's servants were curious, sir, very curious indeed.
ABSOLUTE You have said nothing to them?
FAG Oh, not a word, sir,—not a word! Mr. Thomas, indeed, the coachman (whom I take to be the discreetest of whips)——
ABSOLUTE 'Sdeath!—you rascal! you have not trusted him!
FAG Oh, no, sir—no—no—not a syllable, upon my veracity!—He was, indeed, a little inquisitive; but I was sly, sir—devilish sly! My master (said I), honest Thomas (you know, sir, one says honest to one's inferiors,) is come to Bath to recruit—Yes, sir, I said to recruit—and whether for men, money, or constitution, you know, sir, is nothing to him, nor any one else.
ABSOLUTE Well, recruit will do—let it be so.
FAG Oh, sir, recruit will do surprisingly—indeed, to give the thing an air, I told Thomas, that your honour had already enlisted five disbanded chairmen, seven minority waiters, and thirteen billiard-markers.
ABSOLUTE You blockhead, never say more than is necessary.
FAG I beg pardon, sir—I beg pardon—but, with submission, a lie is nothing unless one supports it. Sir, whenever I draw on my invention for a good current lie, I always forge indorsements as well as the bill.
ABSOLUTE Well, take care you don't hurt your credit, by offering too much security.—Is Mr. Faulkland returned?
FAG He is above, sir, changing his dress.
ABSOLUTE Can you tell whether he has been informed of Sir Anthony and Miss Melville's arrival?
FAG I fancy not, sir; he has seen no one since he came in but his gentleman, who was with him at Bristol.—I think, sir, I hear Mr. Faulkland coming down——
ABSOLUTE Go, tell him I am here.
FAG Yes, sir.—[Going.] I beg pardon, sir, but should Sir Anthony call, you will do me the favour to remember that we are recruiting, if you please.
ABSOLUTE Well, well.
FAG And, in tenderness to my character, if your honour could bring in the chairmen and waiters, I should esteem it as an obligation; for though I never scruple a lie to serve my master, yet it hurts one's conscience to be found out. [Exit.]
ABSOLUTE Now for my whimsical friend—if he does not know that his mistress is here, I'll tease him a little before I tell him——
Faulkland, you're welcome to Bath again; you are punctual in your return.
FAULKLAND Yes; I had nothing to detain me, when I had finished the business I went on. Well, what news since I left you? how stand matters between you and Lydia?
ABSOLUTE Faith, much as they were; I have not seen her since our quarrel; however, I expect to be recalled every hour.
FAULKLAND Why don't you persuade her to go off with you at once?
ABSOLUTE What, and lose two-thirds of her fortune? you forget that, my friend.—No, no, I could have brought her to that long ago.
FAULKLAND Nay then, you trifle too long—if you are sure of her, propose to the aunt in your own character, and write to Sir Anthony for his consent.
ABSOLUTE Softly, softly; for though I am convinced my little Lydia would elope with me as Ensign Beverley, yet am I by no means certain that she would take me with the impediment of our friends' consent, a regular humdrum wedding, and the reversion of a good fortune on my side: no, no; I must prepare her gradually for the discovery, and make myself necessary to her, before I risk it.—Well, but Faulkland, you'll dine with us to-day at the hotel?
FAULKLAND Indeed I cannot; I am not in spirits to be of such a party.
ABSOLUTE By heavens! I shall forswear your company. You are the most teasing, captious, incorrigible lover!—Do love like a man.
FAULKLAND I own I am unfit for company.
ABSOLUTE Am I not a lover; ay, and a romantic one too? Yet do I carry every where with me such a confounded farrago of doubts, fears, hopes, wishes, and all the flimsy furniture of a country miss's brain!
FAULKLAND Ah! Jack, your heart and soul are not, like mine, fixed immutably on one only object. You throw for a large stake, but losing, you could stake and throw again;—but I have set my sum of happiness on this cast, and not to succeed, were to be stripped of all.
ABSOLUTE But, for heaven's sake! what grounds for apprehension can your whimsical brain conjure up at present?
FAULKLAND What grounds for apprehension, did you say? Heavens! are there not a thousand! I fear for her spirits—her health—her life!—My absence may fret her; her anxiety for my return, her fears for me may oppress her gentle temper: and for her health, does not every hour bring me cause to be alarmed? If it rains, some shower may even then have chilled her delicate frame! If the wind be keen, some rude blast may have affected her! The heat of noon, the dews of the evening, may endanger the life of her, for whom only I value mine. O Jack! when delicate and feeling souls are separated, there is not a feature in the sky, not a movement of the elements, not an aspiration of the breeze, but hints some cause for a lover's apprehension!
ABSOLUTE Ay, but we may choose whether we will take the hint or not.—So, then, Faulkland, if you were convinced that Julia were well and in spirits, you would be entirely content?
FAULKLAND I should be happy beyond measure—I am anxious only for that.
ABSOLUTE Then to cure your anxiety at once—Miss Melville is in perfect health, and is at this moment in Bath.
FAULKLAND Nay, Jack—don't trifle with me.
ABSOLUTE She is arrived here with my father within this hour.
FAULKLAND Can you be serious?
ABSOLUTE I thought you knew Sir Anthony better than to be surprised at a sudden whim of this kind.—Seriously, then, it is as I tell you—upon my honour.
FAULKLAND My dear friend!—Hollo, Du-Peigne! my hat.—My dear Jack—now nothing on earth can give me a moment's uneasiness.
FAG Sir, Mr. Acres, just arrived, is below.
ABSOLUTE Stay, Faulkland, this Acres lives within a mile of Sir Anthony, and he shall tell you how your mistress has been ever since you left her.—Fag, show this gentleman up.
FAULKLAND What, is he much acquainted in the family?
ABSOLUTE Oh, very intimate: I insist on your not going: besides, his character will divert you.
FAULKLAND Well, I should like to ask him a few questions.
ABSOLUTE He is likewise a rival of mine—that is, of my other self's, for he does not think his friend Captain Absolute ever saw the lady in question; and it is ridiculous enough to hear him complain to me of one Beverley, a concealed skulking rival, who——
FAULKLAND Hush!—he's here.
ACRES Ha! my dear friend, noble captain, and honest Jack, how do'st thou? just arrived, faith, as you see.—Sir, your humble servant.—Warm work on the roads, Jack!—Odds whips and wheels! I've travelled like a comet, with a tail of dust all the way as long as the Mall.
ABSOLUTE Ah! Bob, you are indeed an eccentric planet, but we know your attraction hither.—Give me leave to introduce Mr. Faulkland to you; Mr. Faulkland, Mr. Acres.
ACRES Sir, I am most heartily glad to see you: sir, I solicit your connections.—Hey, Jack—what, this is Mr. Faulkland, who——
ABSOLUTE Ay, Bob, Miss Melville's Mr. Faulkland.
ACRES Odso! she and your father can be but just arrived before me:—I suppose you have seen them. Ah! Mr. Faulkland, you are indeed a happy man.
FAULKLAND I have not seen Miss Melville yet, sir;—I hope she enjoyed full health and spirits in Devonshire?
ACRES Never knew her better in my life, sir,—never better. Odds blushes and blooms! she has been as healthy as the German Spa.
FAULKLAND Indeed! I did hear that she had been a little indisposed.
ACRES False, false, sir—only said to vex you: quite the reverse, I assure you.
FAULKLAND There, Jack, you see she has the advantage of me; I had almost fretted myself ill.
ABSOLUTE Now are you angry with your mistress for not having been sick?
FAULKLAND No, no, you misunderstand me: yet surely a little trifling indisposition is not an unnatural consequence of absence from those we love.—Now confess—isn't there something unkind in this violent, robust, unfeeling health?
ABSOLUTE Oh, it was very unkind of her to be well in your absence, to be sure!
ACRES Good apartments, Jack.
FAULKLAND Well, sir, but you was saying that Miss Melville has been so exceedingly well—what then she has been merry and gay, I suppose?—Always in spirits—hey?
ACRES Merry, odds crickets! she has been the belle and spirit of the company wherever she has been—so lively and entertaining! so full of wit and humour!
FAULKLAND There, Jack, there.—Oh, by my soul! there is an innate levity in woman, that nothing can overcome.—What! happy, and I away!
ABSOLUTE Have done.—How foolish this is! just now you were only apprehensive for your mistress' spirits.
FAULKLAND Why, Jack, have I been the joy and spirit of the company?
ABSOLUTE No, indeed, you have not.
FAULKLAND Have I been lively and entertaining?
ABSOLUTE Oh, upon my word, I acquit you.
FAULKLAND Have I been full of wit and humour?
ABSOLUTE No, faith, to do you justice, you have been confoundedly stupid indeed.
ACRES What's the matter with the gentleman?
ABSOLUTE He is only expressing his great satisfaction at hearing that Julia has been so well and happy—that's all—hey, Faulkland?
FAULKLAND Oh! I am rejoiced to hear it—yes, yes, she has a happy disposition!
ACRES That she has indeed—then she is so accomplished—so sweet a voice—so expert at her harpsichord—such a mistress of flat and sharp, squallante, rumblante, and quiverante!—There was this time month—odds minims and crotchets! how she did chirrup at Mrs. Piano's concert!
FAULKLAND There again, what say you to this? you see she has been all mirth and song—not a thought of me!
ABSOLUTE Pho! man, is not music the food of love?
FAULKLAND Well, well, it may be so.—Pray, Mr.—, what's his damned name?—Do you remember what songs Miss Melville sung?
ACRES Not I indeed.
ABSOLUTE Stay, now, they were some pretty melancholy purling-stream airs, I warrant; perhaps you may recollect;—did she sing, When absent from my soul's delight?
ACRES No, that wa'n't it.
ABSOLUTE Or, Go, gentle gales! [Sings.]
ACRES Oh, no! nothing like it. Odds! now I recollect one of them—My heart's my own, my will is free. [Sings.]
FAULKLAND Fool! fool that I am! to fix all my happiness on such a trifler! 'Sdeath! to make herself the pipe and ballad-monger of a circle! to soothe her light heart with catches and glees!—What can you say to this, sir?
ABSOLUTE Why, that I should be glad to hear my mistress had been so merry, sir.
FAULKLAND Nay, nay, nay—I'm not sorry that she has been happy—no, no, I am glad of that—I would not have had her sad or sick—yet surely a sympathetic heart would have shown itself even in the choice of a song—she might have been temperately healthy, and somehow, plaintively gay;—but she has been dancing too, I doubt not!
ACRES What does the gentleman say about dancing?
ABSOLUTE He says the lady we speak of dances as well as she sings.
ACRES Ay, truly, does she—there was at our last race ball——
FAULKLAND Hell and the devil! There!—there—I told you so! I told you so! Oh! she thrives in my absence!—Dancing! but her whole feelings have been in opposition with mine;—I have been anxious, silent, pensive, sedentary—my days have been hours of care, my nights of watchfulness.—She has been all health! spirit! laugh! song! dance!—Oh! damned, damned levity!
ABSOLUTE For Heaven's sake, Faulkland, don't expose yourself so!—Suppose she has danced, what then?—does not the ceremony of society often oblige ——
FAULKLAND Well, well, I'll contain myself—perhaps as you say—for form sake.—What, Mr. Acres, you were praising Miss Melville's manner of dancing a minuet—hey?
ACRES Oh, I dare insure her for that—but what I was going to speak of was her country-dancing. Odds swimmings! she has such an air with her!
FAULKLAND Now disappointment on her!—Defend this, Absolute; why don't you defend this?—Country-dances! jigs and reels! am I to blame now? A minuet I could have forgiven—I should not have minded that—I say I should not have regarded a minuet—but country-dances!—Zounds! had she made one in a cotillion—I believe I could have forgiven even that—but to be monkey-led for a night!—to run the gauntlet through a string of amorous palming puppies!—to show paces like a managed filly!—Oh, Jack, there never can be but one man in the world whom a truly modest and delicate woman ought to pair with in a country-dance; and, even then, the rest of the couples should be her great-uncles and aunts!
ABSOLUTE Ay, to be sure!—grandfathers and grandmothers!
FAULKLAND If there be but one vicious mind in the set, 'twill spread like a contagion—the action of their pulse beats to the lascivious movement of the jig—their quivering, warm-breathed sighs impregnate the very air—the atmosphere becomes electrical to love, and each amorous spark darts through every link of the chain!—I must leave you—I own I am somewhat flurried—and that confounded looby has perceived it. [Going.]
ABSOLUTE Nay, but stay, Faulkland, and thank Mr. Acres for his good news.
FAULKLAND Damn his news! [Exit.]
ABSOLUTE Ha! ha! ha! poor Faulkland five minutes since—"nothing on earth could give him a moment's uneasiness!"
ACRES The gentleman wa'n't angry at my praising his mistress, was he?
ABSOLUTE A little jealous, I believe, Bob.
ACRES You don't say so? Ha! ha! jealous of me—that's a good joke.
ABSOLUTE There's nothing strange in that, Bob; let me tell you, that sprightly grace and insinuating manner of yours will do some mischief among the girls here.
ACRES Ah! you joke—ha! ha! mischief—ha! ha! but you know I am not my own property, my dear Lydia has forestalled me. She could never abide me in the country, because I used to dress so badly—but odds frogs and tambours! I shan't take matters so here, now ancient madam has no voice in it: I'll make my old clothes know who's master. I shall straightway cashier the hunting-frock, and render my leather breeches incapable. My hair has been in training some time.
ACRES Ay—and tho'ff the side curls are a little restive, my hind-part takes it very kindly.
ABSOLUTE Ah, you'll polish, I doubt not.
ACRES Absolutely I propose so—then if I can find out this Ensign Beverley, odds triggers and flints! I'll make him know the difference o't.
ABSOLUTE Spoke like a man! But pray, Bob, I observe you have got an odd kind of a new method of swearing——
ACRES Ha! ha! you've taken notice of it—'tis genteel, isn't it!—I didn't invent it myself though; but a commander in our militia, a great scholar, I assure you, says that there is no meaning in the common oaths, and that nothing but their antiquity makes them respectable;—because, he says, the ancients would never stick to an oath or two, but would say, by Jove! or by Bacchus! or by Mars! or by Venus! or by Pallas, according to the sentiment: so that to swear with propriety, says my little major, the oath should be an echo to the sense; and this we call the oath referential, or sentimental swearing—ha! ha! 'tis genteel, isn't it?
ABSOLUTE Very genteel, and very new, indeed!—and I dare say will supplant all other figures of imprecation.
ACRES Ay, ay, the best terms will grow obsolete.—Damns have had their day.
FAG Sir, there is a gentleman below desires to see you.—Shall I show him into the parlour?
ABSOLUTE Ay—you may.
ACRES Well, I must be gone——
ABSOLUTE Stay; who is it, Fag?
FAG Your father, sir.
ABSOLUTE You puppy, why didn't you show him up directly?
ACRES You have business with Sir Anthony.—I expect a message from Mrs. Malaprop at my lodgings. I have sent also to my dear friend Sir Lucius O'Trigger. Adieu, Jack! we must meet at night, when you shall give me a dozen bumpers to little Lydia.
ABSOLUTE That I will with all my heart.——
Now for a parental lecture—I hope he has heard nothing of the business that brought me here—I wish the gout had held him fast in Devonshire, with all my soul!
[Enter Sir ANTHONY ABSOLUTE.]
Sir I am delighted to see you here; looking so well! your sudden arrival at Bath made me apprehensive for your health.
Sir ANTHONY Very apprehensive, I dare say, Jack.—What, you are recruiting here, hey?
ABSOLUTE Yes, sir, I am on duty.
Sir ANTHONY Well, Jack, I am glad to see you, though I did not expect it, for I was going to write to you on a little matter of business.—Jack, I have been considering that I grow old and infirm, and shall probably not trouble you long.
ABSOLUTE Pardon me, sir, I never saw you look more strong and hearty; and I pray frequently that you may continue so.
Sir ANTHONY I hope your prayers may be heard, with all my heart. Well, then, Jack, I have been considering that I am so strong and hearty I may continue to plague you a long time. Now, Jack, I am sensible that the income of your commission, and what I have hitherto allowed you, is but a small pittance for a lad of your spirit.
ABSOLUTE Sir, you are very good.
Sir ANTHONY And it is my wish, while yet I live, to have my boy make some figure in the world. I have resolved, therefore, to fix you at once in a noble independence.
ABSOLUTE Sir, your kindness overpowers me—such generosity makes the gratitude of reason more lively than the sensations even of filial affection.
Sir ANTHONY I am glad you are so sensible of my attention—and you shall be master of a large estate in a few weeks.
ABSOLUTE Let my future life, sir, speak my gratitude; I cannot express the sense I have of your munificence.—Yet, sir, I presume you would not wish me to quit the army?
Sir ANTHONY Oh, that shall be as your wife chooses.
ABSOLUTE My wife, sir!
Sir ANTHONY Ay, ay, settle that between you—settle that between you.
ABSOLUTE A wife, sir, did you say?
Sir ANTHONY Ay, a wife—why, did not I mention her before?
ABSOLUTE Not a word of her, sir.
Sir ANTHONY Odd so!—I mustn't forget her though.—Yes, Jack, the independence I was talking of is by marriage—the fortune is saddled with a wife—but I suppose that makes no difference.
ABSOLUTE Sir! sir!—you amaze me!
Sir ANTHONY Why, what the devil's the matter with the fool? Just now you were all gratitude and duty.
ABSOLUTE I was, sir,—you talked to me of independence and a fortune, but not a word of a wife.
Sir ANTHONY Why—what difference does that make? Odds life, sir! if you have the estate, you must take it with the live stock on it, as it stands.
ABSOLUTE If my happiness is to be the price, I must beg leave to decline the purchase.—Pray, sir, who is the lady?
Sir ANTHONY What's that to you, sir?—Come, give me your promise to love, and to marry her directly.
ABSOLUTE Sure, sir, this is not very reasonable, to summon my affections for a lady I know nothing of!
Sir ANTHONY I am sure, sir, 'tis more unreasonable in you to object to a lady you know nothing of.
ABSOLUTE Then, sir, I must tell you plainly that my inclinations are fixed on another—my heart is engaged to an angel.
Sir ANTHONY Then pray let it send an excuse. It is very sorry—but business prevents its waiting on her.
ABSOLUTE But my vows are pledged to her.
Sir ANTHONY Let her foreclose, Jack; let her foreclose; they are not worth redeeming; besides, you have the angel's vows in exchange, I suppose; so there can be no loss there.
ABSOLUTE You must excuse me, sir, if I tell you, once for all, that in this point I cannot obey you.
Sir ANTHONY Hark'ee, Jack;—I have heard you for some time with patience—I have been cool—quite cool; but take care—you know I am compliance itself—when I am not thwarted;—no one more easily led—when I have my own way;—but don't put me in a frenzy.
ABSOLUTE Sir, I must repeat it—in this I cannot obey you.
Sir ANTHONY Now damn me! if ever I call you Jack again while I live!
ABSOLUTE Nay, sir, but hear me.
Sir ANTHONY Sir, I won't hear a word—not a word! not one word! so give me your promise by a nod—and I'll tell you what, Jack—I mean, you dog—if you don't, by——
ABSOLUTE What, sir, promise to link myself to some mass of ugliness! to——
Sir ANTHONY Zounds! sirrah! the lady shall be as ugly as I choose: she shall have a hump on each shoulder; she shall be as crooked as the crescent; her one eye shall roll like the bull's in Cox's Museum; she shall have a skin like a mummy, and the beard of a Jew—she shall be all this, sirrah!—yet I will make you ogle her all day, and sit up all night to write sonnets on her beauty.
ABSOLUTE This is reason and moderation indeed!
Sir ANTHONY None of your sneering, puppy! no grinning, jackanapes!
ABSOLUTE Indeed, sir, I never was in a worse humour for mirth in my life.
Sir ANTHONY 'Tis false, sir, I know you are laughing in your sleeve; I know you'll grin when I am gone, sirrah!
ABSOLUTE Sir, I hope I know my duty better.
Sir ANTHONY None of your passion, sir! none of your violence, if you please!—It won't do with me, I promise you.
ABSOLUTE Indeed, sir, I never was cooler in my life.
Sir ANTHONY 'Tis a confounded lie!—I know you are in a passion in your heart; I know you are, you hypocritical young dog! but it won't do.
ABSOLUTE Nay, sir, upon my word——
Sir ANTHONY So you will fly out! can't you be cool like me? What the devil good can passion do?—Passion is of no service, you impudent, insolent, overbearing reprobate!—There, you sneer again! don't provoke me!—but you rely upon the mildness of my temper—you do, you dog! you play upon the meekness of my disposition!—Yet take care—the patience of a saint may be overcome at last!—but mark! I give you six hours and a half to consider of this: if you then agree, without any condition, to do every thing on earth that I choose, why—confound you! I may in time forgive you.—If not, zounds! don't enter the same hemisphere with me! don't dare to breathe the same air, or use the same light with me; but get an atmosphere and a sun of your own! I'll strip you of your commission; I'll lodge a five-and-threepence in the hands of trustees, and you shall live on the interest.—I'll disown you, I'll disinherit you, I'll unget you! and damn me! if ever I call you Jack again! [Exit.]
ABSOLUTE Mild, gentle, considerate father—I kiss your hands!—What a tender method of giving his opinion in these matters Sir Anthony has! I dare not trust him with the truth.—I wonder what old wealthy hag it is that he wants to bestow on me!—Yet he married himself for love! and was in his youth a bold intriguer, and a gay companion!
FAG Assuredly, sir, your father is wrath to a degree; he comes down stairs eight or ten steps at a time—muttering, growling, and thumping the banisters all the way: I and the cook's dog stand bowing at the door—rap! he gives me a stroke on the head with his cane; bids me carry that to my master; then kicking the poor turnspit into the area, damns us all, for a puppy triumvirate!—Upon my credit, sir, were I in your place, and found my father such very bad company, I should certainly drop his acquaintance.
ABSOLUTE Cease your impertinence, sir, at present.—Did you come in for nothing more?—Stand out of the way! [Pushes him aside, and exit.]
FAG So! Sir Anthony trims my master; he is afraid to reply to his father—then vents his spleen on poor Fag!—When one is vexed by one person, to revenge one's self on another, who happens to come in the way, is the vilest injustice! Ah! it shows the worst temper—the basest——
BOY Mr. Fag! Mr. Fag! your master calls you.
FAG Well, you little dirty puppy, you need not bawl so!—The meanest disposition! the——
BOY Quick, quick, Mr. Fag!
FAG Quick! quick! you impudent jackanapes! am I to be commanded by you too? you little impertinent, insolent, kitchen-bred—— [Exit kicking and beating him.]
* * * * * * *
Scene II.—The North Parade. [Enter LUCY.]
LUCY So—I shall have another rival to add to my mistress's list—Captain Absolute. However, I shall not enter his name till my purse has received notice in form. Poor Acres is dismissed!—Well, I have done him a last friendly office, in letting him know that Beverley was here before him.—Sir Lucius is generally more punctual, when he expects to hear from his dear Delia, as he calls her: I wonder he's not here!—I have a little scruple of conscience from this deceit; though I should not be paid so well, if my hero knew that Delia was near fifty, and her own mistress.
[Enter Sir LUCIUS O'TRIGGER.]
Sir LUCIUS Ha! my little ambassadress—upon my conscience, I have been looking for you; I have been on the South Parade this half hour.
LUCY [Speaking simply.] O gemini! and I have been waiting for your worship here on the North.
Sir LUCIUS Faith!—may be that was the reason we did not meet; and it is very comical too, how you could go out and I not see you—for I was only taking a nap at the Parade Coffee-house, and I chose the window on purpose that I might not miss you.
LUCY My stars! Now I'd wager a sixpence I went by while you were asleep.
Sir LUCIUS Sure enough it must have been so—and I never dreamt it was so late, till I waked. Well, but my little girl, have you got nothing for me?
LUCY Yes, but I have—I've got a letter for you in my pocket.
Sir LUCIUS O faith! I guessed you weren't come empty-handed—Well—let me see what the dear creature says.
LUCY There, Sir Lucius. [Gives him a letter.]
Sir LUCIUS [Reads.] Sir—there is often a sudden incentive impulse in love, that has a greater induction than years of domestic combination: such was the commotion I felt at the first superfluous view of Sir Lucius O'Trigger.—Very pretty, upon my word.—Female punctuation forbids me to say more, yet let me add, that it will give me joy infallible to find Sir Lucius worthy the last criterion of my affections. Delia. Upon my conscience! Lucy, your lady is a great mistress of language. Faith, she's quite the queen of the dictionary!—for the devil a word dare refuse coming at her call—though one would think it was quite out of hearing.
LUCY Ay, sir, a lady of her experience——
Sir LUCIUS Experience! what, at seventeen?
LUCY O true, sir—but then she reads so—my stars! how she will read off hand!
Sir LUCIUS Faith, she must be very deep read to write this way—though she is rather an arbitrary writer too—for here are a great many poor words pressed into the service of this note, that would get their habeas corpus from any court in Christendom.
LUCY Ah! Sir Lucius, if you were to hear how she talks of you!
Sir LUCIUS Oh, tell her I'll make her the best husband in the world, and Lady O'Trigger into the bargain!—But we must get the old gentlewoman's consent—and do every thing fairly.
LUCY Nay, Sir Lucius, I thought you wa'n't rich enough to be so nice!
Sir LUCIUS Upon my word, young woman, you have hit it:—I am so poor, that I can't afford to do a dirty action.—If I did not want money, I'd steal your mistress and her fortune with a great deal of pleasure.—However, my pretty girl, [Gives her money] here's a little something to buy you a ribbon; and meet me in the evening, and I'll give you an answer to this. So, hussy, take a kiss beforehand to put you in mind. [Kisses her.]
LUCY O Lud! Sir Lucius—I never seed such a gemman! My lady won't like you if you're so impudent.
Sir LUCIUS Faith she will, Lucy!—That same—pho! what's the name of it?—modesty—is a quality in a lover more praised by the women than liked; so, if your mistress asks you whether Sir Lucius ever gave you a kiss, tell her fifty—my dear.
LUCY What, would you have me tell her a lie?
Sir LUCIUS Ah, then, you baggage! I'll make it a truth presently.
LUCY For shame now! here is some one coming.
Sir LUCIUS Oh, faith, I'll quiet your conscience! [Exit, humming a tune.]
FAG So, so, ma'am! I humbly beg pardon.
LUCY O Lud! now, Mr. Fag—you flurry one so.
FAG Come, come, Lucy, here's no one by—so a little less simplicity, with a grain or two more sincerity, if you please.—You play false with us, madam.—I saw you give the baronet a letter.—My master shall know this—and if he don't call him out, I will.
LUCY Ha! ha! ha! you gentlemen's gentlemen are so hasty.—That letter was from Mrs. Malaprop, simpleton.—She is taken with Sir Lucius's address.
FAG How! what tastes some people have!—Why, I suppose I have walked by her window a hundred times.—But what says our young lady? any message to my master?
LUCY Sad news. Mr. Fag.—A worse rival than Acres! Sir Anthony Absolute has proposed his son.
FAG What, Captain Absolute?
LUCY Even so—I overheard it all.
FAG Ha! ha! ha! very good, faith. Good-bye, Lucy, I must away with this news.
LUCY Well, you may laugh—but it is true, I assure you.—[Going.] But, Mr. Fag, tell your master not to be cast down by this.
FAG Oh, he'll be so disconsolate!
LUCY And charge him not to think of quarrelling with young Absolute.
FAG Never fear! never fear!
LUCY Be sure—bid him keep up his spirits.
FAG We will—we will.
* * * * * * * * * * *
* * * * * * *
Scene I—The North Parade. [Enter CAPTAIN ABSOLUTE.]
ABSOLUTE 'Tis just as Fag told me, indeed. Whimsical enough, faith! My father wants to force me to marry the very girl I am plotting to run away with! He must not know of my connection with her yet awhile. He has too summary a method of proceeding in these matters. However, I'll read my recantation instantly. My conversion is something sudden, indeed—but I can assure him it is very sincere. So, so—here he comes. He looks plaguy gruff. [Steps aside.]
[Enter Sir ANTHONY ABSOLUTE.]
Sir ANTHONY No—I'll die sooner than forgive him. Die, did I say? I'll live these fifty years to plague him. At our last meeting, his impudence had almost put me out of temper. An obstinate, passionate, self-willed boy! Who can he take after? This is my return for getting him before all his brothers and sisters!—for putting him, at twelve years old, into a marching regiment, and allowing him fifty pounds a year, besides his pay, ever since! But I have done with him; he's anybody's son for me. I never will see him more, never—never—never.
ABSOLUTE [Aside, coming forward.] Now for a penitential face.
Sir ANTHONY Fellow, get out of my way!
ABSOLUTE Sir, you see a penitent before you.
Sir ANTHONY I see an impudent scoundrel before me.
ABSOLUTE A sincere penitent. I am come, sir, to acknowledge my error, and to submit entirely to your will.
Sir ANTHONY What's that?
ABSOLUTE I have been revolving, and reflecting, and considering on your past goodness, and kindness, and condescension to me.
Sir ANTHONY Well, sir?
ABSOLUTE I have been likewise weighing and balancing what you were pleased to mention concerning duty, and obedience, and authority.
Sir ANTHONY Well, puppy?
ABSOLUTE Why then, sir, the result of my reflections is—a resolution to sacrifice every inclination of my own to your satisfaction.
Sir ANTHONY Why now you talk sense—absolute sense—I never heard anything more sensible in my life. Confound you! you shall be Jack again.
ABSOLUTE I am happy in the appellation.
Sir ANTHONY Why then, Jack, my dear Jack, I will now inform you who the lady really is. Nothing but your passion and violence, you silly fellow, prevented my telling you at first. Prepare, Jack, for wonder and rapture—prepare. What think you of Miss Lydia Languish?
ABSOLUTE Languish! What, the Languishes of Worcestershire?
Sir ANTHONY Worcestershire! no. Did you never meet Mrs. Malaprop and her niece, Miss Languish, who came into our country just before you were last ordered to your regiment?
ABSOLUTE Malaprop! Languish! I don't remember ever to have heard the names before. Yet, stay—I think I do recollect something. Languish! Languish! She squints, don't she? A little red-haired girl?
Sir ANTHONY Squints! A red-haired girl! Zounds! no.
ABSOLUTE Then I must have forgot; it can't be the same person.
Sir ANTHONY Jack! Jack! what think you of blooming, love-breathing seventeen?
ABSOLUTE As to that, sir, I am quite indifferent. If I can please you in the matter, 'tis all I desire.
Sir ANTHONY Nay, but Jack, such eyes! such eyes! so innocently wild! so bashfully irresolute! not a glance but speaks and kindles some thought of love! Then, Jack, her cheeks! her cheeks, Jack! so deeply blushing at the insinuations of her tell-tale eyes! Then, Jack, her lips! O, Jack, lips smiling at their own discretion; and if not smiling, more sweetly pouting; more lovely in sullenness!
ABSOLUTE [Aside.] That's she, indeed. Well done, old gentleman.
Sir ANTHONY Then, Jack, her neck! O Jack! Jack!
ABSOLUTE And which is to be mine, sir, the niece, or the aunt?
Sir ANTHONY Why, you unfeeling, insensible puppy, I despise you! When I was of your age, such a description would have made me fly like a rocket! The aunt indeed! Odds life! when I ran away with your mother, I would not have touched anything old or ugly to gain an empire.
ABSOLUTE Not to please your father, sir?
Sir ANTHONY To please my father! zounds! not to please—Oh, my father—odd so!—yes—yes; if my father indeed had desired—that's quite another matter. Though he wa'n't the indulgent father that I am, Jack.
ABSOLUTE I dare say not, sir.
Sir ANTHONY But, Jack, you are not sorry to find your mistress is so beautiful?
ABSOLUTE Sir, I repeat it—if I please you in this affair, 'tis all I desire. Not that I think a woman the worse for being handsome; but, sir, if you please to recollect, you before hinted something about a hump or two, one eye, and a few more graces of that kind—now, without being very nice, I own I should rather choose a wife of mine to have the usual number of limbs, and a limited quantity of back: and though one eye may be very agreeable, yet as the prejudice has always run in favour of two, I would not wish to affect a singularity in that article.
Sir ANTHONY What a phlegmatic sot it is! Why, sirrah, you're an anchorite!—a vile, insensible stock. You a soldier!—you're a walking block, fit only to dust the company's regimentals on! Odds life! I have a great mind to marry the girl myself!
ABSOLUTE I am entirely at your disposal, sir: if you should think of addressing Miss Languish yourself, I suppose you would have me marry the aunt; or if you should change your mind, and take the old lady—'tis the same to me—I'll marry the niece.
Sir ANTHONY Upon my word, Jack, thou'rt either a very great hypocrite, or—but, come, I know your indifference on such a subject must be all a lie—I'm sure it must—come, now—damn your demure face!—come, confess Jack—you have been lying, ha'n't you? You have been playing the hypocrite, hey!—I'll never forgive you, if you ha'n't been lying and playing the hypocrite.
ABSOLUTE I'm sorry, sir, that the respect and duty which I bear to you should be so mistaken.
Sir ANTHONY Hang your respect and duty! But come along with me, I'll write a note to Mrs. Malaprop, and you shall visit the lady directly. Her eyes shall be the Promethean torch to you—come along, I'll never forgive you, if you don't come back stark mad with rapture and impatience—if you don't, egad, I will marry the girl myself!
* * * * * * *
Scene II—JULIA's Dressing-room. [FAULKLAND discovered alone.]
FAULKLAND They told me Julia would return directly; I wonder she is not yet come! How mean does this captious, unsatisfied temper of mine appear to my cooler judgment! Yet I know not that I indulge it in any other point: but on this one subject, and to this one subject, whom I think I love beyond my life, I am ever ungenerously fretful and madly capricious! I am conscious of it—yet I cannot correct myself! What tender honest joy sparkled in her eyes when we met! how delicate was the warmth of her expression! I was ashamed to appear less happy—though I had come resolved to wear a face of coolness and upbraiding. Sir Anthony's presence prevented my proposed expostulations: yet I must be satisfied that she has not been so very happy in my absence. She is coming! Yes!—I know the nimbleness of her tread, when she thinks her impatient Faulkland counts the moments of her stay.
JULIA I had not hoped to see you again so soon.
FAULKLAND Could I, Julia, be contented with my first welcome—restrained as we were by the presence of a third person?
JULIA O Faulkland, when your kindness can make me thus happy, let me not think that I discovered something of coldness in your first salutation.
FAULKLAND 'Twas but your fancy, Julia. I was rejoiced to see you—to see you in such health. Sure I had no cause for coldness?
JULIA Nay, then, I see you have taken something ill. You must not conceal from me what it is.
FAULKLAND Well, then—shall I own to you that my joy at hearing of your health and arrival here, by your neighbour Acres, was somewhat damped by his dwelling much on the high spirits you had enjoyed in Devonshire—on your mirth—your singing—dancing, and I know not what! For such is my temper, Julia, that I should regard every mirthful moment in your absence as a treason to constancy. The mutual tear that steals down the cheek of parting lovers is a compact, that no smile shall live there till they meet again.
JULIA Must I never cease to tax my Faulkland with this teasing minute caprice? Can the idle reports of a silly boor weigh in your breast against my tried affections?
FAULKLAND They have no weight with me, Julia: No, no—I am happy if you have been so—yet only say, that you did not sing with mirth—say that you thought of Faulkland in the dance.
JULIA I never can be happy in your absence. If I wear a countenance of content, it is to show that my mind holds no doubt of my Faulkland's truth. If I seemed sad, it were to make malice triumph; and say, that I had fixed my heart on one, who left me to lament his roving, and my own credulity. Believe me, Faulkland, I mean not to upbraid you, when I say, that I have often dressed sorrow in smiles, lest my friends should guess whose unkindness had caused my tears.
FAULKLAND You were ever all goodness to me. Oh, I am a brute, when I but admit a doubt of your true constancy!
JULIA If ever without such cause from you, as I will not suppose possible, you find my affections veering but a point, may I become a proverbial scoff for levity and base ingratitude.
FAULKLAND Ah! Julia, that last word is grating to me. I would I had no title to your gratitude! Search your heart, Julia; perhaps what you have mistaken for love, is but the warm effusion of a too thankful heart.
JULIA For what quality must I love you?
FAULKLAND For no quality! To regard me for any quality of mind or understanding, were only to esteem me. And for person—I have often wished myself deformed, to be convinced that I owed no obligation there for any part of your affection.
JULIA Where nature has bestowed a show of nice attention in the features of a man, he should laugh at it as misplaced. I have seen men, who in this vain article, perhaps, might rank above you; but my heart has never asked my eyes if it were so or not.
FAULKLAND Now this is not well from you, Julia—I despise person in a man—yet if you loved me as I wish, though I were an AEthiop, you'd think none so fair.
JULIA I see you are determined to be unkind! The contract which my poor father bound us in gives you more than a lover's privilege.
FAULKLAND Again, Julia, you raise ideas that feed and justify my doubts. I would not have been more free—no—I am proud of my restraint. Yet—yet—perhaps your high respect alone for this solemn compact has fettered your inclinations, which else had made a worthier choice. How shall I be sure, had you remained unbound in thought and promise, that I should still have been the object of your persevering love?
JULIA Then try me now. Let us be free as strangers as to what is past: my heart will not feel more liberty!
FAULKLAND There now! so hasty, Julia! so anxious to be free! If your love for me were fixed and ardent, you would not lose your hold, even though I wished it!
JULIA Oh! you torture me to the heart! I cannot bear it.
FAULKLAND I do not mean to distress you. If I loved you less I should never give you an uneasy moment. But hear me. All my fretful doubts arise from this. Women are not used to weigh and separate the motives of their affections: the cold dictates of prudence, gratitude, or filial duty, may sometimes be mistaken for the pleadings of the heart. I would not boast—yet let me say, that I have neither age, person, nor character, to found dislike on; my fortune such as few ladies could be charged with indiscretion in the match. O Julia! when love receives such countenance from prudence, nice minds will be suspicious of its birth.
JULIA I know not whither your insinuations would tend:—but as they seem pressing to insult me, I will spare you the regret of having done so.—I have given you no cause for this! [Exit in tears.]
FAULKLAND In tears! Stay, Julia: stay but for a moment.—The door is fastened!—Julia!—my soul—but for one moment!—I hear her sobbing!—'Sdeath! what a brute am I to use her thus! Yet stay!—Ay—she is coming now:—how little resolution there is in a woman!—how a few soft words can turn them!—No, faith!—she is not coming either.—Why, Julia—my love—say but that you forgive me—come but to tell me that—now this is being too resentful. Stay! she is coming too—I thought she would—no steadiness in anything: her going away must have been a mere trick then—she shan't see that I was hurt by it.—I'll affect indifference—[Hums a tune; then listens.] No—zounds! she's not coming!—nor don't intend it, I suppose.—This is not steadiness, but obstinacy! Yet I deserve it.—What, after so long an absence to quarrel with her tenderness!—'twas barbarous and unmanly!—I should be ashamed to see her now.—I'll wait till her just resentment is abated—and when I distress her so again, may I lose her for ever! and be linked instead to some antique virago, whose gnawing passions, and long hoarded spleen, shall make me curse my folly half the day and all the night. [Exit.]
* * * * * * *
Scene III—Mrs. MALAPROP's Lodgings. [Mrs. MALAPROP, with a letter in her hand, and CAPTAIN ABSOLUTE.]
Mrs. MALAPROP Your being Sir Anthony's son, captain, would itself be a sufficient accommodation; but from the ingenuity of your appearance, I am convinced you deserve the character here given of you.
ABSOLUTE Permit me to say, madam, that as I never yet have had the pleasure of seeing Miss Languish, my principal inducement in this affair at present is the honour of being allied to Mrs. Malaprop; of whose intellectual accomplishments, elegant manners, and unaffected learning, no tongue is silent.
Mrs. MALAPROP Sir, you do me infinite honour! I beg, captain, you'll be seated.—[They sit.] Ah! few gentlemen, now-a-days, know how to value the ineffectual qualities in a woman! few think how a little knowledge becomes a gentlewoman!—Men have no sense now but for the worthless flower of beauty!
ABSOLUTE It is but too true, indeed, ma'am;—yet I fear our ladies should share the blame—they think our admiration of beauty so great, that knowledge in them would be superfluous. Thus, like garden-trees, they seldom show fruit, till time has robbed them of the more specious blossom.—Few, like Mrs. Malaprop and the orange-tree, are rich in both at once!
Mrs. MALAPROP Sir, you overpower me with good-breeding.—He is the very pine-apple of politeness!—You are not ignorant, captain, that this giddy girl has somehow contrived to fix her affections on a beggarly, strolling, eaves-dropping ensign, whom none of us have seen, and nobody knows anything of.
ABSOLUTE Oh, I have heard the silly affair before.—I'm not at all prejudiced against her on that account.
Mrs. MALAPROP You are very good and very considerate, captain. I am sure I have done everything in my power since I exploded the affair; long ago I laid my positive conjunctions on her, never to think on the fellow again;—I have since laid Sir Anthony's preposition before her; but, I am sorry to say, she seems resolved to decline every particle that I enjoin her.
ABSOLUTE It must be very distressing, indeed, ma'am.
Mrs. MALAPROP Oh! it gives me the hydrostatics to such a degree.—I thought she had persisted from corresponding with him; but, behold, this very day, I have interceded another letter from the fellow; I believe I have it in my pocket.
ABSOLUTE [Aside.] Oh, the devil! my last note.
Mrs. MALAPROP Ay, here it is.
ABSOLUTE [Aside.] Ay, my note indeed! O the little traitress Lucy.
Mrs. MALAPROP There, perhaps you may know the writing. [Gives him the letter.]
ABSOLUTE I think I have seen the hand before—yes, I certainly must have seen this hand before——
Mrs. MALAPROP Nay, but read it, captain.
ABSOLUTE [Reads.] My soul's idol, my adored Lydia!—Very tender, indeed!
Mrs. MALAPROP Tender! ay, and profane too, o' my conscience.
ABSOLUTE [Reads.] I am excessively alarmed at the intelligence you send me, the more so as my new rival——
Mrs. MALAPROP That's you, sir.
ABSOLUTE [Reads.] Has universally the character of being an accomplished gentleman and a man of honour.—Well, that's handsome enough.
Mrs. MALAPROP Oh, the fellow has some design in writing so.
ABSOLUTE That he had, I'll answer for him, ma'am.
Mrs. MALAPROP But go on, sir—you'll see presently.
ABSOLUTE [Reads.] As for the old weather-beaten she-dragon who guards you—Who can he mean by that?
Mrs. MALAPROP Me, sir!—me!—he means me!—There—what do you think now?—but go on a little further.
ABSOLUTE Impudent scoundrel!—[Reads.] it shall go hard but I will elude her vigilance, as I am told that the same ridiculous vanity, which makes her dress up her coarse features, and deck her dull chat with hard words which she don't understand——
Mrs. MALAPROP There, sir, an attack upon my language! what do you think of that?—an aspersion upon my parts of speech! was ever such a brute! Sure, if I reprehend any thing in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!
ABSOLUTE He deserves to be hanged and quartered! let me see—[Reads.] same ridiculous vanity——
Mrs. MALAPROP You need not read it again, sir.
ABSOLUTE I beg pardon, ma'am.—[Reads.] does also lay her open to the grossest deceptions from flattery and pretended admiration—an impudent coxcomb!—so that I have a scheme to see you shortly with the old harridan's consent, and even to make her a go-between in our interview.—Was ever such assurance!
Mrs. MALAPROP Did you ever hear anything like it?—he'll elude my vigilance, will he—yes, yes! ha! ha! he's very likely to enter these doors;—we'll try who can plot best!
ABSOLUTE So we will, ma'am—so we will! Ha! ha! ha! a conceited puppy, ha! ha! ha!—Well, but Mrs. Malaprop, as the girl seems so infatuated by this fellow, suppose you were to wink at her corresponding with him for a little time—let her even plot an elopement with him—then do you connive at her escape—while I, just in the nick, will have the fellow laid by the heels, and fairly contrive to carry her off in his stead.
Mrs. MALAPROP I am delighted with the scheme; never was anything better perpetrated!
ABSOLUTE But, pray, could not I see the lady for a few minutes now?—I should like to try her temper a little.
Mrs. MALAPROP Why, I don't know—I doubt she is not prepared for a visit of this kind. There is a decorum in these matters.
ABSOLUTE O Lord! she won't mind me—only tell her Beverley——
Mrs. MALAPROP Sir!
ABSOLUTE [Aside.] Gently, good tongue.
Mrs. MALAPROP What did you say of Beverley?
ABSOLUTE Oh, I was going to propose that you should tell her, by way of jest, that it was Beverley who was below; she'd come down fast enough then—ha! ha! ha!
Mrs. MALAPROP 'Twould be a trick she well deserves; besides, you know the fellow tells her he'll get my consent to see her—ha! ha! Let him if he can, I say again. Lydia, come down here!—[Calling.] He'll make me a go-between in their interviews!—ha! ha! ha! Come down, I say, Lydia! I don't wonder at your laughing, ha! ha! ha! his impudence is truly ridiculous.
ABSOLUTE 'Tis very ridiculous, upon my soul, ma'am, ha! ha! ha!
Mrs. MALAPROP The little hussy won't hear. Well, I'll go and tell her at once who it is—she shall know that Captain Absolute is come to wait on her. And I'll make her behave as becomes a young woman.
ABSOLUTE As you please, ma'am.
Mrs. MALAPROP For the present, captain, your servant. Ah! you've not done laughing yet, I see—elude my vigilance; yes, yes; ha! ha! ha! [Exit.]
ABSOLUTE Ha! ha! ha! one would think now that I might throw off all disguise at once, and seize my prize with security; but such is Lydia's caprice, that to undeceive were probably to lose her. I'll see whether she knows me. [Walks aside, and seems engaged in looking at the pictures.]
LYDIA What a scene am I now to go through! surely nothing can be more dreadful than to be obliged to listen to the loathsome addresses of a stranger to one's heart. I have heard of girls persecuted as I am, who have appealed in behalf of their favoured lover to the generosity of his rival—suppose I were to try it—there stands the hated rival—an officer too!—but oh, how unlike my Beverley! I wonder he don't begin—truly he seems a very negligent wooer!—quite at his ease, upon my word!—I'll speak first—Mr. Absolute.
ABSOLUTE Ma'am. [Turns round.]
LYDIA O heavens! Beverley!
ABSOLUTE Hush;—hush, my life! softly! be not surprised!
LYDIA I am so astonished! and so terrified! and so overjoyed!—for Heaven's sake! how came you here?
ABSOLUTE Briefly, I have deceived your aunt—I was informed that my new rival was to visit here this evening, and contriving to have him kept away, have passed myself on her for Captain Absolute.
LYDIA O charming! And she really takes you for young Absolute?
ABSOLUTE Oh, she's convinced of it.
LYDIA Ha! ha! ha! I can't forbear laughing to think how her sagacity is overreached!
ABSOLUTE But we trifle with our precious moments—such another opportunity may not occur; then let me now conjure my kind, my condescending angel, to fix the time when I may rescue her from undeserving persecution, and with a licensed warmth plead for my reward.
LYDIA Will you then, Beverley, consent to forfeit that portion of my paltry wealth?—that burden on the wings of love?
ABSOLUTE Oh, come to me—rich only thus—in loveliness! Bring no portion to me but thy love—'twill be generous in you, Lydia—for well you know, it is the only dower your poor Beverley can repay.
LYDIA [Aside.] How persuasive are his words!—how charming will poverty be with him!
ABSOLUTE Ah! my soul, what a life will we then live! Love shall be our idol and support! we will worship him with a monastic strictness; abjuring all worldly toys, to centre every thought and action there. Proud of calamity, we will enjoy the wreck of wealth; while the surrounding gloom of adversity shall make the flame of our pure love show doubly bright. By Heavens! I would fling all goods of fortune from me with a prodigal hand, to enjoy the scene where I might clasp my Lydia to my bosom, and say, the world affords no smile to me but here—[Embracing her.] [Aside.] If she holds out now, the devil is in it!
LYDIA [Aside.] Now could I fly with him to the antipodes! but my persecution is not yet come to a crisis.
[Re-enter Mrs. MALAPROP, listening.]
Mrs. MALAPROP [Aside.] I am impatient to know how the little hussy deports herself.
ABSOLUTE So pensive, Lydia!—is then your warmth abated?
Mrs. MALAPROP [Aside.] Warmth abated!—so!—she has been in a passion, I suppose.
LYDIA No—nor ever can while I have life.
Mrs. MALAPROP [Aside.] An ill tempered little devil! She'll be in a passion all her life—will she?
LYDIA Think not the idle threats of my ridiculous aunt can ever have any weight with me.
Mrs. MALAPROP [Aside.] Very dutiful, upon my word!
LYDIA Let her choice be Captain Absolute, but Beverley is mine.
Mrs. MALAPROP [Aside.] I am astonished at her assurance!—to his face—this is to his face!
ABSOLUTE Thus then let me enforce my suit. [Kneeling.]
Mrs. MALAPROP [Aside.] Ay, poor young man!—down on his knees entreating for pity!—I can contain no longer.—[Coming forward.] Why, thou vixen!—I have overheard you.
ABSOLUTE [Aside.] Oh, confound her vigilance!
Mrs. MALAPROP Captain Absolute, I know not how to apologize for her shocking rudeness.
ABSOLUTE [Aside.] So all's safe, I find.—[Aloud.] I have hopes, madam, that time will bring the young lady——
Mrs. MALAPROP Oh, there's nothing to be hoped for from her! she's as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of Nile.
LYDIA Nay, madam, what do you charge me with now?
Mrs. MALAPROP Why, thou unblushing rebel—didn't you tell this gentleman to his face that you loved another better?—didn't you say you never would be his?
LYDIA No, madam—I did not.
Mrs. MALAPROP Good heavens! what assurance!—Lydia, Lydia, you ought to know that lying don't become a young woman!—Didn't you boast that Beverley, that stroller Beverley, possessed your heart?—Tell me that, I say.
LYDIA 'Tis true, ma'am, and none but Beverley——
Mrs. MALAPROP Hold!—hold, Assurance!—you shall not be so rude.
ABSOLUTE Nay, pray, Mrs. Malaprop, don't stop the young lady's speech: she's very welcome to talk thus—it does not hurt me in the least, I assure you.
Mrs. MALAPROP You are too good, captain—too amiably patient—but come with me, miss.—Let us see you again soon, captain—remember what we have fixed.
ABSOLUTE I shall, ma'am.
Mrs. MALAPROP Come, take a graceful leave of the gentleman.
LYDIA May every blessing wait on my Beverley, my loved Bev——
Mrs. MALAPROP Hussy! I'll choke the word in your throat!—come along—come along.
[Exeunt severally; CAPTAIN ABSOLUTE kissing his hand to LYDIA—Mrs. MALAPROP stopping her from speaking.]
* * * * * * *
Scene IV—ACRES' Lodgings. [ACRES, as just dressed, and DAVID.]
ACRES Indeed, David—do you think I become it so?
DAVID You are quite another creature, believe me, master, by the mass! an' we've any luck we shall see the Devon mon kerony in all the print-shops in Bath!
ACRES Dress does make a difference, David.
DAVID 'Tis all in all, I think.—Difference! why, an' you were to go now to Clod-Hall, I am certain the old lady wouldn't know you: Master Butler wouldn't believe his own eyes, and Mrs. Pickle would cry, Lard presarve me! our dairy-maid would come giggling to the door, and I warrant Dolly Tester, your honour's favourite, would blush like my waistcoat.—Oons! I'll hold a gallon, there ain't a dog in the house but would bark, and I question whether Phillis would wag a hair of her tail!
ACRES Ay, David, there's nothing like polishing.
DAVID So I says of your honour's boots; but the boy never heeds me!
ACRES But, David, has Mr. De-la-grace been here? I must rub up my balancing, and chasing, and boring.
DAVID I'll call again, sir.
ACRES Do—and see if there are any letters for me at the post-office.
DAVID I will.—By the mass, I can't help looking at your head!—if I hadn't been by at the cooking, I wish I may die if I should have known the dish again myself! [Exit.]