The School for Scandal

By Richard Brinsley Sheridan.


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Early in the spring of 1776 Richard Brinsley Sheridan succeeded David Garrick as the manager of Drury Lane Theatre. Within a little more than a year Sheridan had brought out the Rivals a comedy in five acts, St. Patrick’s Day, a farce in one act, and the Duenna, an opera in three acts. Great expectations were excited by the announcement of his first play at his own theatre. The production of the Trip to Scarborough in February, 1777, was only a temporary disappointment, for it was soon noised abroad that a more important comedy in five acts was in preparation. At last, on May 8, 1777, the School for Scandal was acted for the first time on any stage.

Garrick had read the play, and he thought even more highly of it than he had thought of Mrs. Sheridan’s Discovery many years before. He aided the author with much practical advice, and volunteered to write the prologue, a form of composition for which his lively fancy and neat versification were particularly suited. The great hopes excited for the comedy barely escaped disappointment⁠—for on the night before the first performance, as Sheridan told the House of Commons many years later, he was informed that it could not be performed, as a license was refused. It happened at this time there was the famous city contest for the office of chamberlain, between Wilkes and Hopkins. The latter had been charged with some practices similar to those of Moses, the Jew, in lending money to young men under age, and it was supposed that the character of the play was levelled at him, in order to injure him in his contest, in which he was supported by the ministerial interest. In the warmth of a contested election, the piece was represented as a factious and seditious opposition to a court candidate. The author, however, went to Lord Hertford, then lord chamberlain, who laughed at the affair and gave the license. Sheridan told Lord Byron that the next night, after the grand success of the School for Scandal, he was knocked down and taken to the watch-house, for making a row in the street, and being found intoxicated by the watchman.

Perhaps this was only a bit of Hibernian hyperbole, though a man’s head might well reel under a triumph so overwhelming. There seems to have been hardly a dissenting voice. Merry⁠—Della-Cruscan Merry, the future husband of Miss Brunton, who, under his name, was afterward the leading actress of America did, it is true, object to the great scandal-scene. “Why do not the dramatis persona,” he said, “stop talking, and let the play go on?” The comedy was a success from the rising of the curtain, but it was the falling of the screen⁠—although Garrick thought the actors stood a little too long without moving⁠—which raised the audience to the highest degree of enthusiasm. Reynolds, the dramatist, relates that as he was passing about nine on this evening through the pit-passage, “I heard such a tremendous noise over my head that, fearing the theatre was proceeding to fall about it, I ran for my life; but found the next morning that the noise did not arise from the falling of the house, but from the falling of the screen in the fourth act, so violent and tumultuous were the applause and laughter.”

The singular success of the School for Scandal seems to have been greatly aided by the unusual excellence of the acting. Charles Lamb says, “No piece was ever so completely cast in all its parts as this manager’s comedy.” Sheridan chose his performers, and modified his play, if needed, to suit their peculiarities, with the same shrewdness that he showed in all such matters. When reproached with not having written a love-scene for Charles and Maria, he said that it was because neither Mr. Smith nor Miss P. Hopkins (who played the parts) was an adept at stage lovemaking. King, the original Lord Ogleby in the Clandestine Marriage⁠—a part written by Garrick himself⁠—was Sir Peter; and Mrs. Abington was Lady Teazle. No one was better suited than John Palmer, from whom Sheridan may well have derived some hints of Joseph Surface; Boaden relates a characteristic interview between him and the manager, when he returned to the theatre after an escapade. “My dear Mr. Sheridan,” began the actor, with clasped hands and penitent humility, “if you could but know what I feel at this moment here!” laying one hand upon his heart. Sheridan, with his usual quickness, stopped him at once: “Why, Jack, you forgot I wrote it!” Palmer declared that the manager’s wit cost him something, “for I made him add three pounds per week to the salary I had before my desertion.” The other actors were hardly inferior to King and Palmer. Parsons, afterward the original Sir Fretful Plagiary, was Crabtree; and Dodd, who has been called “the Prince of Pink Heels and Soul of Empty Eminence,” was Sir Benjamin Backbite. The various characters fitted the actors who played them with the most exact nicety; and the result was a varied and harmonious performance of the entire comedy. The acting showed the smoothness, and the symmetry, and the due subordination of the parts to the whole, which is the highest, and, alas! the rarest of dramatic excellences. Walpole has noted that there were more parts better played in the School for Scandal than he almost ever remembered to have seen in any other play; and Charles Lamb thought it “some compensation for growing old, to have seen the School for Scandal in its glory.”

Dr. Watkins, in his unnecessary biography of Sheridan, saw fit to insinuate therein that Sheridan was not the real author of the School for Scandal, but that it was the composition of a young lady, daughter of a merchant in Thames Street, who had left it with Sheridan for his judgment as a manager, “soon after which the fair writer, who was then in a state of decline, went to Bristol Hot-Wells, where she died.”

Pope well knew the type to which this Dr. Watkins belonged (“with him most authors steal their works or buy; Garth did not write his own Dispensary”); and the story which Pope crippled, as if by anticipation, Moore readily brought to ground by the publication of the earlier and inchoate suggestions from which Sheridan finally formed the finished play. With the evidence of these growing and gathering fragments before us, we can trace the inception of the idea, and the slow accretion by which it got rounded at last into its present complex symmetry. Moore fills page after page of his life of Sheridan with extracts from the notes and drafts of two distinct plays one containing the machinery of the scandalous college, to have been called possibly the Slanderers, and the other setting before us the Teazles and the Surfaces. This latter was, perhaps, the two-act comedy which Sheridan announced to Mr. Linley in 1775, as being in preparation for the stage. The gradual amalgamation of these two distinct plots, the growth of the happy thought of using the malevolent tittle-tattle of the first play as a background to set off the intrigues of the second, can be clearly traced in the extracts given by Moore. In the eyes of some small critics this revelation of Sheridan’s laborious method of working, this exhibition of the chips of his workshop has had a lowering effect on their opinion of Sheridan’s ability. It is, perhaps, his own fault, for he affected laziness and sought the reputation of an offhand wit. But the School for Scandal is obviously not a spontaneous improvisation. Its symmetrical smoothness and perfect polish cost great labour. It did not spring full armed from the brain of Jove;⁠—Jupiter was a god, and mere mortals must cudgel their poor brains long years to bring forth wisdom. No masterpiece was ever dashed off hurriedly. The power of hard work, and the willingness to take pains, are among the attributes of the highest genius. Balzac had them; he spent the whole of one long winter night on a single sentence. So had Sheridan; he told Ridgeway, to who he had sold the copyright of this very play, and who asked for the manuscript again and again in vain, that he had been for nineteen years endeavouring to satisfy himself with the style of the School for Scandal but had not yet succeeded. A diamond of the first water, like this, is worth careful cutting⁠—and even the chips are of value. Those given to the world by Moore are curious in themselves, independent of their use in disproving the charge of literary larceny preferred by Dr. Watkins.

Since the publication of these extracts, those who seek to discredit Sheridan’s originality have shifted their ground, and content themselves with drawing attention to the singular similarity of Joseph and Charles to Tom Jones and Blifil. They also remark upon the likeness of the scandal-scene to a satirical episode in the Misanthrope of Molière, and on the likeness of Joseph Surface to Tartuffe. Taine, who seems sometimes to speak slightingly of Sheridan, puts this accusation into most effective shape: “Sheridan took two characters from Fielding, Blifil and Tom Jones, two plays of Molière, Le Misanthrope and Tartuffe, and from his puissant materials, condensed with admirable cleverness, he has constructed the most brilliant fireworks imaginable.”

A glance at the play itself will show this to be a most exaggerated statement. The use of Molière and Fielding is far sljghter than alleged; and at most to what does it all amount? But little more than the outline and faint colouring of two characters, and of a very few incidents. While the play could not exist without them, they are far from the most important. Lady Teazle and Sir Peter, the screenscene and the auction-scene⁠—these are what made the success of the School for Scandal, and not what Sheridan may have derived from Fielding and Molière. Nor is this borrowing at all as extensive as it may seem. Joseph is a hypocrite⁠—so is Tartuffe, so is Blifil; but there are hypocrites, and hypocrites, and the resemblance can scarcely be stretched much farther. The rather rustic and⁠—if the word may be risked⁠—vulgar Tom Jones is as unlike as may be to that light and easy gentleman Charles. Yet it seems probable that Sheridan found in Tom Jones the first idea of the contrasted brothers of the School for Scandal. Boaden has even seen the embryonic suggestion of the fall of the screen in the dropping of the rug in Molly Seagrim’s room, discovering the philosopher Square. Now, Sheridan had a marvellous power of assimilation. He extended a ready welcome to all floating seeds of thought; and in his fertile brain they would speedily spring up, bringing forth the best they could. But to evolve from the petty discomfiture of Square the almost unequalled effect of the screen-scene⁠—to see in the one the germs of the other⁠—were a task worthy even of Sheridan’s quick eye. The indebtedness to Molière is even less than to Fielding. We may put on one side Sheridan’s ignorance of French⁠—for in Colley Cibber’s Non-Juror, or in Bickerstaff’s Hypocrite, he could find Molière’s Tartuffe; and the scandal-loving Celimene of the Misanthrope, he might trace in Wycherley’s Plain-Dealer. If Sheridan had borrowed from Molière he was only following in the footsteps of his father, whose sole play, Captain O’Blunder, is based on Monsieur de Pourceaugnac. But Sheridan’s indebtedness to Molière is barely visible. It is almost as slight, indeed, as the borrowing from the School for Scandal of which Madame de Girardin was guilty for her fine comedy, Lady Tartuffe. In any case, Sheridan’s indebtedness is less to the Misanthrope than to Tartuffe⁠—and even here there is little resemblance beyond the generic likeness of all hypocrites. This resemblance, such as it is, the French adapters of the School for Scandal chose to emphasize by calling their version the Tartuffe des Moeurs.

Although Sheridan was in general original in incident, he unhesitatingly made use of any happy phrases or effective locutions which struck his fancy in the course of his readings. He willingly distilled the perfume from a predecessor’s flower; and it was with pleasure that he cut and set the gem which an earlier writer may have brought to light. Witty himself, he could boldly conquer and annex the wit of others, sure to increase its value by his orderly government. This can perhaps be justified on the ground that the rich can borrow with impunity; or, deeming wit his patrimony, Sheridan may have felt that, taking it, he was but come into his own again; as Molière said, “I take my own where I find it.” In the preface to the Rivals, however, Sheridan has chosen to meet the charge of plagiarism. “Faded ideas,” he said, “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.” It is a curious coincidence that this very passage is quoted by Burgoyne to explain his accidental adoption, in the Heiress, of an image of Ariosto’s and Rousseau’s, which Byron did not scruple to use again in his monody on Sheridan himself:⁠—

“Sighing that Nature formed but one such man,
And broke the die in moulding Sheridan.”

In the School for Scandal the construction, the ordering of the scenes, the development of the elaborate plot, is much better than in the comedies of any of Sheridan’s contemporaries. A play in those days need not reveal a complete and self-contained plot. Great laxity of episode was not only permitted, but almost praised; and that Sheridan, with a subject which lent itself so readily to digression, should have limited himself as he did, shows his exact appreciation of the source of dramatic effect. But it must be confessed that the construction of the School for Scandal when measured by our modern standards, seems a little loose⁠—a little diffuse, perhaps. It shows the welding of the two distinct plots. There can hardly be seen in it the ruling of a dominant idea, subordinating all the parts to the effect of the whole. But, although the two original motives have been united mechanically, although they have not flowed and fused together in the hot spurt of homogeneous inspiration, the joining has been so carefully concealed, and the whole structure has been overlaid with so much wit, that few people after seeing the play would care to complain. The wit is ceaseless; and wit like Sheridan’s would cover sins of construction far greater than those of the School for Scandal. It is “steeped in the very brine of conceit, and sparkles like salt in the fire.”

In his conception of character Sheridan was a wit rather than a humorist. He created character by a distinctly intellectual process; he did not bring it forth out of the depths, as it were, of his own being. His humour⁠—fine and dry as it was⁠—was the humour of the wit. He had little or none of the rich and juicy, nay, almost oily humour of Falstaff, for instance. His wit was the wit of common-sense, like Jerrold’s or Sydney Smith’s; it was not wit informed with imagination, like Shakespeare’s wit. But this is only to say again that Sheridan was not one of the few worldwide and all-embracing geniuses. He was one of those almost equally few who in their own line, limited though it may be, are unsurpassed. It has been said that poets⁠—among whom dramatists are entitled to stand⁠—may be divided into three classes: those who can say one thing in one way⁠—these are the great majority; those who can say one thing in many ways⁠—even these are not so many as they would be reckoned generally; and those who can say many things in many ways⁠—these are the chosen few, the scant half-dozen who hold the higher peak of Parnassus. In the front rank of the second class stood Sheridan. The one thing he had was wit⁠—and of this in all its forms he was master. His wit in general had a metallic smartness and a crystalline coldness; it rarely lifts us from the real to the ideal; and yet the whole comedy is in one sense, at least, idealized; it bears, in fact, the resemblance to real life that a well-cut diamond has to a drop of water.

Yet, the play is not wholly cold. Sheridan’s wit could be genial as well as icy⁠—of which there could be no better proof than the success with which he has enlisted our sympathies for the characters of his comedy. Sir Peter Teazle is an old fool, who has married a young wife; but we are all glad when we see a prospect of his future happiness. Lady Teazle is flighty and foolish; and yet we cannot help but like her. Charles we all wish well; and as for Joseph, we feel from the first so sure of his ultimate discomfiture, that we are ready to let him off with the light punishment of exposure. There are, it is true, here and there blemishes to be detected on the general surface, an occasional hardness of feeling, an apparent lack, at times, of taste and delicacy⁠—for instance, the bloodthirsty way in which the scandalmongers pounce upon their prey, the almost brutal expression by Lady Teazle of her willingness to be a widow, the ironical speech of Charles after the fall of the screen; but these are more the fault of the age than of the author.

The great defect of the School for Scandal⁠—the one thing which shows the difference between a comic writer of the type of Sheridan and a great dramatist like Shakespeare is the unvarying wit of the characters. And not only are the characters all witty, but they all talk alike. Their wit is Sheridan’s wit, which is very good wit indeed; but it is Sheridan’s own, and not Sir Peter Teazle’s, or Backbite’s, or Careless’s, or Lady Sneerwell’s. It is one man in his time playing many parts. It is the one voice always; though the hands be the hands of Esau, the voice is the voice of Jacob. And this quick wit and ready repartee is not confined to the ladies and gentlemen; the master is no better off than the man, and Careless airs the same wit as Charles. As Sheridan said in the Critic, he was “not for making slavish distinctions in a free country, and giving all the fine language to the upper sort of people.” It is a fact that the characters all talk too well; the comedy would be far less entertaining if they did not. The stage is not life, and it is not meant to be; a mere transcript of ordinary talk would be insufferable. Condensation is necessary; and selection also, and a heightening and brightening of talk. No doubt Sheridan pushed this license to its utmost limit⁠—at times even beyond it; but in consequence his comedy, if a little less artistic in the reading, is far more lively in the acting. It has been said that in Shakespeare we find not the language we would use in the situations, but the language we should wish to use⁠—that we should talk so if we could. We cannot all of us be as witty as the, characters of the School for Scandal but who of us would not if he could?

Wit of this kind is not to be had without labour. Because Sheridan sometimes borrowed, it does not follow that he was incapable of originating; or, because he always prepared when possible, that he was incapable of impromptu. But he believed in doing his best on all occasions. If caught unawares, his natural wit was ready; if, however, he had time for preparation, he spared no pains. He grudged no labour. He was willing to heat and hammer again and again⁠—to file, and polish, and adjust, and oil, until the delicate machinery ran smoothly, and to the satisfaction even of his fastidious eye. Even in his early youth Sheridan had the faculty of toiling over his work to his immediate improvement; his friend Halhed complimented him on this in a letter written in 1770. As Sheridan himself said in two lines of Clio’s Protest, published in 1770 a couplet often credited to Rogers:

“You write with ease, to show your breeding,
But easy writing ’s curst hard reading.”

The School for Scandal was not easy writing then, and it is not hard reading now. Not content with a wealth of wit alone⁠—for he did not hold with the old maxim which says that jests, like salt, should be used sparingly; he salted with a lavish hand, and his plays have perhaps been preserved to us by this Attic salt⁠—he sought the utmost refinement of language. An accomplished speaker himself, he smoothed every sentence till it ran trippingly on the tongue. His dialogue is easy to speak as his songs are easy to sing. To add in any way to the lustre and brilliance of the slightest sentence of the School for Scandal, to burnish a bit of dialogue, or brighten a soliloquy, could never cost Sheridan, lazy though he was, too much labour. “This kind of writing,” as M. Taine says, “artificial and condensed as the satires of La Bruyere, is like a cut vial, into which the author has distilled, without reservation, all his reflections, his reading, his understanding.” That this is true of Sheridan is obvious. In the School for Scandal he has done the best he could; he put into it all he had in him; it is the complete expression of his genius; beyond it he could not go.

After its first great success, the School for Scandal was not long in crossing to America; and its usual luck followed it to these shores. Ireland, in his admirable Records of the New York Stage, which it is always a duty and a pleasure to praise, noted what was probably its first performance in New York, on the evening of December 16, 1785, and on this occasion the comedy was cast to the full strength of the best company which had been then seen in America. Its success was instant and emphatic; and from that day to this it has never ceased to hold a first place among acting plays. It became at once the standard by which other successful plays were to be measured. Comedies were announced as “equal to the School for Scandal, or to any play of the century, the School for Scandal not excepted.” This sort of “odorous comparison” continued to obtain for many years, and when some indiscreet admirer likened Mrs. Mowatt’s Fashion to Sheridan’s comedy, Poe took occasion to point out that the general tone of Fashion was adopted from the School for Scandal, to which, however, it bore, he said, just such affinity as the shell of the locust to the locust that tenants it, “as the spectrum of a Congreve rocket to the Congreve rocket itself.” It does not, however, need a cruel critic to show us how unfair it was to compare Mrs. Mowatt’s pretty but pretentious play with the Congreve rockets and the Congreve wit of Sheridan’s masterpiece. That the School for Scandal was the favourite play of Washington, who was fond of the theatre, has been recorded by Mrs. Whitelock (the sister of Sarah Siddons and of John Kemble, and for a time the leading tragic actress of America). And in one point in particular are these last-century performances in this country of especial interest to the student of American dramatic literature. On April 16, 1786, was first acted in this city the Contrast, a comedy in five acts, by Royal Tyler, afterward Chief Justice of Vermont. It was the first American play performed on the public stage by professional comedians. It contained in Jonathan, acted by Wignell, the first of stage Yankees, and the precursor, therefore, of Asa Trenchard, Colonel Mulberry Sellers, and Judge Bardwell Slote. Perhaps a short extract from the play, which was published in 1790, will show its connection with the School for Scandal. Jonathan, green and innocent, and holding the theatre to be the “devil’s drawing room,” gets into it, however, in the belief that he is going to see a conjurer:⁠—

Jenny Did you see the man with his tricks?
Jonathon Why, I vow, as I was looking out for him, they lifted up a great green cloth and let us look right into the next neighbour’s house. Have you a good many houses in New York made in that ’ere way?
Jenny Not many. But did you see the family?
Jonathon Yes, swamp it, I seed the family.
Jenny Well, and how did you like them?
Jonathon Well, I vow, they were pretty much like other families; there was a poor, good-natured curse of a husband, and a sad rantipole of a wife.
Jenny But did you see no other folks?
Jonathon Yes; there was one youngster, they called him Mr. Joseph; he talked as sober and as pious as a minister; but, like some ministers that I know, he was a sly tike in his heart, for all that; he was going to ask a young woman to spark it with him, and⁠—the Lord have mercy on my soul⁠—she was another man’s wife!

It was in America also that two of the most noteworthy incidents in the career of the School for Scandal occurred. One took place during a visit to this country of Macready, who, early accustomed to enact the heavy villains of the stage, took a fancy to the part of Joseph, and, not finding it as prominent as he liked, sought to rectify this defect by boldly cutting down the other characters; and thus with the excision of the scandal-scene, the picturescene, and several other scenes, the School for Scandal, reduced to three acts, was played as an afterpiece, with Macready, very imperfect in the words of the part, as Joseph, dressed in the black coat and trousers of the nineteenth century. It may be remembered that Macready’s greater predecessor as the chief of English tragedians, John Philip Kemble, was also wont to act in the School for Scandal; but he chose to appear as the more jovial and younger of the Surfaces, and his performance of the careless hero was known as “Charles’s Martyrdom.”

The second noteworthy incident was the performance of the School for Scandal, on the centenary of its first production, on May 8, 1877, at the Grand Opera House, Toronto, in the presence of the Governor General of Canada, Lord Dufferin, the greatgrandson of the author.

In the same year that this memorable performance took place in a former French province, Miss Genevieve Ward, an American actress, appeared as Lady Teazle in Paris in a French version; and the foremost of Parisian dramatic critics, Francisque Sarcey seized the opportunity for a most interesting appreciation of the play. He considered it one of the best of the second class, and, as in his view the first class would contain few plays but those of Shakespeare and Molière, this is high praise. He ranked the School for Scandal with the Mariage de Figaro, and instituted the comparison of Sheridan with Beaumarchais, which Taine had already attempted. But Sarcey held a more just as well as a more favourable opinion of the School for Scandal than Taine. An earlier French critic, Villemain, who edited a close translation of the play for the series of foreign masterpieces, declared it to be one of the most amusing and most wittily-comic plays which can anywhere be seen, and he hit upon one of its undoubted merits when he pointed out that its “wit is so radically comic that it can be translated, which, as all know, is the most perilous trial for wit possible.” Sarcey informed us that the School for Scandal is now and has been for years, used as a textbook in French schools, and that he himself was taught to read English out of Sheridan’s play. Such was also the opinion of M. Hégésippe Cler, who published a French translation of the School for Scandal in 1879, with a preface, in which he declared that Sheridan’s comedy, was particularly French, nay, even Parisian, and that it is absolutely harmless and fitted exactly for use in teaching in schools for girls. Oddly enough this is the exact reverse of the opinion of the French critics of a century ago. In 1788 the auction and screen scenes had been introduced into a little piece called the Deux Neveux; a year later a translation in French by Delille, with the permission, apparently, of Sheridan himself, was published in London. Certain episodes were utilized in the Portraits de Famille, the Deux Cousins and Valsain et Florville; and finally, in 1789, a version of the whole play by Pluteau was acted as L’Homme Sentimental⁠—but the subject was too risky, and the scenes were too broad for the fastidious taste of the Parisians. Even Grimm was shocked by it and one would think it took much to shock Grimm. A second adaptation was produced at the Theatre Francais; it was called the Tartuffe des Moeurs. A few years later, yet another version, L’Ecole du Scandale., by two melodramatic writers, Crosnier and Jouslin de la Salle, was acted at the Porte St.-Martin Theatre, with the pathetic Mme. Dorval as Milady Tizlé. Oddly enough it was Mme. Dorval’s husband, Merle, who was the cause of the first performance in France of the School for Scandal in English by English actors. Merle was one of the managers of the Port St.-Martin Theatre in 1822; and he arranged for a series of performances by the company of the Brighton Theatre, then managed by Mr. Penley. The British comedians opened their season with Othello; but it was only seven years after Waterloo, and Shakespeare was stormily received. For the second performance Sheridan took Shakespeare’s place, and the School for Scandal was announced for Friday, August 2, 1822. But the day was unlucky, and the mob which took possession of the theatre would not allow the English comedy to be acted at all. It is interesting to note the change which took place in France in the short space of five years. In 1827, when the Covent Garden company appeared at the Odeon Theatre, they met with a cordial welcome; and they began their season with Sheridan’s other comedy, the Rivals.

The Germans were not behind the French in the enjoyment of the School for Scandal. Shröder, the actor and author, went from Vienna to London⁠—no small journey, in the eighteenth century⁠—expressly for the purpose of seeing it acted. He understood English well, and attended every performance of the piece while he was in England. On his return to Vienna, he produced an adaptation⁠—for it is such, and not a translation, though the spirit of the original is well preserved⁠—which has held the German stage ever since. The texture of the School for Scandal, its solidity of situation, its compact and easily comprehensible plot, and its ceaseless play of wit, “a sort of El Dorado of wit,” as Moore calls it, “where the precious metal is thrown about by all classes as carelessly as if they had not the least idea of its value,” these were all qualities sure to commend it to German audiences as to French. Macready records himself as having seen in Venice an Italian version of the play that by Carpani, probably which could hardly have followed the original as closely as was to be desired; but the strength of the situations and the contrast of the characters would always carry the piece through in any language and in spite of any alterations. There are translations of the School for Scandal in many other languages. In 1877 it was acted with success in Dutch at the Hague; and in 1884 a Gujarati version, adapted to modern Parsee life by Mr. K. N. Kabrajee, was produced, also with success, at the Esplanade Theatre in Bombay.

A Portrait

Addressed to Mrs. Crewe, With the Comedy of the School for Scandal

By R. B. Sheridan, Esq.

Tell me, ye prim adepts in Scandal’s school,
Who rail by precept, and detract by rule,
Lives there no character, so tried, so known,
So deck’d with grace, and so unlike your own,
That even you assist her fame to raise,
Approve by envy, and by silence praise!
Attend!⁠—a model shall attract your view⁠—
Daughters of calumny, I summon you!
You shall decide if this a portrait prove,
Or fond creation of the Muse and Love.
Attend, ye virgin critics, shrewd and sage,
Ye matron censors of this childish age,
Whose peering eye and wrinkled front declare
A fixt antipathy to young and fair;
By cunning, cautious; or by nature, cold,
In maiden madness, virulently bold!⁠—
Attend! ye skilled to coin the precious tale,
Creating proof, where innuendos fail!
Whose practised memories, cruelly exact,
Omit no circumstance, except the fact!⁠—
Attend, all ye who boast⁠—or old or young⁠—
The living libel of a slanderous tongue!
So shall my theme as far contrasted be,
As saints by fiends, or hymns by calumny.
Come, gentle Amoret (for ’neath that name,
In worthier verse is sung thy beauty’s fame);
Come⁠—for but thee who seeks the Muse? and while
Celestial blushes check thy conscious smile,
With timid grace, and hesitating eye,
The perfect model, which I boast, supply:⁠—
Vain Muse! couldst thou the humblest sketch create
Of her, or slightest charm couldst imitate⁠—
Could thy blest strain in kindred colours trace
The faintest wonder of her form and face⁠—
Poets would study the immortal line,
And Reynolds own his art subdued by thine;
That art, which well might added lustre give
To Nature’s best and Heaven’s superlative:
On Granby’s cheek might bid new glories rise,
Or point a purer beam from Devon’s eyes!
Hard is the task to shape that beauty’s praise,
Whose judgment scorns the homage flattery pays!
But praising Amoret we cannot err,
No tongue o’ervalues Heaven, or flatters her!
Yet she, by Fate’s perverseness⁠—she alone
Would doubt our truth, nor deem such praise her own!
Adorning Fashion, unadorn’d by dress,
Simple from taste, and not from carelessness;
Discreet in gesture, in deportment mild,
Not stiff with prudence, nor uncouthly wild:
No state has Amoret; no studied mien;
She frowns no goddess, and she moves no queen.
The softer charm that in her manner lies
Is framed to captivate, yet not surprise;
It justly suits th’ expression of her face⁠—
’Tis less than dignity, and more than grace!
On her pure cheek the native hue is such,
That, form’d by Heaven to be admired so much,
The hand divine, with a less partial care,
Might well have fix’d a fainter crimson there,
And bade the gentle inmate of her breast⁠—
Inshrined Modesty⁠—supply the rest.
But who the peril of her lips shall paint?
Strip them of smiles⁠—still, still all words are faint,
But moving Love himself appears to teach
Their action, though denied to rule her speech;
And thou who seest her speak and dost not hear,
Mourn not her distant accents ’scape thine ear;
Viewing those lips, thou still may’st make pretence
To judge of what she says, and swear ’tis sense:
Cloth’d with such grace, with such expression fraught,
They move in meaning, and they pause in thought!
But dost thou farther watch, with charm’d surprise,
The mild irresolution of her eyes,
Curious to mark how frequent they repose,
In brief eclipse and momentary close⁠—
Ah! seest thou not an ambush’d Cupid there,
Too tim’rous of his charge, with jealous care
Veils and unveils those beams of heavenly light,
Too full, too fatal else, for mortal sight?
Nor yet, such pleasing vengeance fond to meet,
In pard’ning dimples hope a safe retreat.
What though her peaceful breast should ne’er allow
Subduing frowns to arm her alter’d brow,
By Love, I swear, and by his gentle wiles,
More fatal still the mercy of her smiles!
Thus lovely, thus adorn’d, possessing all
Of bright or fair that can to woman fall,
The height of vanity might well be thought
Prerogative in her, and Nature’s fault.
Yet gentle Amoret, in mind supreme
As well as charms, rejects the vainer theme;
And, half mistrustful of her beauty’s store,
She barbs with wit those darts too keen before:⁠—
Read in all knowledge that her sex should reach,
Though Greville, or the Muse, should deign to teach,
Fond to improve, nor timorous to discern
How far it is a woman’s grace to learn;
In Millar’s dialect she would not prove
Apollo’s priestess, but Apollo’s love,
Graced by those signs which truth delights to own,
The timid blush, and mild submitted tone:
Whate’er she says, though sense appear throughout,
Displays the tender hue of female doubt;
Deck’d with that charm, how lovely wit appears,
How graceful science, when that robe she wears!
Such too her talents, and her bent of mind,
As speak a sprightly heart by thought refined:
A taste for mirth, by contemplation school’d,
A turn for ridicule, by candour ruled,
A scorn of folly, which she tries to hide;
An awe of talent, which she owns with pride!
Peace, idle Muse! no more thy strain prolong,
But yield a theme thy warmest praises wrong;
Just to her merit, though thou canst not raise
Thy feeble verse, behold th’ acknowledged praise
Has spread conviction through the envious train,
And cast a fatal gloom o’er Scandal’s reign!
And lo! each pallid hag, with blister’d tongue,
Mutters assent to all thy zeal has sung⁠—
Owns all the colours just⁠—the outline true;
Thee my inspirer, and my model⁠—Crewe!


Written by Mr. Garrick

A School for Scandal! tell me, I beseech you,
Needs there a school this modish art to teach you?
No need of lessons now, the knowing think;
We might as well be taught to eat and drink.
Caused by a dearth of scandal, should the vapours
Distress our fair ones⁠—let them read the papers;
Their powerful mixtures such disorders hit;
Crave what you will⁠—there’s quantum sufficit.
“Lord!” cries my Lady Wormwood (who loves tattle,
And puts much salt and pepper in her prattle),
Just risen at noon, all night at cards when threshing
Strong tea and scandal⁠—“Bless me, how refreshing!
Give me the papers, Lisp⁠—how bold and free! Sips.
Last night Lord L. sips was caught with Lady D.
For aching heads what charming sal volatile! Sips.
If Mrs. B. will still continue flirting,
We hope she’ll draw, or we’ll undraw the curtain.
Fine satire, poz⁠—in public all abuse it,
But, by ourselves Sips, our praise we can’t refuse it.
Now, Lisp, read you⁠—there, at that dash and star:”
“Yes, ma’am⁠—A certain lord had best beware,
Who lives not twenty miles from Grosvenor Square;
For, should he Lady W. find willing,
Wormwood is bitter”⁠—“Oh! that’s me! the villain!
Throw it behind the fire, and never more
Let that vile paper come within my door.”
Thus at our friends we laugh, who feel the dart;
To reach our feelings, we ourselves must smart.
Is our young bard so young, to think that he
Can stop the full spring-tide of calumny?
Knows he the world so little, and its trade?
Alas! the devil’s sooner raised than laid.
So strong, so swift, the monster there’s no gagging:
Cut Scandal’s head off, still the tongue is wagging.
Proud of your smiles once lavishly bestow’d,
Again our young Don Quixote takes the road;
To show his gratitude he draws his pen,
And seeks his hydra, Scandal, in his den.
For your applause all perils he would through⁠—
He’ll fight⁠—that’s write⁠—a cavalliero true,
Till every drop of blood⁠—that’s ink⁠—is spilt for you.

Dramatis Personae

As originally acted at Drury-Lane Theatre, May 8, 1777.


School for Scandal

Act I

Scene I

Lady Sneerwell’s dressing-room

Lady Sneerwell discovered at her dressing table; Snake drinking chocolate.

Lady Sneerwell The paragraphs, you say, Mr. Snake, were all inserted?1
Snake They were, madam; and, as I copied them myself in a feigned hand, there can be no suspicion whence they came.
Lady Sneerwell Did you circulate the report of Lady Brittle’s intrigue with Captain Boastall?
Snake That’s in as fine a train as your ladyship could wish. In the common course of things, I think it must reach Mrs. Clackitt’s ears within four-and-twenty hours; and then, you know, the business is as good as done.
Lady Sneerwell Why, truly, Mrs. Clackitt has a very pretty talent, and a great deal of industry.
Snake True, madam, and has been tolerably successful in her day. To my knowledge, she has been the cause of six matches being broken off, and three sons being disinherited; of four forced elopements, and as many close confinements; nine separate maintenances, and two divorces. Nay, I have more than once traced her causing a tête-á-tête in The Town and Country Magazine, when the parties, perhaps, had never seen each other’s face before in the course of their lives.
Lady Sneerwell She certainly has talents, but her manner is gross.
Snake ’T is very true. She generally designs well, has a free tongue and a bold invention; but her colouring is too dark, and her outlines often extravagant. She wants that delicacy of tint, and mellowness of sneer, which distinguish your ladyship’s scandal.
Lady Sneerwell You are partial, Snake.
Snake Not in the least; everybody allows that Lady Sneerwell can do more with a word or look than many can with the most laboured detail, even when they happen to have a little truth on their side to support it.
Lady Sneerwell Yes, my dear Snake; and I am no hypocrite to deny the satisfaction I reap from the success of my efforts. Wounded myself, in the early part of my life, by the envenomed tongue of slander, I confess I have since known no pleasure to equal to the reducing others to the level of my own reputation.
Snake Nothing can be more natural. But, Lady Sneerwell, there is one affair in which you have lately employed me, wherein, I confess, I am at a loss to guess your motives.
Lady Sneerwell I conceive you mean with respect to my neighbour, Sir Peter Teazle, and his family?
Snake I do. Here are two young men, to whom Sir Peter has acted as a kind of guardian since their father’s death; the eldest possessing the most amiable character, and universally well spoken of⁠—the youngest, the most dissipated and extravagant young fellow in the kingdom, without friends or character: the former an avowed admirer of your ladyship, and apparently your favourite; the latter attached to Maria, Sir Peter’s ward, and confessedly beloved by her. Now, on the face of these circumstances, it is utterly unaccountable to me, why you, the widow of a city knight, with a good jointure, should not close with the passion of a man of such character and expectations as Mr. Surface; and more so why you should be so uncommonly earnest to destroy the mutual attachment subsisting between his brother Charles and Maria.
Lady Sneerwell Then, at once to unravel this mystery, I must inform you that love has no share whatever in the intercourse between Mr. Surface and me.
Snake No!
Lady Sneerwell His real attachment is to Maria, or her fortune; but, finding in his brother a favoured rival, he has been obliged to mask his pretensions, and profit by my assistance.
Snake Yet still I am more puzzled why you should interest yourself in his success.
Lady Sneerwell Heavens! how dull you are! Cannot you surmise the weakness which I hitherto, through shame, have concealed even from you? Must I confess that Charles⁠—that libertine, that extravagant, that bankrupt in fortune and reputation⁠—that he it is for whom I am thus anxious and malicious, and to gain whom I would sacrifice everything?
Snake Now, indeed, your conduct appears consistent: but how came you and Mr. Surface so confidential?
Lady Sneerwell For our mutual interest. I have found him out a long time since. I know him to be artful, selfish, and malicious⁠—in short, a sentimental knave; while with Sir Peter, and indeed with all his acquaintance, he passes for a youthful miracle of prudence, good sense, and benevolence.
Snake Yes; yet Sir Peter vows he has not his equal in England⁠—and, above all, he praises him as a man of sentiment.
Lady Sneerwell True; and with the assistance of his sentiment and hypocrisy he has brought Sir Peter entirely into his interest with regard to Maria; while poor Charles has no friend in the house⁠—though, I fear, he has a powerful one in Maria’s heart, against whom we must direct our schemes.
Enter Servant.
Servant Mr. Surface.2
Lady Sneerwell Show him up.
Exit Servant.
He generally calls about this time. I don’t wonder at people’s giving him to me for a lover.
Enter Joseph Surface.
Joseph Surface My dear Lady Sneerwell, how do you do today⁠—your most obedient.
Lady Sneerwell Snake has just been rallying me on our mutual attachment; but I have informed him of our real views. You know how useful he has been to us; and believe me the confidence is not ill placed.
Joseph Surface Madam, it is impossible for me to suspect a man of Mr. Snake’s sensibility and discernment.
Lady Sneerwell Well, well, no compliments now; but tell me when you saw your mistress, Maria⁠—or, what is more material to me, your brother.
Joseph Surface I have not seen either since I left you; but I can inform you that they never meet. Some of your stories have taken a good effect on Maria.
Lady Sneerwell Ah! my dear Snake the merit of this belongs to you. But do your brother’s distresses increase?
Joseph Surface Every hour. I am told he has had another execution in his house yesterday. In short, his dissipation and extravagance exceed anything I have ever heard of.
Lady Sneerwell Poor Charles!
Joseph Surface True madam; notwithstanding his vices one can’t help feeling for him. Poor Charles! I’m sure I wish it was in my power to be of any essential service to him; for the man who does not share in the distresses of a brother, even though merited by his own misconduct, deserves⁠—
Lady Sneerwell O Lud! you are going to be moral, and forget that you are among friends.
Joseph Surface Egad, that’s true! I’ll keep that sentiment till I see Sir Peter. However it is certainly a charity to rescue Maria from such a libertine who, if he is to be reclaimed, can be so only by a person of your ladyship’s superior accomplishments and understanding.
Snake I believe, Lady Sneerwell, here’s company coming; I’ll go and copy the letter I mentioned to you. Mr. Surface, your most obedient.
Joseph Surface Sir, your very devoted⁠—
Exit Snake.
Lady Sneerwell, I am very sorry you have put any farther confidence in that fellow.
Lady Sneerwell Why so?
Joseph Surface I have lately detected him in frequent conference with old Rowley who was formerly my father’s steward, and has never, you know, been a friend of mine.
Lady Sneerwell And do you think he would betray us??
Joseph Surface Nothing more likely; take my word for’t, Lady Sneerwell, that fellow hasn’t virtue enough to be faithful even to his own villany.⁠—Ah, Maria!
Enter Maria.
Maria, my dear, how do you do?⁠—what’s the matter?
Maria Oh! there is that disagreeable lover of mine, Sir Benjamin Backbite, has just called at my guardian’s with his odious uncle, Crabtree⁠—so I slipt out and ran hither to avoid them.
Lady Sneerwell Is that all?
Joseph Surface If my Brother Charles had been of the party, madam, perhaps you would not have been so much alarmed.
Lady Sneerwell Nay, now you are severe; for I dare swear the truth of the matter is, Maria heard you were here. But my dear, what has Sir Benjamin done that you should avoid him so?
Maria Oh He has done nothing⁠—but ’tis for what he has said: his conversation is a perpetual libel on all his acquaintance.
Joseph Surface Ay, and the worst of it is there is no advantage in not knowing him; for he’ll abuse a stranger just as soon as his best friend: and his uncle’s as bad.
Lady Sneerwell Nay, but we should make allowance; Sir Benjamin is a wit and a poet.
Maria For my part, I own madam, wit loses its respect with me, when I see it in company with malice. What do you think, Mr. Surface?
Joseph Surface Certainly, madam; to smile at the jest which plants a thorn on another’s breast is to become a principal in the mischief.
Lady Sneerwell Pshaw! there’s no possibility of being witty without a little ill nature: the malice of a good thing is the barb that makes it stick. What’s your opinion, Mr. Surface?
Joseph Surface To be sure madam: that conversation where the spirit of raillery is suppressed, will ever appear tedious and insipid.
Maria Well I’ll not debate how far scandal may be allowable; but in a man, I am sure it is always contemtable. We have pride, envy, rivalship, and a thousand motives to depreciate each other; but the male slanderer must have the cowardice of a woman before he can traduce one.
Reenter Servant.
Maria Madam, Mrs. Candour is below, and, if your ladyship’s at leisure, will leave her carriage.
Lady Sneerwell Beg her to walk in.⁠—
Exit Servant.
Now, Maria, however here is a character to your taste; for though Mrs. Candour is a little talkative, everybody allows her to be the best-natured and best sort of woman.
Maria Yes⁠—with a very gross affectation of goodnature and benevolence, she does more mischief than the direct malice of old Crabtree.
Joseph Surface I’ faith that’s true, Lady Sneerwell: whenever I hear the current running against the characters of my friends, I never think them in such danger as when Candour undertakes their defence.
Lady Sneerwell Hush!⁠—here she is!⁠—
Enter Mrs. Candour.
Mrs. Candour My dear Lady Sneerwell, how have you been this century?⁠—Mr. Surface⁠—what news do you hear?⁠—though indeed it is no matter, for I think one hears nothing else but scandal.
Joseph Surface Just so, indeed, ma’am.
Mrs. Candour Oh Maria! child⁠—what, is the whole affair off between you and Charles?⁠—His extravagance, I presume⁠—the town talks of nothing else.
Maria I am very sorry, ma’am, the town has so little to do.
Mrs. Candour True, true, child: but there’s no stopping people’s tongues. I own I was hurt to hear it, as I indeed was to learn, from the same quarter, that your guardian, Sir Peter, and Lady Teazle have not agreed lately so well as could be wished.
Maria ’Tis strangely impertinent for people to busy themselves so.
Mrs. Candour Very true, child: but what’s to be done? People will talk⁠—there’s no preventing it. Why it was but yesterday I was told that Miss Gadabout had eloped with Sir Filagree Flirt. But, Lord! there’s no minding what one hears; though to be sure I had this from very good authority.
Maria Such reports are highly scandalous.
Mrs. Candour So they are, child⁠—shameful, shameful! But the world is so censorious no character escapes.⁠—Lord, now who would have suspected your friend, Miss Prim, of an indiscretion? Yet such is the ill-nature of people, that they say her uncle stopped her last week, just as she was stepping into York diligence with her dancing-master.
Maria I’ll answer for’t there are no grounds for the report.
Mrs. Candour Oh, no foundation in the world I dare swear: no more probably than for the story circulated last month, of Mrs. Festino’s affair with Colonel Cassino⁠—though, to be sure, that matter was never rightly cleared up.
Joseph Surface The license of invention some people take is monstrous indeed.
Maria ’Tis so; but in my opinion, those who report such things are equally culpable.
Mrs. Candour To be sure they are; talebearers are as bad as the tale-makers⁠—’tis an old observation, and a very true one: but what’s to be done, as I said before? how will you prevent people from talking? Today, Mrs. Clackitt assured me, Mr. and Mrs. Honeymoon were at last become mere man and wife, like the rest of their acquaintance. She likewise hinted that a certain widow, in the next street, had got rid of her dropsy and recovered her shape in a most surprising manner. At the same time Miss Tattle, who was by affirmed, that Lord Buffalo had discovered his lady at a house of no extraordinary fame; and that Sir Harry Bouquet and Tom Saunter were to measure swords on a similar provocation.⁠—But, Lord, do you think I would report these things? No, no! talebearers as I said before, are just as bad as the tale-makers.
Joseph Surface Ah! Mrs. Candour, if everybody had your forbearance and good nature⁠—
Mrs. Candour I confess, Mr. Surface I cannot bear to hear people attacked behind their backs; and when ugly circumstances come out against our acquaintances I own I always love to think the best.⁠—By the by, I hope ’tis not true that your brother is absolutely ruined?
Joseph Surface I am afraid his circumstances are very bad indeed, ma’am.
Mrs. Candour Ah! I heard so⁠—but you must tell him to keep up his spirits: everybody almost is in the same way: Lord Spindle, Sir Thomas Splint, Captain Quinze, and Mr. Nickit⁠—all up, I hear, within this week; so, if Charles is undone, he’ll find half his acquaintance ruined too, and that, you know, is a consolation⁠—
Joseph Surface Doubtless, ma’am⁠—a very great one.
Reenter Servant.
Servant Mr. Crabtree and Sir Benjamin Backbite.
Exit Servant.
Lady Sneerwell So, Maria, you see your lover pursues you: positively you shan’t escape.
Enter Crabtree and Sir Benjamin Backbite.
Crabtree Lady Sneerwell, I kiss your hand. Mrs. Candour, I don’t believe you are acquainted with my nephew Sir Benjamin Backbite? Egad, ma’am, He has a pretty wit, and is a pretty poet, too. Isn’t he Lady Sneerwell?
Sir Benjamin O fie, uncle!
Crabtree Nay egad it’s true; I back him at a rebus or a charade against the best rhymer in the kingdom.⁠—Has your ladyship heard the epigram he wrote last week on Lady Frizzle’s Feather catching fire?⁠—Do, Benjamin repeat it, or the charade you made last night extempore at Mrs. Drowzie’s conversazione. Come now; your first is the name of a fish, your second a great naval commander, and⁠—
Sir Benjamin Dear Uncle⁠—now⁠—prithee⁠—
Crabtree I’ faith, ma’am, ’twould surprise you to hear how ready he is at all these things.
Lady Sneerwell I wonder, Sir Benjamin, you never publish anything.
Sir Benjamin To say truth, ma’am, ’tis very vulgar to print: and as my little productions are mostly satires and lampoons on particular people, I find they circulate more by giving copies in confidence to the friends of the parties.⁠—However I have some love elegies, which, when favoured with this lady’s smile, I mean to give to the public. Pointing to Maria.
Crabtree To Maria. ’Fore Heaven, ma’am, they’ll immortalize you!⁠—you will be handed down to posterity, like Petrarch’s Laura, or Waller’s Sacharissa.
Sir Benjamin To Maria. Yes madam, I think you will like them, when you shall see in a beautiful quarto page, where a neat rivulet of text shall meander through a meadow of margin.⁠—’Fore Gad they will be the most elegant things of their kind!
Crabtree But, ladies, that’s true⁠—have you heard the news?
Mrs. Candour What, sir, do you mean the report of⁠—
Crabtree No ma’am that’s not it.⁠—Miss Nicely is going to be married to her own footman.
Mrs. Candour Impossible!
Crabtree Ask Sir Benjamin.
Sir Benjamin ’Tis very true, ma’am: everything is fixed, and the wedding livery bespoke.
Crabtree Yes⁠—and they do say there were pressing reasons for it.
Lady Sneerwell Why, I have heard something of this before.
Mrs. Candour It can’t be⁠—and I wonder anyone should believe such a story of so prudent a Lady as Miss Nicely.
Sir Benjamin O Lud! ma’am, that’s the very reason ’twas believed at once. She has always been so cautious and so reserved, that everybody was sure there was some reason for it at bottom.
Lady Sneerwell Why, to be sure, a tale of scandal is as fatal to the credit of a prudent lady of her stamp as a fever is generally to those of the strongest constitutions. But there is a sort of puny, sickly reputation, that is always ailing, yet will outlive the robuster characters of a hundred prudes.
Sir Benjamin True, madam, there are valetudinarians in reputation as well as constitution, who, being conscious of their weak part, avoid the least breath of air, and supply their want of stamina by care and circumspection.
Mrs. Candour Well, but this may be all mistake. You know, Sir Benjamin very trifling circumstances often give rise to the most injurious tales.
Crabtree That they do, I’ll be sworn ma’am. Did you ever hear how Miss Piper came to lose her lover and her character last summer at Tunbridge?⁠—Sir Benjamin you remember it?
Sir Benjamin Oh, to be sure!⁠—the most whimsical circumstance.
Lady Sneerwell How was it, pray?
Crabtree Why, one evening at Mrs. Ponto’s assembly, the conversation happened to turn on the breeding Nova Scotia sheep in this country. Says a young lady in company, “I have known instances of it; for Miss Letitia Piper, a first cousin of mine, had a Nova Scotia sheep that produced her twins.”⁠—“What!” cries the old Dowager Lady Dundizzy (who you know is as deaf as a post), “has Miss Piper had twins?”⁠—This mistake, as you may imagine, threw the whole company into a fit of laughter. However ’twas the next morning everywhere reported, and in a few days believed by the whole town, that Miss Letitia Piper had actually been brought to bed of a fine boy and girl: and in less than a week there were people who could name the father, and the farmhouse where the babies were put to nurse.
Lady Sneerwell Strange indeed!
Crabtree Matter of fact, I assure you⁠—O Lud! Mr. Surface pray is it true that your uncle, Sir Oliver, is coming home?
Joseph Surface Not that I know of, indeed, sir.
Crabtree He has been in the East Indies a long time. You can scarcely remember him, I believe⁠—Sad comfort, whenever he returns, to hear how your brother has gone on!
Joseph Surface Charles has been imprudent, sir to be sure; but I hope no busy people have already prejudiced Sir Oliver against him. He may reform.
Sir Benjamin To be sure he may: for my part, I never believed him to be so utterly void of principle as people say; and, though he has lost all his friends, I am told nobody is better spoken of by the Jews.
Crabtree That’s true, egad, nephew. If the Old Jewry was a ward, I believe Charles would be an alderman: no man more popular there, ’fore Gad! I hear he pays as many annuities as the Irish tontine and that whenever he’s sick, they have prayers for the recovery of his health in the synagogue.
Sir Benjamin Yet no man lives in greater splendour. They tell me, when he entertains his friends he will sit down to dinner with a dozen of his own securities; have a score of tradesmen waiting in the antechamber, and an officer behind every guest’s chair.
Joseph Surface This may be entertainment to you gentlemen but you pay very little regard to the feelings of a brother.
Maria Aside. Their malice is intolerable!⁠—Aloud. Lady Sneerwell, I must wish you a good morning: I’m not very well.
Exit Maria.
Mrs. Candour O dear! She changes colour very much!
Lady Sneerwell Do, Mrs. Candour, follow her; she may want your assistance.
Mrs. Candour That I will, with all my soul ma’am⁠—Poor dear girl, who knows⁠—what her situation may be!
Exit Mrs. Candour.
Lady Sneerwell ’Twas nothing but that she could not bear to hear Charles reflected on, notwithstanding their difference.
Sir Benjamin The young lady’s penchant is obvious.
Crabtree But Benjamin, you mustn’t give up the pursuit for that: follow her and put her into good humour. Repeat her some of your own verses. Come, I’ll assist you.
Sir Benjamin Mr. Surface, I did not mean to hurt you; but depend on’t your brother is utterly undone.
Crabtree O Lud, aye! undone as ever man was⁠—can’t raise a guinea!⁠—
Sir Benjamin And everything sold, I’m told, that was movable.⁠—
Crabtree I have seen one that was at his house.⁠—Not a thing left but some empty bottles that were overlooked, and the family pictures, which I believe are framed in the wainscots⁠—
Sir Benjamin And I’m very sorry to hear some bad stories against him. Going.
Crabtree Oh, he has done many mean things, that’s certain!
Sir Benjamin But, however, as he is your brother⁠—Going.
Crabtree We’ll tell you all another opportunity.
Exeunt Crabtree and Sir Benjamin.
Lady Sneerwell Ha! ha! ’tis very hard for them to leave a subject they have not quite run down.
Joseph Surface And I believe the abuse was no more acceptable to your ladyship than Maria.
Lady Sneerwell I doubt her affections are farther engaged than we imagine. But the family are to be here this evening, so you may as well dine where you are, and we shall have an opportunity of observing farther; in the meantime, I’ll go and plot mischief and you shall study sentiment.

Scene II

A room in Sir Peter Teazle’s house.

Enter Sir Peter Teazle.
Sir Peter When an old bachelor marries a young wife, what is he to expect? ’T is now six months since Lady Teazle made me the happiest of men⁠—and I have been the most miserable dog ever since! We tifted a little going to church, and fairly quarrelled before the bells had done ringing. I was more than once nearly choked with gall during the honeymoon, and had lost all comfort in life before my friends had done wishing me joy. Yet I chose with caution⁠—a girl bred wholly in the country, who never knew luxury beyond one silk gown, nor dissipation above the annual gala of a race ball. Yet she now plays her part in all the extravagant fopperies of fashion and the town with as ready a grace as if she never had seen a bush or a grass-plot out of Grosvenor Square! I am sneered at by all my acquaintance, and paragraphed in the newspapers. She dissipates my fortune, and contradicts all my humours; yet the worst of it is, I doubt I love her, or I should never bear all this. However, I’ll never be weak enough to own it.
Enter Rowley.3
Rowley Oh! Sir Peter, your servant: how is it with you, sir?
Sir Peter Very bad, Master Rowley, very bad. I meet with nothing but crosses and vexations.
Rowley What can have happened to trouble you since yesterday?
Sir Peter A good question to a married man!
Rowley Nay, I’m sure, Sir Peter, your lady can’t be the cause of your uneasiness.
Sir Peter Why, has anybody told you she was dead?
Rowley Come, come, Sir Peter, you love her, notwithstanding your tempers don’t exactly agree.
Sir Peter But the fault is entirely hers, Master Rowley. I am, myself, the sweetest-tempered man alive, and hate a teasing temper; and so I tell her a hundred times a day.
Rowley Indeed!
Sir Peter Ay; and what is very extraordinary, in all our disputes she is always in the wrong! But Lady Sneerwell, and the set she meets at her house, encourage the perverseness of her disposition. — Then, to complete my vexation, Maria, my ward, whom I ought to have the power of a father over, is determined to turn rebel too, and absolutely refuses the man whom I have long resolved on for her husband; meaning, I suppose, to bestow herself on his profligate brother.
Rowley You know, Sir Peter, I have always taken the liberty to differ with you on the subject of these two young gentlemen. I only wish you may not be deceived in your opinion of the elder. For Charles, my life on’t! he will retrieve his errors yet. Their worthy father, once my honoured master, was, at his years, nearly as wild a spark; yet, when he died, he did not leave a more benevolent heart to lament his loss.
Sir Peter You are wrong, Master Rowley. On their father’s death, you know, I acted as a kind of guardian to them both, till their uncle Sir Oliver’s liberality gave them an early independence: of course, no person could have more opportunities of judging of their hearts, and I was never mistaken in my life. Joseph is indeed a model of the young men of the age. He is a man of sentiment, and acts up to the sentiments he professes, but, for the other, take my word for ’t, if he had any grain of virtue by descent, he has dissipated it with the rest of his inheritance. Ah! my old friend, Sir Oliver, will be deeply mortified when he finds how part of his bounty has been misapplied.
Rowley I am sorry to find you so violent against the young man, because this may be the most critical period of his fortune. I came hither with news that will surprise you.
Sir Peter What! let me hear.
Rowley Sir Oliver is arrived, and at this moment in town.
Sir Peter How! you astonish me! I thought you did not expect him this month.
Rowley I did not; but his passage has been remarkably quick.
Sir Peter Egad, I shall rejoice to see my old friend. ’T is fifteen years since we met. — We have had many a day together:⁠—but does he still enjoin us not to inform his nephews of his arrival?
Rowley Most strictly. He means, before it is known, to make some trial of their dispositions.
Sir Peter Ah! there needs no art to discover their merits⁠—however he shall have his way; but, pray, does he know I am married?
Rowley Yes, and will soon wish you joy.
Sir Peter What, as we drink health to a friend in a consumption! Ah! Oliver will laugh at me. We used to rail at matrimony together, but he has been steady to his text. — Well, he must be soon at my house, though⁠—I’ll instantly give orders for his reception.⁠—But, Master Rowley, don’t drop a word that Lady Teazle and I ever disagree.
Rowley By no means.
Sir Peter For I should never be able to stand Noll’s jokes; so I’ll have him think, Lord forgive me! that we are a very happy couple.
Rowley I understand you:⁠—but then you must be very careful not to differ while he is in the house with you.
Sir Peter Egad, and so we must⁠—and that’s impossible. Ah! Master Rowley, when an old bachelor marries a young wife, he deserves⁠—no⁠—the crime carries its punishment along with it.

Act II

Scene I

A room in Sir Peter Teazle’s house

Enter Sir Peter and Lady Teazle.
Sir Peter Lady Teazle, Lady Teazle, I’ll not bear it!
Lady Teazle Sir Peter, Sir Peter, you may bear it or not, as you please; but I ought to have my own way in everything, and what’s more, I will too. What! though I was educated in the country, I know very well that women of fashion in London are accountable to nobody after they are married.
Sir Peter Very well, ma’am, very well;⁠—so a husband is to have no influence, no authority?
Lady Teazle Authority! No, to be sure:⁠—if you want authority over me, you should have adopted me, and not married me: I am sure you were old enough.
Sir Peter Old enough!⁠—ay, there it is. Well, well, Lady Teazle, though my life may be made unhappy by your temper, I’ll not be ruined by your extravagance!
Lady Teazle My extravagance! I’m sure I’m not more extravagant than a woman of fashion ought to be.
Sir Peter No, no, madam, you shall throw away no more sums on such unmeaning luxury. ’Slife! to spend as much to furnish your dressing-room with flowers in winter as would suffice to turn the Pantheon into a greenhouse, and give a fête champêtre at Christmas.
Lady Teazle And am I to blame, Sir Peter, because flowers are dear in cold weather? You should find fault with the climate, and not with me. For my part, I’m sure I wish it was spring all the year round, and that roses grew under our feet!
Sir Peter Oons! madam⁠—if you had been born to this, I shouldn’t wonder at your talking thus; but you forget what your situation was when I married you.
Lady Teazle No, no, I don’t; ’twas a very disagreeable one, or I should never have married you.
Sir Peter Yes, yes, madam, you were then in somewhat a humbler style⁠—the daughter of a plain country squire. Recollect, Lady Teazle, when I saw you first sitting at your tambour, in a pretty figured linen gown, with a bunch of keys at your side, your hair combed smooth over a roll, and your apartment hung round with fruits in worsted, of your own working.
Lady Teazle Oh, yes! I remember it very well, and a curious life I led. — My daily occupation to inspect the dairy, superintend the poultry, make extracts from the family receipt book, and comb my aunt Deborah’s lapdog.
Sir Peter Yes, yes, ma’am, ’twas so indeed.
Lady Teazle And then you know, my evening amusements! To draw patterns for ruffles, which I had not materials to make up; to play Pope Joan with the curate; to read a sermon to my aunt; or to be stuck down to an old spinet to strum my father to sleep after a fox-chase.
Sir Peter I am glad you have so good a memory. Yes, madam, these were the recreations I took you from; but now you must have your coach⁠—vis-à-vis⁠—and three powdered footmen before your chair;4 and, in the summer, a pair of white cats to draw you to Kensington Gardens. No recollection, I suppose, when you were content to ride double, behind the butler, on a docked coach-horse.5
Lady Teazle No⁠—I swear I never did that: I deny the butler and the coach-horse.
Sir Peter This, madam, was your situation; and what have I done for you? I have made you a woman of fashion, of fortune, of rank⁠—in short, I have made you my wife.
Lady Teazle Well, then, and there is but one thing more you can make me to add to the obligation, that is⁠—
Sir Peter My widow, I suppose?
Lady Teazle Hem! hem!
Sir Peter I thank you, madam⁠—but don’t flatter yourself; for, though your ill conduct may disturb my peace of mind, it shall never break my heart, I promise you: however, I am equally obliged to you for the hint.
Lady Teazle Then why will you endeavour to make yourself so disagreeable to me, and thwart me in every little elegant expense?
Sir Peter ’Slife, madam, I say, had you any of these little elegant expenses when you married me?
Lady Teazle Lud, Sir Peter! would you have me be out of the fashion?
Sir Peter The fashion, indeed! what had you to do with the fashion before you married me?
Lady Teazle For my part, I should think you would like to have your wife thought a woman of taste.
Sir Peter Ay⁠—there again⁠—taste! Zounds! madam, you had no taste when you married me!6
Lady Teazle That’s very true, indeed, Sir Peter! and after having married you, I should never pretend to taste again, I allow. But now, Sir Peter, since we have finished our daily jangle, I presume I may go to my engagement at Lady Sneerwell’s.
Sir Peter Ay, there’s another precious circumstance⁠—a charming set of acquaintance you have made there!
Lady Teazle Nay, Sir Peter, they are all people of rank and fortune, and remarkable tenacious of reputation.
Sir Peter Yes, egad, they are tenacious of reputation with a vengeance; for they don’t choose anybody should have a character but themselves! Such a crew! Ah! many a wretch has rid on a hurdle who has done less mischief than these utterers of forged tales, coiners of scandal, and clippers of reputation.
Lady Teazle What, would you restrain the freedom of speech?
Sir Peter Ah! they have made you just as bad as anyone of the society.
Lady Teazle Why, I believe I do bear a part with a tolerable grace.
Sir Peter Grace indeed!
Lady Teazle But I vow I bear no malice against the people I abuse. — When I say an ill-natured thing, ’tis out of pure good humour; and I take it for granted they deal exactly in the same manner with me. But, Sir Peter, you know you promised to come to Lady Sneerwell’s too.
Sir Peter Well, well, I’ll call in, just to look after my own character.
Lady Teazle Then, indeed, you must make haste after me, or you’ll be too late. So goodbye to ye.
Exit Lady Teazle.
Sir Peter So⁠—I have gained much by my intended expostulation! Yet with what a charming air she contradicts everything I say, and how pleasingly she shows her contempt for my authority! Well, though I can’t make her love me, there is great satisfaction in quarrelling with her; and I think she never appears to such advantage as when she is doing everything in her power to plague me.

Scene II

A room in Lady Sneerwell’s house.

Lady Sneerwell, Mrs. Candour, Crabtree, Sir Benjamin Backbite, and Joseph Surface, discovered.
Lady Sneerwell Nay, positively, we will hear it.
Joseph Surface Yes, yes, the epigram, by all means.
Sir Benjamin O plague on’t, uncle! ’tis mere nonsense.
Crabtree No, no; ’fore Gad, very clever for an extempore!
Sir Benjamin

But, ladies, you should be acquainted with the circumstance. You must know that one day last week, as Lady Betty Curricle was taking the dust in Hyde Park, in a sort of duodecimo phaeton, she desired me to write some verses on her ponies; upon which, I took out my pocketbook, and in one moment produced the following:⁠—

Sure never was seen two such beautiful ponies;
Other horses are clowns, but these macaronies:
To give them this title I’m sure can’t be wrong,
Their legs are so slim and their tails are so long.7

Crabtree There, ladies, done in the smack of a whip, and on horseback too.
Joseph Surface A very Phoebus, mounted⁠—indeed, Sir Benjamin!
Sir Benjamin Oh dear, sir! trifles⁠—trifles.
Enter Lady Teazle and Maria.
Mrs. Candour I must have a copy.
Lady Sneerwell Lady Teazle, I hope we shall see Sir Peter?
Lady Teazle I believe he’ll wait on your ladyship presently.
Lady Sneerwell Maria, my love, you look grave. Come, you shall sit down to piquet with Mr. Surface.
Maria I take very little pleasure in cards⁠—however, I’ll do as your ladyship pleases.
Lady Teazle I am surprised Mr. Surface should sit down with her; I thought he would have embraced this opportunity of speaking to me before Sir Peter came. Aside.
Mrs. Candour Now, I’ll die; but you are so scandalous, I’ll forswear your society.
Lady Teazle What’s the matter, Mrs. Candour?
Mrs. Candour They’ll not allow our friend Miss Vermillion to be handsome.
Lady Sneerwell Oh, surely she is a pretty woman.
Crabtree I am very glad you think so, ma’am.
Mrs. Candour She has a charming fresh colour.
Lady Teazle Yes, when it is fresh put on.
Mrs. Candour O, fie! I’ll swear her colour is natural: I have seen it come and go!
Lady Teazle I dare swear you have, ma’am: it goes off at night, and comes again in the morning.
Sir Benjamin True, ma’am, it not only comes and goes; but, what’s more, egad, her maid can fetch and carry it!
Mrs. Candour Ha! ha! ha! how I hate to hear you talk so! But surely, now, her sister is, or was, very handsome.
Crabtree Who? Mrs. Evergreen? O Lord! she’s six-and-fifty if she’s an hour!
Mrs. Candour Now positively you wrong her; fifty-two or fifty-three is the utmost⁠—and I don’t think she looks more.
Sir Benjamin Ah! there’s no judging by her looks, unless one could see her face.
Lady Sneerwell Well, well, if Mrs. Evergreen does take some pains to repair the ravages of time, you must allow she effects it with great ingenuity; and surely that’s better than the careless manner in which the widow Ochre caulks her wrinkles.
Sir Benjamin Nay, now, Lady Sneerwell, you are severe upon the widow. Come, come, ’tis not that she paints so ill⁠—but, when she has finished her face, she joins it on so badly to her neck, that she looks like a mended statue, in which the connoisseur may see at once that the head is modern, though the trunk’s antique.
Crabtree Ha! ha! ha! Well said, nephew.
Mrs. Candour Ha! ha! ha! Well, you make me laugh; but I vow I hate you for it. — What do you think of Miss Simper?
Sir Benjamin Why, she has very pretty teeth.
Lady Teazle Yes; and on that account, when she is neither speaking nor laughing (which very seldom happens), she never absolutely shuts her mouth, but leaves it always on ajar, as it were⁠—thus. Shows her teeth.
Mrs. Candour How can you be so ill-natured?
Lady Teazle Nay, I allow even that’s better than the pains Mrs. Prim takes to conceal her losses in front. She draws her mouth till it positively resembles the aperture of a poor’s-box, and all her words appear to slide out edgewise, as it were⁠—thus: How do you do, madam? Yes, madam. Mimics.
Lady Sneerwell Very well, Lady Teazle; I see you can be a little severe.
Lady Teazle In defence of a friend it is but justice. — But here comes Sir Peter to spoil our pleasantry.
Enter Sir Peter Teazle.
Sir Peter Ladies, your most obedient. —Aside. Mercy on me, here is the whole set! a character dead at every word, I suppose.8
Mrs. Candour I am rejoiced you are come, Sir Peter. They have been so censorious⁠—and Lady Teazle as bad as anyone.
Sir Peter That must be very distressing to you, indeed, Mrs. Candour.
Mrs. Candour Oh, they will allow good qualities to nobody; not even good nature to our friend, Mrs. Pursy.
Lady Teazle What, the fat dowager who was at Mrs. Quadrille’s last night?
Mrs. Candour Nay, her bulk is her misfortune; and, when she takes so much pains to get rid of it, you ought not to reflect on her.
Lady Sneerwell That’s very true, indeed.
Lady Teazle Yes, I know she almost lives on acids and small whey; laces herself by pulleys; and often, in the hottest noon in summer, you may see her on a little squat pony, with her hair plaited up like a drummer’s and puffing round the Ring on a full trot.
Mrs. Candour I thank you, Lady Teazle, for defending her.
Sir Peter Yes, a good defence, truly.
Mrs. Candour Truly, Lady Teazle is as censorious as Miss Sallow.
Crabtree Yes, and she is a curious being to pretend to be censorious⁠—an awkward gawky, without any one good point under heaven.
Mrs. Candour Positively you shall not be so very severe. Miss Sallow is a near relation of mine by marriage, and, as for her person, great allowance is to be made; for, let me tell you, a woman labours under many disadvantages who tries to pass for a girl of six-and-thirty.
Lady Sneerwell Though, surely, she is handsome still⁠—and for the weakness in her eyes, considering how much she reads by candlelight, it is not to be wondered at.
Mrs. Candour True, and then as to her manner; upon my word, I think it is particularly graceful, considering she never had the least education: for you know her mother was a Welsh milliner, and her father a sugar-baker at Bristol.
Sir Benjamin Ah! you are both of you too good-natured!
Sir Peter Yes, damned good-natured! This their own relation! mercy on me! Aside.
Mrs. Candour For my part, I own I cannot bear to hear a friend ill spoken of.
Sir Peter No, to be sure!
Sir Benjamin Oh! you are of a moral turn. Mrs. Candour and I can sit for an hour and hear Lady Stucco talk sentiment.
Lady Teazle Nay, I vow Lady Stucco is very well with the dessert after dinner; for she’s just like the French fruit one cracks for mottoes⁠—made up of paint and proverb.
Mrs. Candour Well, I will never join in ridiculing a friend; and so I constantly tell my cousin Ogle, and you all know what pretensions she has to be critical on beauty.
Crabtree Oh, to be sure! she has herself the oddest countenance that ever was seen; ’tis a collection of features from all the different countries of the globe.
Sir Benjamin So she has, indeed⁠—an Irish front⁠—
Crabtree Caledonian locks⁠—
Sir Benjamin Dutch nose⁠—
Crabtree Austrian lips⁠—
Sir Benjamin Complexion of a Spaniard⁠—
Crabtree And teeth à la Chinoise⁠—
Sir Benjamin In short, her face resembles a table d’hôte at Spa⁠—where no two guests are of a nation⁠—
Crabtree Or a congress at the close of a general war⁠—wherein all the members, even to her eyes, appear to have a different interest, and her nose and chin are the only parties likely to join issue.
Mrs. Candour Ha! ha! ha!
Sir Peter Mercy on my life!⁠—a person they dine with twice a week! Aside.
Lady Sneerwell Go, go; you are a couple of provoking toads.
Mrs. Candour Nay, but I vow you shall not carry the laugh off so⁠—for give me leave to say that Mrs. Ogle⁠—
Sir Peter Madam, madam, I beg your pardon⁠—there’s no stopping these good gentlemen’s tongues. But when I tell you, Mrs. Candour, that the lady they are abusing is a particular friend of mine, I hope you’ll not take her part.
Lady Sneerwell Ha! ha! ha! well said, Sir Peter! but you are a cruel creature⁠—too phlegmatic yourself for a jest, and too peevish to allow wit in others.
Sir Peter Ah, madam, true wit is more nearly allied to good-nature than your ladyship is aware of.
Lady Teazle True, Sir Peter: I believe they are so near akin that they can never be united.
Sir Benjamin Or rather, madam, suppose them man and wife, because one seldom sees them together.
Lady Teazle But Sir Peter is such an enemy to scandal, I believe he would have it put down by parliament.
Sir Peter ’Fore heaven, madam, if they were to consider the sporting with reputation of as much importance as poaching on manors, and pass an act for the preservation of fame, as well as game, I believe many would thank them for the bill.
Lady Sneerwell O Lud! Sir Peter; would you deprive us of our privileges?
Sir Peter Ay, madam, and then no person should be permitted to kill characters and run down reputations, but qualified old maids and disappointed widows.
Lady Sneerwell Go, you monster!
Mrs. Candour But, surely, you would not be quite so severe on those who only report what they hear?
Sir Peter Yes, madam, I would have law merchant for them too;9 and in all cases of slander currency, whenever the drawer of the lie was not to be found, the injured party should have a right to come on any of the endorsers.
Crabtree Well, for my part, I believe there never was a scandalous tale without some foundation.
Sir Peter Oh, nine out of ten of the malicious inventions are founded on some ridiculous misrepresentation.
Lady Sneerwell Come, ladies, shall we sit down to cards in the next room?
Enter Servant, who whispers Sir Peter.
Sir Peter I’ll be with them directly.⁠—
Exit Servant.
I’ll get away unperceived. Aside.
Lady Sneerwell Sir Peter, you are not going to leave us?
Sir Peter Your ladyship must excuse me; I’m called away by particular business. But I leave my character behind me.
Exit Sir Peter.
Sir Benjamin Well⁠—certainly Lady Teazle, that lord of yours is a strange being: I could tell you some stories of him would make you laugh heartily if he were not your husband.
Lady Teazle Oh, pray don’t mind that; come, do let’s hear them.
Exeunt all but Joseph Surface and Maria.
Joseph Surface Maria, I see you have no satisfaction in this society.
Maria How is it possible I should?⁠—If to raise malicious smiles at the infirmities or misfortunes of those who have never injured us be the province of wit or humour, Heaven grant me a double portion of dullness!
Joseph Surface Yet they appear more ill-natured than they are; they have no malice at heart.
Maria Then is their conduct still more contemptible; for, in my opinion, nothing could excuse the intemperance of their tongues but a natural and uncontrollable bitterness of mind.
Joseph Surface Undoubtedly, madam; and it has always been a sentiment of mine, that to propagate a malicious truth wantonly is more despicable than to falsify from revenge. But can you, Maria, feel thus for others, and be unkind to me alone? Is hope to be denied the tenderest passion?
Maria Why will you distress me by renewing this subject?
Joseph Surface Ah, Maria! you would not treat me thus, and oppose your guardian, St. Peter’s will, but that I see that profligate Charles is still a favoured rival!
Maria Ungenerously urged! But, whatever my sentiments are for that unfortunate young man, be assured I shall not feel more bound to give him up, because his distresses have lost him the regard even of a brother.
Joseph Surface Nay, but, Maria, do not leave me with a frown: by all that’s honest, I swear⁠—Kneels.
Reenter Lady Teazle behind.
Aside. Gad’s life, here’s Lady Teazle. — Aloud to Maria. You must not⁠—no, you shall not⁠—for, though I have the greatest regard for Lady Teazle⁠—
Maria Lady Teazle!
Joseph Surface Yet were Sir Peter to suspect⁠—
Lady Teazle Coming forward. What is this, pray? Does he take her for me?⁠—Child, you are wanted in the next room. —
Exit Maria.
What is all this, pray?
Joseph Surface Oh, the most unlucky circumstance in nature! Maria has somehow suspected the tender concern I have for your happiness, and threatened to acquaint Sir Peter with her suspicions, and I was just endeavouring to reason with her when you came in.
Lady Teazle Indeed! but you seemed to adopt a very tender mode of reasoning⁠—do you usually argue on your knees?
Joseph Surface Oh, she’s a child, and I thought a little bombast⁠—But, Lady Teazle, when are you to give me your judgment on my library, as you promised?
Lady Teazle No, no; I begin to think it would be imprudent, and you know I admit you as a lover no farther than fashion requires.
Joseph Surface True⁠—a mere Platonic cicisbeo⁠—what every wife is entitled to.
Lady Teazle Certainly, one must not be out of the fashion. — However, I have so many of my country prejudices left, that, though Sir Peter’s ill-humour may vex me ever so, it never shall provoke me to⁠—
Joseph Surface The only revenge in your power. — Well, I applaud your moderation.
Lady Teazle Go⁠—you are an insinuating wretch! But we shall be missed⁠—let us join the company.
Joseph Surface But we had best not return together.
Lady Teazle Well, don’t stay; for Maria shan’t come to hear any more of your reasoning, I promise you.
Joseph Surface A curious dilemma, truly, my politics have run me into! I wanted, at first, only to ingratiate myself with Lady Teazle, that she might not be my enemy with Maria; and I have, I don’t know how, become her serious lover. Sincerely I begin to wish I had never made such a point of gaining so very good a character, for it has led me into so many cursed rogueries that I doubt I shall be exposed at last.

Scene III

A room in Sir Peter Teazle’s house.

Enter Sir Oliver Surface and Rowley.
Sir Oliver Ha! ha! ha! so my old friend is married, hey?⁠—a young wife out of the country. Ha! ha! ha! that he should have stood bluff to old bachelor so long, and sink into a husband at last!
Rowley But you must not rally him on the subject, Sir Oliver; ’tis a tender point. I assure you, though he has been married only seven months.
Sir Oliver Then he has been just half a year on the stool of repentance!⁠—Poor Peter! But you say he has entirely given up Charles⁠—never sees him, hey?
Rowley His prejudice against him is astonishing, and I am sure greatly increased by a jealousy of him with Lady Teazle, which he has industriously been led into by a scandalous society in the neighbourhood, who have contributed not a little to Charles’s ill name. Whereas, the truth is, I believe, if the lady is partial to either of them, his brother is the favourite.
Sir Oliver Ay, I know there is a set of malicious, prating, prudent gossips, both male and female, who murder characters to kill time, and will rob a young fellow of his good name before he has years to know the value of it. — But I am not to be prejudiced against my nephew by such, I promise you!⁠—No, no; if Charles has done nothing false or mean, I shall compound for his extravagance.
Rowley Then, my life on’t, you will reclaim him.⁠—Ah, sir, it gives me new life to find that your heart is not turned against him, and that the son of my good old master has one friend, however, left.
Sir Oliver What! shall I forget, Master Rowley, when I was at his years myself? Egad, my brother and I were neither of us very prudent youths; and yet, I believe, you have not seen many better men than your old master was?
Rowley Sir, ’tis this reflection gives me assurance that Charles may yet be a credit to his family. — But here comes Sir Peter!
Sir Oliver Egad, so he does! Mercy on me! he’s greatly altered, and seems to have a settled married look! One may read husband in his face at this distance!
Enter Sir Peter Teazle.
Sir Peter Ha! Sir Oliver⁠—my old friend! Welcome to England a thousand times!
Sir Oliver Thank you, thank you, Sir Peter! and i’ faith I am glad to find you well, believe me!
Sir Peter Oh! is a long time since we met⁠—fifteen years, I doubt, Sir Oliver, and many a cross accident in the time.
Sir Oliver Ay, I have had my share. But, what! I find you are married, hey, my old boy? Well, well, it can’t be helped; and so⁠—I wish you joy with all my heart!
Sir Peter Thank you, thank you, Sir Oliver. — Yes, I have entered into⁠—the happy state;⁠—but we’ll not talk of that now.
Sir Oliver True, true, Sir Peter; old friends should not begin on grievances at first meeting. No, no no⁠—
Rowley Aside to Sir Oliver. Take care, pray, sir.⁠—
Sir Oliver Well, so one of my nephews is a wild rogue, hey?
Sir Peter Wild! Ah! my old friend, I grieve for your disappointment there; he’s a lost young man, indeed. However, his brother will make you amends; Joseph is, indeed, what a youth should be⁠—everybody in the world speaks well of him.
Sir Oliver I am sorry to hear it⁠—he has too good a character to be an honest fellow. Everybody speaks well of him! Pshaw! then he has bowed as low to knaves and fools as to the honest dignity of genius and virtue.
Sir Peter What, Sir Oliver! do you blame him for not making enemies?
Sir Oliver Yes, if he has merit enough to deserve them.
Sir Peter Well, well, you’ll be convinced when you know him. ’T is edification to hear him converse; he professes the noblest sentiments.
Sir Oliver Oh, plague of his sentiments! If he salutes me with a scrap of morality in his mouth, I shall be sick directly. But, however, don’t mistake me, Sir Peter; I don’t mean to defend Charles’s errors: but, before I form my judgment of either of them, I intend to make a trial of their hearts; and my friend Rowley and I have planned something for the purpose.
Rowley And Sir Peter shall own for once he has been mistaken.
Sir Peter Oh, my life on Joseph’s honour!
Sir Oliver Well⁠—come, give us a bottle of good wine, and we’ll drink the lads’ health, and tell you our scheme.
Sir Peter Allons, then!
Sir Oliver And don’t, Sir Peter, be so severe against your old friend’s son. Odds my life! I am not sorry that he has run out of the course a little: for my part, I hate to see prudence clinging to the green suckers of youth; ’tis like ivy round a sapling, and spoils the growth of the tree.


Scene I

A room in Sir Peter Teazle’s house.

Enter Sir Peter Teazle, Sir Oliver Surface, and Rowley.
Sir Peter Well, then we will see this fellow first, and have our wine afterwards. — But how is this, Master Rowley? I don’t see the jet of your scheme.
Rowley Why, sir, this Mr. Stanley, whom I was speaking of, is nearly related to them by their mother. He was once a merchant in Dublin, but has been ruined by a series of undeserved misfortunes. He has applied, by letter, both to Mr. Surface and Charles: from the former he has received nothing but evasive promises of future service, while Charles has done all that his extravagence has left him power to do; and he is, at this time, endeavouring to raise a sum of money, part of which, in the midst of his own distresses, I know he intends for the service of poor Stanley.
Sir Oliver Ah! he is my brother’s son.
Sir Peter Well, but how is Sir Oliver personally to⁠—

Why, sir, I will inform Charles and his brother, that Stanley has obtained permission to apply personally to his friends; and, as they have neither of them ever seen him, let Sir Oliver assume his character, and he will have a fair opportunity of judging, at least, of the benevolence of their dispositions: and believe me, sir, you will find in the youngest brother one who, in the midst of folly and dissipation, has still as our immortal bard expresses it⁠—

“a heart to pity, and a hand,
Open as day, for melting charity.”

Sir Peter Pshaw! What signifies his having an open hand or purse either, when he has nothing left to give? Well, well⁠—make the trial, if you please. But where is the fellow whom you brought for Sir Oliver to examine, relative to Charles’s affairs?
Rowley Below, waiting his commands, and no one can give him better intelligence. — This, Sir Oliver, is a friendly Jew, who, to do him justice, has done everything in his power to bring your nephew to a proper sense of his extravagance.
Sir Peter Pray let us have him in.
Rowley Desire Mr. Moses to walk upstairs. Apart to Servant.
Sir Peter But, pray, why should you suppose he will speak the truth?
Rowley Oh, I have convinced him that he has no chance of recovering certain sums advanced to Charles but through the bounty of Sir Oliver, who he knows is arrived; so that you may depend on his fidelity to his own interests. I have also another evidence in my power, one Snake, whom I have detected in a matter little short of forgery, and shall shortly produce to remove some of your prejudices, Sir Peter, relative to Charles and Lady Teazle.
Sir Peter I have heard too much on that subject.
Rowley Here comes the honest Israelite. —
Enter Moses.
—This is Sir Oliver.
Sir Oliver Sir, I understand you have lately had great dealings with my nephew Charles.
Moses Yes, Sir Oliver, I have done all I could for him; but he was ruined before he came to me for assistance.
Sir Oliver That was unlucky, truly; for you have had no opportunity of showing your talents.
Moses None at all; I hadn’t the pleasure of knowing his distresses till he was some thousands worse than nothing.
Sir Oliver Unfortunate, indeed!⁠—But I suppose you have done all in your power for him, honest Moses?
Moses Yes, he knows that. — This very evening I was to have brought him a gentleman from the city, who does not know him, and will, I believe, advance him some money.
Sir Peter What⁠—one Charles has never had money from before?
Moses Yes, Mr. Premium, of Crutched Friars, formerly a broker.
Sir Peter Egad, Sir Oliver, a thought strikes me!⁠—Charles, you say, does not know Mr. Premium?
Moses Not at all.
Sir Peter Now then, Sir Oliver, you may have a better opportunity of satisfying yourself than by an old romancing tale of a poor relation! go with my friend Moses, and represent Premium, and then, I’ll answer for it, you’ll see your nephew in all his glory.
Sir Oliver Egad, I like this idea better than the other, and I may visit Joseph afterwards as old Stanley.
Sir Peter True⁠—so you may.
Rowley Well, this is taking Charles rather at a disadvantage, to be sure. However, Moses, you understand Sir Peter, and will be faithful?
Moses You may depend upon me. — Looks at his watch. This is near the time I was to have gone.
Sir Oliver I’ll accompany you as soon as you please, Moses⁠—But hold! I have forgot one thing⁠—how the plague shall I be able to pass for a Jew?
Moses There’s no need⁠—the principal is Christian.
Sir Oliver Is he? I’m very sorry to hear it. But, then again, an’t I rather too smartly dressed to look like a moneylender?
Sir Peter Not at all: ’t would not be out of character, if you went in your own carriage⁠—would it, Moses?
Moses Not in the least.
Sir Oliver Well, but how must I talk? there’s certainly some cant of usury and mode of treating that I ought to know.
Sir Peter Oh, there’s not much to learn. The great point, as I take it, is to be exorbitant enough in your demands. Hey, Moses?
Moses Yes, that’s a very great point.
Sir Oliver I’ll answer for ’t I’ll not be wanting in that. I’ll ask him eight or ten percent on the loan, at least.
Moses If you ask him no more than that, you’ll be discovered immediately.
Sir Oliver Hey!⁠—what the plague⁠—how much then?
Moses That depends upon the circumstances. If he appears not very anxious for the supply, you should require only forty or fifty percent; but if you find him in great distress, and want the moneys very bad, you may ask double.
Sir Peter A good honest trade you’re learning, Sir Oliver!
Sir Oliver Truly, I think so⁠—and not unprofitable.
Moses Then, you know, you haven’t the moneys yourself, but are forced to borrow them for him of a friend.
Sir Oliver Oh! I borrow it of a friend, do I?
Moses And your friend is an unconscionable dog: but you can’t help that.
Sir Oliver My friend an unconscionable dog, is he?
Moses Yes, and he himself has not the moneys by him, but is forced to sell stock at a great loss.
Sir Oliver He is forced to sell stock at a great loss, is he? Well, that’s very kind of him.
Sir Peter I’faith, Sir Oliver⁠—Mr. Premium, I mean⁠—you’ll soon be master of the trade. But, Moses! would not you have him run out a little against the Annuity Bill?10 That would be in character, I should think.
Moses Very much.
Rowley And lament that a young man now must be at years of discretion before he is suffered to ruin himself.
Moses Ay, great pity.
Sir Peter And abuse the public for allowing merit to an act whose only object is to snatch misfortune and imprudence from the rapacious grip of usury, and give the minor a chance of inheriting his estate without being undone by coming into possession.
Sir Oliver So, so⁠—Moses shall give me farther instructions as we go together.
Sir Peter You will not have much time, for your nephew lives hard by.
Sir Oliver Oh, never fear! my tutor appears so able, that though Charles lived in the next street, it must be my own fault if I am not a complete rogue before I turn the corner.
Exit with Moses.
Sir Peter So, now, I think Sir Oliver will be convinced: you are partial, Rowley, and would have prepared Charles for the other plot.
Rowley No, upon my word, Sir Peter.
Sir Peter Well, go bring me this Snake, and I’ll hear what he has to say presently. — I see Maria, and want to speak with her. —
Exit Rowley.
I should be glad to be convinced my suspicions of Lady Teazle and Charles were unjust. I have never yet opened my mind on this subject to my friend Joseph⁠—I am determined I will do it⁠—he will give me his opinion sincerely.
Enter Maria.
So, child, has Mr. Surface returned with you?
Maria No, sir; he was engaged.
Sir Peter Well, Maria, do you not reflect, the more you converse with that amiable young man, what return his partiality for you deserves?
Maria Indeed, Sir Peter, your frequent importunity on this subject distresses me extremely⁠—you compel me to declare that I know no man who has ever paid me a particular attention whom I would not prefer to Mr. Surface.
Sir Peter So⁠—here’s perverseness!⁠—No, no, Maria, ’tis Charles only whom you would prefer. ’T is evident his vices and follies have won your heart.
Maria This is unkind, sir. You know I have obeyed you in neither seeing nor corresponding with him: I have heard enough to convince me that he is unworthy my regard. Yet I cannot think it culpable, if, while my understanding severely condemns his vices, my heart suggests some pity for his distresses.
Sir Peter Well, well, pity him as much as you please; but give your heart and hand to a worthier object.
Maria Never to his brother!
Sir Peter Go, perverse and obstinate! But take care, madam; you have never yet known what the authority of a guardian is: don’t compel me to inform you of it.
Maria I can only say you shall not have just reason. ’T is true, by my father’s will, I am for a short period bound to regard you as his substitute; but must cease to think you so, when you would compel me to be miserable.
Exit Maria.
Sir Peter Was ever man so crossed as I am? everything conspiring to fret me! I had not been involved in matrimony a fortnight, before her father, a hale and hearty man, died, on purpose, I believe, for the pleasure of plaguing me with the care of his daughter. — Lady Teazle sings without. But here comes my helpmate! She appears in great good humour. How happy I should be if I could tease her into loving me, though but a little!
Enter Lady Teazle.
Lady Teazle Lud! Sir Peter, I hope you haven’t been quarrelling Maria? It is not using me well to be ill-humoured when I am not by.
Sir Peter Ah, Lady Teazle, you might have the power to make me good-humoured at all times.
Lady Teazle I am sure I wish I had; for I want you to be in a charming sweet temper at this moment. Do be good-humoured now, and let me have two hundred pounds, will you?
Sir Peter Two hundred pounds; what, an’t I to be in a good humour without paying for it! But speak to me thus, and i’ faith there’s nothing I could refuse you. You shall have it; but seal me a bond for the repayment.
Lady Teazle Oh, no⁠—there⁠—my note of hand will do as well. Offering her hand.
Sir Peter And you shall no longer reproach me with not giving you an independent settlement. I mean shortly to surprise you:⁠—but shall we always live thus, hey?
Lady Teazle If you please. I’m sure I don’t care how soon we leave off quarrelling, provided you’ll own you were tired first.
Sir Peter Well⁠—then let our future contest be, who shall be most obliging.
Lady Teazle I assure you, Sir Peter, good nature becomes you. You look now as you did before we were married, when you used to walk with me under the elms, and tell me stories of what a gallant you were in your youth, and chuck me under the chin, you would; and ask me if I thought I could love an old fellow who would deny me nothing⁠—didn’t you?
Sir Peter Yes, yes, and you were as kind and attentive⁠—
Lady Teazle Ay, so I was, and would always take your part, when my acquaintance used to abuse you, and turn you into ridicule.
Sir Peter Indeed!
Lady Teazle Ay, and when my cousin Sophy has called you a stiff, peevish old bachelor, and laughed at me for thinking of marrying one who might be my father, I have always defended you⁠—and said, I didn’t think you so ugly by any means.
Sir Peter Thank you.
Lady Teazle And I dared say you’d make a very good sort of a husband.
Sir Peter And you prophesied right; and we shall now be the happiest couple⁠—
Lady Teazle And never differ again?
Sir Peter No, never!11⁠—though at the same time, indeed, my dear Lady Teazle, you must watch your temper very seriously; for in all our little quarrels, my dear, if you recollect, my love, you always began first.
Lady Teazle I beg your pardon, my dear Sir Peter: indeed you always gave the provocation.
Sir Peter Now see, my angel! take care⁠—contradicting isn’t the way to keep friends.
Lady Teazle Then don’t you begin it, my love!
Sir Peter There, now! you⁠—you are going on. You don’t perceive, my life, that you are just doing the very thing which you know always makes me angry.
Lady Teazle Nay, you know if you will be angry without any reason, my dear⁠—
Sir Peter There! now you want to quarrel again.
Lady Teazle No, I’m sure I don’t: but if you will be so peevish⁠—
Sir Peter There now! who begins first?
Lady Teazle Why, you, to be sure. I said nothing⁠—but there’s no bearing your temper.
Sir Peter No, no, madam: the fault’s in your own temper.
Lady Teazle Ay, you are just what my cousin Sophy said you would be.
Sir Peter Your cousin Sophy is a forward, impertinent gipsy.
Lady Teazle You are a great bear, I’m sure, to abuse my relations.
Sir Peter Now may all the plagues of marriage be doubled on me, if ever I try to be friends with you any more!
Lady Teazle So much the better.
Sir Peter No, no, madam: ’tis evident you never cared a pin for me, and I was a madman to marry you⁠—a pert, rural coquette, that had refused half the honest ’squires in the neighbourhood!
Lady Teazle And I am sure I was a fool to marry you⁠—an old dangling bachelor, who was single at fifty, only because he never could meet with anyone who would have him.
Sir Peter Ay, ay, madam; but you were pleased enough to listen to me: you never had such an offer before.
Lady Teazle No! didn’t I refuse Sir Tivy Terrier, who everybody said would have been a better match? for his estate is just as good as yours, and he has broke his neck since we have been married.
Sir Peter I have done with you, madam! You are an unfeeling, ungrateful⁠—but there’s an end of everything. I believe you capable of everything that is bad. Yes, madam, I now believe the reports relative to you and Charles, madam. Yes, madam, you and Charles are⁠—not without grounds⁠—
Lady Teazle Take care, Sir Peter! you had better not insinuate any such thing! I’ll not be suspected without cause, I promise you.
Sir Peter Very well, madam! very well! A separate maintenance as soon as you please. Yes, madam, or a divorce! I’ll make an example of myself for the benefit of all old bachelors. Let us separate, madam.
Lady Teazle Agreed! agreed! And now, my dear Sir Peter, we are of a mind once more, we may be the happiest couple, and never differ again, you know: ha! ha! ha! Well, you are going to be in a passion, I see, and I shall only interrupt you⁠—so, by! by!
Sir Peter Plagues and tortures! Can’t I make her angry either! Oh, I am the most miserable fellow! But I’ll not bear her presuming to keep her temper: no! she may break my heart, but she shan’t keep her temper.

Scene II

A room in Charles Surface’s house.

Enter Trip, Moses, and Sir Oliver Surface.
Trip Here, Master Moses! if you’ll stay a moment, I’ll try whether⁠—what’s the gentleman’s name?
Sir Oliver Mr. Moses, what is my name? Aside to Moses.
Moses Mr. Premium.
Trip Premium⁠—Very well.
Exit Trip, taking snuff.
Sir Oliver To judge by the servants, one wouldn’t believe the master was ruined. But what!⁠—sure, this was my brother’s house?
Moses Yes, sir; Mr. Charles bought it of Mr. Joseph, with the furniture, pictures, etc., just as the old gentleman left it. Sir Peter thought it a piece of extravagance in him.
Sir Oliver In my mind, the other’s economy in selling it to him was more reprehensible by half.
Reenter Trip.
Trip My master says you must wait, gentlemen: he has company, and can’t speak with you yet.
Sir Oliver If he knew who it was wanted to see him, perhaps he would not send such a message?
Trip Yes, yes, sir; he knows you are here⁠—I did not forget little Premium: no, no, no.
Sir Oliver Very well; and I pray, sir, what may be your name?
Trip Trip, sir; my name is Trip, at your service.
Sir Oliver Well, then, Mr. Trip, you have a pleasant sort of place here, I guess?
Trip Why, yes⁠—here are three or four of us pass our time agreeably enough; but then our wages are sometimes a little in arrear⁠—and not very great either⁠—but fifty pounds a year, and find our own bags and bouquets!12
Sir Oliver Bags and bouquets! halters and bastinadoes. Aside.
Trip And apropos, Moses⁠—have you been able to get me that little bill discounted?
Sir Oliver Wants to raise money too!⁠—mercy on me! Has his distresses too, I warrant, like a lord, and affects creditors and duns. Aside.
Moses ’T was not to be done, indeed, Mr. Trip.
Trip Good lack, you surprise me! My friend Brush has endorsed it, and I thought when he put his name at the back of a bill ’twas the same as cash.
Moses No, ’t wouldn’t do.
Trip A small sum⁠—but twenty pounds. Hark’ee, Moses, do you think you couldn’t get it me by way of annuity?
Sir Oliver An annuity! ha! ha! a footman raise money by way of annuity! Well done, luxury, egad! Aside.
Moses Well, but you must insure your place.
Trip Oh, with all my heart! I’ll insure my place and my life too, if you please.
Sir Oliver It is more than I would your neck. Aside.
Moses But is there nothing you could deposit?
Trip Why, nothing capital of my master’s wardrobe has dropped lately; but I could give you a mortgage on some of his winter clothes, with equity of redemption before November⁠—or you shall have the reversion of the French velvet,13 or a post-obit on the blue and silver;⁠—these, I should think, Moses, with a few pair of point ruffles, as a collateral security⁠—hey, my little fellow?
Moses Well, well. Bell rings.
Trip Egad, I heard the bell! I believe, gentlemen, I can now introduce you. Don’t forget the annuity, little Moses! This way, gentlemen, I’ll insure my place, you know.
Sir Oliver Aside. If the man be a shadow of the master, this is the temple of dissipation indeed!

Scene III

Another room in the same.

Charles Surface, Sir Harry Bumper, Careless, and Gentlemen, discovered drinking.
Charles Surface ’Fore heaven, ’tis true!⁠—there’s the great degeneracy of the age. Many of our acquaintance have taste, spirit, and politeness; but, plague on’t, they won’t drink.
Careless It is so, indeed, Charles! they give in to all the substantial luxuries of the table, and abstain from nothing but wine and wit. Oh, certainly society suffers by it intolerably! for now, instead of the social spirit of raillery that used to mantle over a glass of bright Burgundy, their conversation is become just like the Spa-water they drink, which has all the pertness and flatulency of champagne, without its spirit or flavour.
1st Gentleman But what are they to do who love play better than wine?
Careless True! there’s Sir Harry diets himself for gaining, and is now under a hazard regimen.
Charles Surface Then he’ll have the worst of it. What! you wouldn’t train a horse for the course by keeping him from corn? For my part, egad, I am never so successful as when I am a little merry: let me throw on a bottle of champagne, and I never lose.
All Hey, what?
Charles Surface At least I never feel my losses, which is exactly the same thing.
2nd Gentleman Ay, that I believe.
Charles Surface And then, what man can pretend to be a believer in love, who is an abjurer of wine? ’T is the test by which the lover knows his own heart. Fill a dozen bumpers to a dozen beauties, and she that floats at the top is the maid that has bewitched you.
Careless Now then, Charles, be honest, and give us your real favourite.
Charles Surface Why, I have withheld her only in compassion to you. If I toast her, you must give a round of her peers, which is impossible⁠—on earth.
Careless Oh! then we’ll find some canonized vestals or heathen goddesses that will do, I warrant!
Charles Surface Here then, bumpers, you rogues! bumpers! Maria! Maria!⁠—
Sir Harry Maria who?
Charles Surface Oh, damn the surname!⁠—’tis too formal to be registered in Love’s calendar⁠—Maria!
All Maria!
Charles Surface But now, Sir Harry, beware, we must have beauty superlative.
Careless Nay, never study, Sir Harry: we’ll stand to the toast, though your mistress should want an eye, and you know you have a song will excuse you.
Sir Harry

Egad, so I have! and I’ll give him the song instead of the lady.14


Here’s to the maiden of bashful fifteen;
Here’s to the widow of fifty;
Here’s to the flaunting extravagant quean,
And here’s to the housewife that’s thrifty.

Chorus. Let the toast pass⁠—
Drink to the lass,
I’ll warrant she’ll prove an excuse for the glass.

Here’s to the charmer whose dimples we prize;
Now to the maid who has none, sir:
Here’s to the girl with a pair of blue eyes,
And here’s to the nymph with but one, sir.

Chorus. Let the toast pass, etc.

Here’s to the maid with a bosom of snow:
Now to her that’s as brown as a berry,
Here’s to the wife with a face full of woe,
And now to the damsel that’s merry.

Chorus. Let the toast pass, etc.

For let ’em be clumsy, or let ’em be slim,
Young or ancient, I care not a feather;
So fill a pint bumper quite up to the brim,
So fill up your glasses, nay, fill to the brim,
And let us e’en toast them together.

Chorus. Let the toast pass, etc.

All Bravo! bravo!
Enter Trip, and whispers Charles Surface.
Charles Surface Gentlemen, you must excuse me a little⁠—Careless, take the chair, will you?
Careless Nay, prithee, Charles, what now? This is one of your peerless beauties, I suppose, has dropped in by chance?
Charles Surface No, faith! To tell you the truth, ’tis a Jew and a broker, who are come by appointment.
Careless Oh, damn it! let’s have the Jew in.
1st Gentleman Ay, and the broker too, by all means.
2nd Gentleman Yes, yes, the Jew and the broker.
Charles Surface Egad, with all my heart!⁠—Trip, bid the gentlemen walk in. —
Exit Trip.
Though there’s one of them a stranger, I can tell you.
Careless Charles, let us give them some generous Burgundy, and perhaps they’ll grow conscientious.
Charles Surface Oh, hang ’em, no! wine does but draw forth a man’s natural qualities; and to make them drink would only be to whet their knavery.
Reenter Trip, with Sir Oliver Surface and Moses.
Charles Surface So, honest Moses; walk in, pray, Mr. Premium⁠—that’s the gentleman’s name, isn’t it, Moses?
Moses Yes, sir.
Charles Surface Set chairs, Trip.⁠—Sit down, Mr. Premium.⁠—Glasses, Trip.⁠—
Gives chairs and glasses, and exit.
Sit down, Moses.⁠—Come, Mr. Premium, I’ll give you a sentiment; here’s Success to usury!⁠—Moses, fill the gentleman a bumper.
Moses Success to usury! Drinks.
Careless Right, Moses⁠—usury is prudence and industry, and deserves to succeed.
Sir Oliver Then⁠—here’s all the success it deserves! Drinks.
Careless No, no, that won’t do! Mr. Premium, you have demurred at the toast, and must drink it in a pint bumper.
1st Gentleman A pint bumper, at least.
Moses Oh, pray, sir, consider⁠—Mr. Premium’s a gentleman.15
Careless And therefore loves good wine.
2nd Gentleman Give Moses a quart glass⁠—this is mutiny, and a high contempt for the chair.
Careless Here, now for ’t! I’ll see justice done, to the last drop of my bottle.
Sir Oliver Nay, pray, gentlemen⁠—I did not expect this usage.
Charles Surface No, hang it, you shan’t; Mr. Premium’s a stranger.
Sir Oliver Odd! I wish I was well out of their company. Aside.
Careless Plague on ’em! if they won’t drink, we’ll not sit down with them. Come, Harry, the dice are in the next room.⁠—Charles, you’ll join us when you have finished your business with the gentlemen?
Charles Surface I will! I will!⁠—
Exeunt Sir Harry Bumper and Gentlemen; Careless following.
Careless Returning. Well!
Charles Surface Perhaps I may want you.
Careless Oh, you know I am always ready: word, note, or bond, ’tis all the same to me.⁠—
Moses Sir, this is Mr. Premium, a gentleman of the strictest honour and secrecy; and always performs what he undertakes. Mr. Premium, this is⁠—
Charles Surface Pshaw! have done. Sir, my friend Moses is a very honest fellow, but a little slow at expression: he’ll be an hour giving us our titles. Mr. Premium, the plain state of the matter is this: I am an extravagant young fellow who wants to borrow money; you I take to be a prudent old fellow, who have got money to lend. I am blockhead enough to give fifty percent sooner than not have it; and you, I presume, are rogue enough to take a hundred if you can get it. Now, sir, you see we are acquainted at once, and may proceed to business without farther ceremony.
Sir Oliver Exceeding frank, upon my word. I see, sir, you are not a man of many compliments.
Charles Surface Oh, no, sir! plain dealing in business I always think best.
Sir Oliver Sir, I like you the better for it. However, you are mistaken in one thing; I have no money to lend, but I believe I could procure some of a friend; but then he’s an unconscionable dog. Isn’t he, Moses?
Moses But you can’t help that.
Sir Oliver And must sell stock to accommodate you. — Mustn’t he, Moses?
Moses Yes, indeed! You know I always speak the truth, and scorn to tell a lie!
Charles Surface Right. People that speak truth generally do. But these are trifles, Mr. Premium. What! I know money isn’t to be bought without paying for ’t!
Sir Oliver Well, but what security could you give? You have no land, I suppose?
Charles Surface Not a molehill, nor a twig, but what’s in the bough-pots out of the window!
Sir Oliver Nor any stock, I presume?
Charles Surface Nothing but live stock⁠—and that’s only a few pointers and ponies. But pray, Mr. Premium, are you acquainted at all with any of my connections?
Sir Oliver Why, to say truth, I am.
Charles Surface Then you must know that I have a devilish rich uncle in the East Indies, Sir Oliver Surface, from whom I have the greatest expectations?
Sir Oliver That you have a wealthy uncle, I have heard; but how your expectations will turn out is more, I believe, than you can tell.
Charles Surface Oh, no!⁠—there can be no doubt. They tell me I’m a prodigious favourite, and that he talks of leaving me everything.
Sir Oliver Indeed! this is the first I’ve heard of it.
Charles Surface Yes, yes, ’tis just so. — Moses knows ’tis true; don’t you, Moses?
Moses Oh, yes! I’ll swear to ’t.16
Sir Oliver Egad, they’ll persuade me presently I’m at Bengal. Aside.
Charles Surface Now I propose, Mr. Premium, if it’s agreeable to you, a post-obit on Sir Oliver’s life; though at the same time the old fellow has been so liberal to me, that I give you my word, I should be very sorry to hear that anything had happened to him.
Sir Oliver Not more than I should, I assure you. But the bond you mention happens to be just the worst security you could offer me⁠—for I might live to a hundred and never see the principal.
Charles Surface Oh, yes, you would! the moment Sir Oliver dies, you know, you would come on me for the money.
Sir Oliver Then I believe I should be the most unwelcome dun you ever had in your life.
Charles Surface What! I suppose you’re afraid that Sir Oliver is too good a life?
Sir Oliver No, indeed I am not; though I have heard he is as hale and healthy as any man of his years in Christendom.
Charles Surface There, again, now you are misinformed. No, no, the climate has hurt him considerably, poor uncle Oliver. Yes, yes, he breaks apace, I’m told⁠—and is so much altered lately that his nearest relations don’t know him.
Sir Oliver No! Ha! ha! ha! so much altered lately that his nearest relations don’t know him! Ha! ha! ha! egad⁠—ha! ha! ha!
Charles Surface Ha! ha!⁠—you’re glad to hear that, little Premium?
Sir Oliver No, no, I’m not.
Charles Surface Yes, yes, you are⁠—ha! ha! ha!⁠—you know that mends your chance.
Sir Oliver But I’m told Sir Oliver is coming over; nay, some say he is actually arrived.
Charles Surface Pshaw! sure I must know better than you whether he’s come or not. No, no, rely on’t he’s at this moment at Calcutta. — Isn’t he, Moses?
Moses Oh, yes, certainly.
Sir Oliver Very true, as you say, you must know better than I, though I have it from pretty good authority. — Haven’t I, Moses?
Moses Yes, most undoubtedly!
Sir Oliver But, sir, as I understand, you want a few hundreds immediately⁠—is there nothing you could dispose of?
Charles Surface How do you mean?
Sir Oliver For instance, now, I have heard that your father left behind him a great quantity of massy old plate.
Charles Surface O Lud! that’s gone long ago. Moses can tell you how better than I can.
Sir Oliver Aside. Good lack! all the family race-cups and corporation-bowls! Aloud. Then it was also supposed that his library was one of the most valuable and compact⁠—
Charles Surface Yes, yes, so it was⁠—vastly too much so for a private gentleman. For my part, I was always of a communicative disposition, so I thought it a shame to keep so much knowledge to myself.
Sir Oliver Aside. Mercy upon me! learning that had run in the family like an heirloom⁠—Aloud. Pray, what are become of the books?
Charles Surface You must inquire of the auctioneer, Master Premium, for I don’t believe even Moses can direct you.
Moses I know nothing of books.
Sir Oliver So, so, nothing of the family property left, I suppose?
Charles Surface Not much, indeed; unless you have a mind to the family pictures. I have got a room full of ancestors above; and if you have a taste for old paintings, egad, you shall have ’em a bargain!
Sir Oliver Hey! what the devil! sure, you wouldn’t sell your forefathers, would you?
Charles Surface Every man of them, to the best bidder.
Sir Oliver What, your great-uncles and aunts?
Charles Surface Ay, and my great-grandfathers and grandmothers too.
Sir Oliver Aside. Now I give him up!⁠—Aloud. What the plague, have you no bowels for your own kindred? Odd’s life! do you take me for Shylock in the play, that you would raise money of me on your own flesh and blood?
Charles Surface Nay, my little broker, don’t be angry: what need you care, if you have your money’s worth?
Sir Oliver Well, I’ll be the purchaser: I think I can dispose of the family canvas. — Aside. Oh, I’ll never forgive him this! never!
Reenter Careless.
Careless Come, Charles, what keeps you?
Charles Surface I can’t come yet. I’faith, we are going to have a sale above-stairs; here’s little Premium will buy all my ancestors!
Careless Oh, burn your ancestors!
Charles Surface No, he may do that afterwards, if he pleases. Stay, Careless, we want you: egad, you shall be auctioneer⁠—so come along with us.
Careless Oh, have with you, if that’s the case. I can handle a hammer as well as a dice-box! Going! going!
Sir Oliver Oh, the profligates! Aside.
Charles Surface Come, Moses, you shall be appraiser, if we want one. Gad’s life, little Premium, you don’t seem to like the business?
Sir Oliver Oh, yes, I do, vastly! Ha! ha! ha! yes, yes, I think it a rare joke to sell one’s family by auction⁠—ha! ha!⁠—Aside. Oh, the prodigal!
Charles Surface To be sure! when a man wants money, where the plague should he get assistance, if he can’t make free with his own relations?
Sir Oliver I’ll never forgive him; never! never!

Act IV

Scene I

A picture room in Charles Surface’s house

Enter Charles Surface, Sir Oliver Surface, Moses, and Careless.
Charles Surface Walk in, gentlemen, pray walk in;⁠—here they are, the family of the Surfaces, up to the Conquest.
Sir Oliver And, in my opinion, a goodly collection.
Charles Surface Ay, ay, these are done in the true spirit of portrait-painting; no volontière grace or expression. Not like the works of your modern Raphaels, who give you the strongest resemblance, yet contrive to make your portrait independent of you; so that you may sink the original and not hurt the picture. — No, no; the merit of these is the inveterate likeness⁠—all stiff and awkward as the originals, and like nothing in human nature besides.
Sir Oliver Ah! we shall never see such figures of men again.
Charles Surface I hope not. — Well, you see, Master Premium, what a domestic character I am; here I sit of an evening surrounded by my family. — But come, get to your pulpit, Mr. Auctioneer;17 here’s an old gouty chair of my grandfather’s will answer the purpose.
Careless Ay, ay, this will do. — But, Charles, I haven’t a hammer; and what’s an auctioneer without his hammer?
Charles Surface Egad, that’s true. What parchment have we here? Oh, our genealogy in full. Taking pedigree down. Here, Careless, you shall have no common bit of mahogany, here’s the family tree for you, you rogue! This shall be your hammer, and now you may knock down my ancestors with their own pedigree.
Sir Oliver What an unnatural rogue!⁠—an ex post facto parricide! Aside.
Careless Yes, yes, here’s a list of your generation indeed;⁠—faith, Charles, this is the most convenient thing you could have found for the business, for ’t will not only serve as a hammer, but a catalogue into the bargain. Come, begin⁠—A-going, a-going, a-going!
Charles Surface Bravo, Careless! Well, here’s my great-uncle, Sir Richard Raveline,18 a marvellous good general in his day, I assure you. He served in all the Duke of Marlborough’s wars, and got that cut over his eye at the battle of Malplaquet. What say you, Mr. Premium? look at him⁠—there’s a hero! not cut out of his feathers, as your modern clipped captains are, but enveloped in wig and regimentals, as a general should be. — What do you bid?
Sir Oliver Aside to Moses. Bid him speak.
Moses Mr. Premium would have you speak.
Charles Surface Why, then, he shall have him for ten pounds, and I’m sure that’s not dear for a staff-officer.
Sir Oliver Aside. Heaven deliver me! his famous uncle Richard for ten pounds!⁠—Aloud. Very well, sir, I take him at that.
Charles Surface Careless, knock down my uncle Richard. — Here, now, is a maiden sister of his, my great-aunt Deborah, done by Kneller, thought to be in his best manner, and a very formidable likeness. There she is, you see, a shepherdess feeding her flock. You shall have her for five pounds ten⁠—the sheep are worth the money.
Sir Oliver Aside. Ah! poor Deborah! a woman who set such a value on herself!⁠—Aloud. Five pounds ten⁠—she’s mine.
Charles Surface Knock down my aunt Deborah!⁠—Here, now, are two that were a sort of cousins of theirs. — You see, Moses, these pictures were done some time ago, when beaux wore wigs, and the ladies their own hair.
Sir Oliver Yes, truly, headdresses appear to have been a little lower in those days.
Charles Surface Well, take that couple for the same.
Moses ’T is a good bargain.
Charles Surface Careless!⁠—This, now, is a grandfather of my mother’s, a learned judge, well known on the western circuit. — What do you rate him at, Moses?
Moses Four guineas.
Charles Surface Four guineas! Gad’s life, you don’t bid me the price of his wig. — Mr. Premium, you have more respect for the woolsack; do let us knock his lordship down at fifteen.
Sir Oliver By all means.
Careless Gone!
Charles Surface And there are two brothers of his, William and Walter Blunt, Esquires, both members of parliament, and noted speakers; and, what’s very extraordinary, I believe, this is the first time they were ever bought or sold.
Sir Oliver That is very extraordinary, indeed! I’ll take them at your own price, for the honour of parliament.
Careless Well said, little Premium!⁠—I’ll knock them down at forty.
Charles Surface Here’s a jolly fellow⁠—I don’t know what relation, but he was mayor of Manchester: take him at eight pounds.
Sir Oliver No, no; six will do for the mayor.
Charles Surface Come, make it guineas, and I’ll throw you the two aldermen there into the bargain.
Sir Oliver They’re mine.
Charles Surface Careless, knock down the mayor and aldermen. — But, plague on’t! we shall be all day retailing in this manner: do let us deal wholesale; what say you, little Premium? Give me three hundred pounds for the rest of the family in the lump.
Careless Ay, ay, that will be the best way.
Sir Oliver Well, well, anything to accommodate you; they are mine. But there is one portrait which you have always passed over.
Careless What, that ill-looking little fellow over the settee?
Sir Oliver Yes, sir, I mean that; though I don’t think him so ill-looking a little fellow, by any means.
Charles Surface What, that?⁠—Oh; that’s my uncle Oliver! ’twas done before he went to India.
Careless Your uncle Oliver!⁠—Gad, then you’ll never be friends, Charles. That, now, to me, is as stern a looking rogue as ever I saw; an unforgiving eye, and a damned disinheriting countenance! an inveterate knave, depend on’t. Don’t you think so, little Premium?
Sir Oliver Upon my soul, sir, I do not; I think it is as honest a looking face as any in the room, dead or alive. — But I suppose uncle Oliver goes with the rest of the lumber?
Charles Surface No, hang it! I’ll not part with poor Noll. The old fellow has been very good to me, and, egad, I’ll keep his picture while I’ve a room to put it in.
Sir Oliver Aside. The rogue’s my nephew after all!⁠—Aloud. But, sir, I have somehow taken a fancy to that picture.
Charles Surface I’m sorry for ’t, for you certainly will not have it. Oons, haven’t you got enough of them?
Sir Oliver Aside. I forgive him everything!⁠—Aloud. But, sir, when I take a whim in my head, I don’t value money. I’ll give you as much for that as for all the rest.
Charles Surface Don’t tease me, master broker; I tell you I’ll not part with it, and there’s an end of it.
Sir Oliver Aside. How like his father the dog is!⁠—Aloud. Well, well, I have done. — Aside. I did not perceive it before, but I think I never saw such a striking resemblance. — Aloud. Here is a draft for your sum.
Charles Surface Why, ’tis for eight hundred pounds!
Sir Oliver You will not let Sir Oliver go?
Charles Surface Zounds! no! I tell you once more.
Sir Oliver Then never mind the difference, we’ll balance that another time. — But give me your hand on the bargain; you are an honest fellow, Charles⁠—I beg pardon, sir, for being so free. — Come, Moses.
Charles Surface Egad, this is a whimsical old fellow!⁠—But hark’ee, Premium, you’ll prepare lodgings for these gentlemen.
Sir Oliver Yes, yes, I’ll send for them in a day or two.
Charles Surface But hold; do now send a genteel conveyance for them, for, I assure you, they were most of them used to ride in their own carriages.
Sir Oliver I will, I will⁠—for all but Oliver.
Charles Surface Ay, all but the little nabob.
Sir Oliver You’re fixed on that?
Charles Surface Peremptorily.
Sir Oliver Aside. A dear extravagant rogue!⁠—Aloud. Good day!⁠—Come, Moses. — Aside. Let me hear now who dares call him profligate!
Exit with Moses.
Careless Why, this is the oddest genius of the sort I ever met with!
Charles Surface Egad, he’s the prince of brokers, I think. I wonder how the devil Moses got acquainted with so honest a fellow. — Ha! here’s Rowley. — Do, Careless, say I’ll join the company in a few moments.
Careless I will⁠—but don’t let that old blockhead persuade you to squander any of that money on old musty debts, or any such nonsense; for tradesmen, Charles, are the most exorbitant fellows.
Charles Surface Very true, and paying them is only encouraging them.
Careless Nothing else.
Charles Surface Ay, ay, never fear. —
Exit Careless.
So! this was an odd old fellow, indeed. — Let me see, two-thirds of this is mine by right, five hundred and thirty odd pounds. ’Fore Heaven! I find one’s ancestors are more valuable relations than I took them for!⁠—Ladies and gentlemen, your most obedient and very grateful servant.⁠—Bows ceremoniously to the pictures.
Enter Rowley.
Ha! old Rowley! egad, you are just come in time to take leave of your old acquaintance.
Rowley Yes, I heard they were a-going. But I wonder you can have such spirits under so many distresses.
Charles Surface Why, there’s the point! my distresses are so many, that I can’t afford to part with my spirits; but I shall be rich and splenetic, all in good time. However, I suppose you are surprised that I am not more sorrowful at parting with so many near relations: to be sure, ’tis very affecting, but you see they never move a muscle, so why should I?
Rowley There’s no making you serious a moment.
Charles Surface Yes, faith, I am so now. Here, my honest Rowley, here, get me this changed directly, and take a hundred pounds of it immediately to old Stanley.
Rowley A hundred pounds. Consider only⁠—
Charles Surface Gad’s life, don’t talk about it! poor Stanley’s wants are pressing, and, if you don’t make haste, we shall have someone call that has a better right to the money.
Rowley Ah! there’s the point! I never will cease dunning you with the old proverb⁠—
Charles Surface Be just before you’re generous.19⁠—Why, so I would if I could; but Justice is an old, hobbling beldame, and I can’t get her to keep pace with Generosity, for the soul of me.
Rowley Yet, Charles, believe me, one hour’s reflection⁠—
Charles Surface Ay, ay, it’s very true; but, hark’ee, Rowley, while I have, by Heaven I’ll give: so, damn your economy! and now for hazard.

Scene II

Another room in the same.

Enter Sir Oliver Surface and Moses.
Moses Well, sir, I think, as Sir Peter said, you have seen Mr. Charles in high glory; ’tis great pity he’s so extravagant.
Sir Oliver True, but he would not sell my picture.
Moses And loves wine and women so much.
Sir Oliver But he would not sell my picture.
Moses And game so deep.
Sir Oliver But he would not sell my picture. Oh, here’s Rowley.
Enter Rowley.
Rowley So, Sir Oliver, I find you have made a purchase⁠—
Sir Oliver Yes, yes, our young rake has parted with his ancestors like old tapestry.
Rowley And here has he commissioned me to redeliver you part of the purchase-money⁠—I mean, though, in your necessitous character of old Stanley.
Moses Ah! there is the pity of all! he is so damned charitable.
Rowley And I left a hosier and two tailors in the hall, who, I’m sure, won’t be paid, and this hundred would satisfy them.
Sir Oliver Well, well, I’ll pay his debts and his benevolence too. But now I am no more a broker, and you shall introduce me to the elder brother as old Stanley.
Rowley Not yet awhile; Sir Peter, I know, means to call there about this time.
Enter Trip.
Trip Oh, gentlemen, I beg pardon for not showing you out: this way⁠—Moses, a word.
Exit with Moses.
Sir Oliver There’s a fellow for you! Would you believe it, that puppy intercepted the Jew on our coming, and wanted to raise money before he got to his master!
Rowley Indeed!
Sir Oliver Yes, they are now planning an annuity business. Ah, Master Rowley, in my days servants were content with me follies of their masters, when I they were worn a little threadbare; but now they I have their vices, like their birthday clothes, with the gloss on.

Scene III

A library in Joseph Surface’s house.

Enter Joseph Surface and Servant.
Joseph Surface No letter from Lady Teazle?
Servant No, sir.
Joseph Surface Aside. I am surprised she has not sent, if she is prevented from coming. Sir Peter certainly does not suspect me. Yet I wish I may not lose the heiress through the scrape I have drawn myself into with the wife: however, Charles’s imprudence and bad character are great points in my favour.
Knocking heard without.
Servant Sir, I believe that must be Lady Teazle.
Joseph Surface Hold! See whether it is or not, before you go to the door: I have a particular message for you if it should be my brother.
Servant ’T is her ladyship, sir; she always leaves her chair at the milliner’s in the next street.
Joseph Surface Stay, stay; draw that screen before the windows20⁠—that will do;⁠—my opposite neighbour is a maiden lady of so curious a temper. —
Servant draws the screen, and exit.
I have a difficult hand to play in this affair. Lady Teazle has lately suspected my views on Maria; but she must by no means be let into that secret⁠—at least till I have her more in my power.
Enter Lady Teazle.
Lady Teazle What, sentiment in soliloquy now? Have you been very impatient? O Lud! don’t pretend to look grave. I vow I couldn’t come before.
Joseph Surface O madam, punctuality is a species of constancy, very unfashionable in a lady of quality. Places chairs and sits after Lady Teazle is seated.
Lady Teazle Upon my word, you ought to pity me. Do you know Sir Peter has grown so ill-natured to me of late, and so jealous of Charles too⁠—that’s the best of the story, isn’t it?
Joseph Surface I am glad my scandalous friends keep that up. Aside.
Lady Teazle I am sure I wish he would let Maria marry him, and then perhaps he would be convinced; don’t you, Mr. Surface?
Joseph Surface Aside. Indeed I do not. — Aloud. Oh, certainly I do! for then my dear Lady Teazle would also be convinced how wrong her suspicions were of my having any design on the silly girl.
Lady Teazle Well, well, I’m inclined to believe you. But isn’t it provoking, to have the most ill-natured things said of one? And there’s my friend Lady Sneerwell has circulated I don’t know how many scandalous tales of me, and all without any foundation too;⁠—that’s what vexes me.
Joseph Surface Ay, madam, to be sure, that is the provoking circumstance⁠—without foundation; yes, yes, there’s the mortification, indeed; for, when a scandalous story is believed against one, there certainly is no comfort like the consciousness of having deserved it.
Lady Teazle No, to be sure, then I’d forgive their malice; but to attack me, who am really so innocent, and who never say an ill-natured thing of anybody⁠—that is, of any friend; and then Sir Peter, too, to have him so peevish, and so suspicious, when I know the integrity of my own heart⁠—indeed ’tis monstrous!
Joseph Surface But, my dear Lady Teazle, ’tis your own fault if you suffer it. When a husband entertains a groundless suspicion of his wife, and withdraws his confidence from her, the original compact is broken, and she owes it to the honour of her sex to endeavour to outwit him.
Lady Teazle Indeed!⁠—So that, if he suspects me without cause, it follows, that the best way of curing his jealousy is to give him reason for ’t?
Joseph Surface Undoubtedly⁠—for your husband should never be deceived in you: and in that case it becomes you to be frail in compliment to his discernment.
Lady Teazle To be sure, what you say is very reasonable, and when the consciousness of my innocence⁠—
Joseph Surface Ah, my dear madam, there is the great mistake! ’tis this very conscious innocence that is of the greatest prejudice to you.21 What is it makes you negligent of forms, and careless of the world’s opinion? why, the consciousness of your own innocence. What makes you thoughtless in your conduct and apt to run into a thousand little imprudences? why, the consciousness of your own innocence. What makes you impatient of Sir Peter’s temper, and outrageous at his suspicions? why, the consciousness of your innocence.
Lady Teazle ’T is very true!
Joseph Surface Now, my dear Lady Teazle, if you would but once make a trifling faux pas, you can’t conceive how cautious you would grow, and how ready to humour and agree with your husband.
Lady Teazle Do you think so?
Joseph Surface Oh, I am sure on’t; and then you would find all scandal would cease at once, for⁠—in short, your character at present is like a person in a plethora, absolutely dying from too much health.
Lady Teazle So, so; then I perceive your prescription is, that I must sin in my own defence, and part with my virtue to preserve my reputation?
Joseph Surface Exactly so, upon my credit, ma’am.
Lady Teazle Well, certainly this is the oddest doctrine, and the newest receipt for avoiding calumny!
Joseph Surface An infallible one, believe me. Prudence, like experience, must be paid for.
Lady Teazle Why, if my understanding were once convinced⁠—
Joseph Surface Oh, certainly, madam, your understanding should be convinced. Yes, yes⁠—Heaven forbid I should persuade you to do anything you thought wrong. No, no, I have too much honour to desire it.
Lady Teazle Don’t you think we may as well leave honour out of the argument? Rises.
Joseph Surface Ah, the ill effects of your country education, I see, still remain with you.
Lady Teazle I doubt they do indeed; and I will fairly own to you, that if I could be persuaded to do wrong, it would be by Sir Peter’s ill usage sooner than your honourable logic, after all.
Joseph Surface Then, by this hand, which he is unworthy of⁠—Taking her hand.
Reenter Servant.
’Sdeath, you blockhead⁠—what do you want?
Servant I beg your pardon, sir, but I thought you would not choose Sir Peter to come up without announcing him.
Joseph Surface Sir Peter!⁠—Oons⁠—the devil!
Lady Teazle Sir Peter! O Lud! I’m ruined! I’m ruined!
Servant Sir, ’twasn’t I let him in.
Lady Teazle Oh! I’m quite undone! What will become of me? Now, Mr. Logic⁠—Oh! mercy, sir, he’s on the stairs⁠—I’ll get behind here⁠—and if ever I’m so imprudent again⁠—Goes behind the screen.
Joseph Surface Give me that book. Sits down. Servant pretends to adjust his chair.
Enter Sir Peter Teazle.
Sir Peter Ay, ever improving himself⁠—Mr. Surface, Mr. Surface⁠—Pats Joseph on the shoulder.
Joseph Surface Oh, my dear Sir Peter, I beg your pardon⁠—Gaping, throws away the book. I have been dozing over a stupid book. Well, I am much obliged to you for this call. You haven’t been here, I believe, since I fitted up this room. Books, you know, are the only things in which I am a coxcomb.
Sir Peter ’T is very neat indeed. — Well, well, that’s proper; and you can make even your screen a source of knowledge⁠—hung, I perceive, with maps.
Joseph Surface Oh, yes, I find great use in that screen.
Sir Peter I dare say you must, certainly, when you want to find anything in a hurry.
Joseph Surface Ay, or to hide anything in a hurry either. Aside.
Sir Peter Well, I have a little private business⁠—
Joseph Surface You need not stay. To Servant.
Servant No, sir.
Joseph Surface Here’s a chair, Sir Peter⁠—I beg⁠—
Sir Peter Well, now we are alone, there is a subject, my dear friend, on which I wish to unburden my mind to you⁠—a point of the greatest moment to my peace; in short, my good friend, Lady Teazle’s conduct of late has made me very unhappy.
Joseph Surface Indeed! I am very sorry to hear it.
Sir Peter Yes, ’tis but too plain she has not the least regard for me; but, what’s worse, I have pretty good authority to suppose she has formed an attachment to another.
Joseph Surface Indeed! you astonish me!
Sir Peter Yes! and, between ourselves, I think I’ve discovered the person.
Joseph Surface How! you alarm me exceedingly.
Sir Peter Ay, my dear friend, I knew you would sympathize with me!
Joseph Surface Yes, believe me, Sir Peter, such a discovery would hurt me just as much as it would you.
Sir Peter I am convinced of it. — Ah! it is a happiness to have a friend whom we can trust even with one’s family secrets. But have you no guess who I mean?
Joseph Surface I haven’t the most distant idea. It can’t be Sir Benjamin Backbite!
Sir Peter Oh, no! What say you to Charles?
Joseph Surface My brother! impossible!
Sir Peter Oh, my dear friend, the goodness of your own heart misleads you. You judge of others by yourself.
Joseph Surface Certainly, Sir Peter, the heart that is conscious of its own integrity is ever slow to credit another’s treachery.
Sir Peter True; but your brother has no sentiment⁠—you never hear him talk so.
Joseph Surface Yet I can’t but think Lady Teazle herself has too much principle.
Sir Peter Ay; but what is principle against the flattery of a handsome, lively young fellow?
Joseph Surface That’s very true.
Sir Peter And then, you know, the difference of our ages makes it very improbable that she should have any great affection for me; and if she were to be frail, and I were to make it public, why the town would only laugh at me, the foolish old bachelor, who had married a girl.
Joseph Surface That’s true, to be sure⁠—they would laugh.
Sir Peter Laugh! ay, and make ballads, and paragraphs, and the devil knows what of me.
Joseph Surface No⁠—you must never make it public.
Sir Peter But then again⁠—that the nephew of my old friend, Sir Oliver, should be the person to attempt such a wrong, hurts me more nearly.
Joseph Surface Ay, there’s the point. When ingratitude barbs the dart of injury, the wound has double danger in it.
Sir Peter Ay⁠—I, that was, in a manner, left his guardian: in whose house he had been so often entertained; who never in my life denied him⁠—my advice!
Joseph Surface Oh, ’tis not to be credited! There may be a man capable of such baseness, to be sure; but, for my part, till you can give me positive proofs, I cannot but doubt it. However, if it should be proved on him, he is no longer a brother of mine⁠—I disclaim kindred with him: for the man who can break the laws of hospitality, and tempt the wife of his friend, deserves to be branded as the pest of society.
Sir Peter What a difference there is between you! What noble sentiments!
Joseph Surface Yet I cannot suspect Lady Teazle’s honour.
Sir Peter I am sure I wish to think well of her, and to remove all ground of quarrel between us. She has lately reproached me more than once with having made no settlement on her; and, in our last quarrel, she almost hinted that she should not break her heart if I was dead. Now, as we seem to differ in our ideas of expense, I have resolved she shall have her own way, and be her own mistress in that respect for the future; and, if I were to die, she will find I have not been inattentive to her interest while living. Here, my friend, are the drafts of two deeds, which I wish to have your opinion on. — By one, she will enjoy eight hundred a year independent while I live; and by the other, the bulk of my fortune at my death.
Joseph Surface This conduct, Sir Peter, is indeed truly generous. — Aside. I wish it may not corrupt my pupil.
Sir Peter Yes, I am determined she shall have no cause to complain, though I would not have her acquainted with the latter instance of my affection yet awhile.
Joseph Surface Nor I, if I could help it. Aside.
Sir Peter And now, my dear friend, if you please, we will talk over the situation of your hopes with Maria.
Joseph Surface Softly. Oh, no, Sir Peter; another time, if you please.
Sir Peter I am sensibly chagrined at the little progress you seem to make in her affections.
Joseph Surface Softly. I beg you will not mention it. What are my disappointments when your happiness is in debate!⁠—Aside. ’Sdeath, I shall be ruined every way!
Sir Peter And though you are so averse to my acquainting Lady Teazle with your passion for Maria, I’m sure she’s not your enemy in the affair.
Joseph Surface Pray, Sir Peter, now oblige me. I am really too much affected by the subject we have been speaking of, to bestow a thought on my own concerns. The man who is entrusted with his friend’s distresses can never⁠—
Reenter Servant.
Well, sir?
Servant Your brother, sir, is speaking to a gentleman in the street, and says he knows you are within.
Joseph Surface ’Sdeath, blockhead, I’m not within⁠—I’m out for the day.
Sir Peter Stay⁠—hold⁠—a thought has struck me:⁠—you shall be at home.
Joseph Surface Well, well, let him up. —
Exit Servant.
He’ll interrupt Sir Peter, however. Aside.
Sir Peter Now, my good friend, oblige me, I entreat you. — Before Charles comes, let me conceal myself somewhere⁠—then do you tax him on the point we have been talking, and his answer may satisfy me at once.
Joseph Surface Oh, fie, Sir Peter! would you have me join in so mean a trick?⁠—to trepan my brother too?
Sir Peter Nay, you tell me you are sure he is innocent; if so, you do him the greatest service by giving him an opportunity to clear himself, and you will set my heart at rest. Come, you shall not refuse me: Going up. here behind the screen will be⁠—Hey! what the devil! there seems to be one listener here already⁠—I’ll swear I saw a petticoat!
Joseph Surface Ha! ha! ha! Well, this is ridiculous enough. I’ll tell you, Sir Peter, though I hold a man of intrigue to be a most despicable character, yet, you know, it does not follow that one is to be an absolute Joseph either! Hark’ee, ’tis a little French milliner⁠—a silly rogue that plagues me;⁠—and having some character to lose, on your coming, sir, she ran behind the screen.
Sir Peter Ah, Joseph! Joseph! Did I ever think that you⁠—But, egad, she has overheard all I have been saying of my wife.
Joseph Surface Oh, ’t will never go any farther, you may depend upon it!
Sir Peter No! then, faith, let her hear it out.⁠—Here’s a closet will do as well.
Joseph Surface Well, go in there.
Sir Peter Sly rogue! sly rogue! Goes into the closet.
Joseph Surface A narrow escape, indeed! and a curious situation I’m in, to part man and wife in this manner.
Lady Teazle Peeping. Couldn’t I steal off?
Joseph Surface Keep close, my angel!
Sir Peter Peeping. Joseph, tax him home.
Joseph Surface Back, my dear friend!
Lady Teazle Peeping. Couldn’t you lock Sir Peter in?
Joseph Surface Be still, my life!
Sir Peter Peeping. You’re sure the little milliner won’t blab?
Joseph Surface In, in, my dear Sir Peter!⁠—’Fore Gad, I wish I had a key to the door.
Enter Charles Surface.
Charles Surface Holla! brother, what has been the matter? Your fellow would not let me up at first. What! have you had a Jew or a wench with you?
Joseph Surface Neither, brother, I assure you.
Charles Surface But what has made Sir Peter steal off? I thought he had been with you.
Joseph Surface He was, brother; but, hearing you were coming, he did not choose to stay.
Charles Surface What! was the old gentleman afraid I wanted to borrow money of him?
Joseph Surface No, sir: but I am sorry to find, Charles, you have lately given that worthy man grounds for great uneasiness.
Charles Surface Yes, they tell me I do that to a great many worthy men. — But how so, pray?
Joseph Surface To be plain with you, brother⁠—he thinks you are endeavouring to gain Lady Teazle’s affections from him.
Charles Surface Who, I? O Lud! not I, upon my word. — Ha! ha! ha! ha! so the old fellow has found out that he has got a young wife, has he?⁠—or, what is worse, Lady Teazle has found out she has an old husband?
Joseph Surface This is no subject to jest on, brother. He who can laugh⁠—
Charles Surface True, true, as you were going to say⁠—then, seriously, I never had the least idea of what you charge me with, upon my honour.
Joseph Surface Well, it will give Sir Peter great satisfaction to hear this. Raising his voice.
Charles Surface To be sure, I once thought the lady seemed to have taken a fancy to me; but, upon my soul, I never gave her the least encouragement. — Besides, you know my attachment to Maria.
Joseph Surface But sure, brother, even if Lady Teazle had betrayed the fondest partiality for you⁠—
Charles Surface Why, look’ee, Joseph, I hope I shall never deliberately do a dishonourable action; but if a pretty woman was purposely to throw herself in my way⁠—and that pretty woman married to a man old enough to be her father⁠—
Joseph Surface Well!
Charles Surface Why, I believe I should be obliged to⁠—
Joseph Surface What?
Charles Surface To borrow a little of your morality, that’s all. But, brother, do you know now that you surprise me exceedingly, by naming me with Lady Teazle; for, i’ faith, I always understood you were her favourite.
Joseph Surface Oh, for shame, Charles! This retort is foolish.
Charles Surface Nay, I swear I have seen you exchange such significant glances⁠—
Joseph Surface Nay, nay, sir, this is no jest.
Charles Surface Egad, I’m serious! Don’t you remember one day, when I called here⁠—
Joseph Surface Nay, prithee, Charles⁠—
Charles Surface And found you together⁠—
Joseph Surface Zounds, sir, I insist⁠—
Charles Surface And another time when your servant⁠—
Joseph Surface Brother, brother, a word with you. — Aside. Gad, I must stop him.
Charles Surface Informed, I say, that⁠—
Joseph Surface Hush! I beg your pardon, but Sir Peter has overheard all we have been saying. I knew you would clear yourself, or I should not have consented.
Charles Surface How, Sir Peter! Where is he?
Joseph Surface Softly, there! Points to the closet.
Charles Surface Oh, ’fore Heaven, I’ll have him out. Sir Peter, come forth!
Joseph Surface No, no⁠—
Charles Surface I say, Sir Peter, come into court. — Pulls in Sir Peter. What! my old guardian!⁠—What! turn inquisitor, and take evidence incog? Oh, fie! Oh, fie!
Sir Peter Give me your hand, Charles⁠—I believe I have suspected you wrongfully: but you mustn’t be angry with Joseph⁠—’twas my plan!
Charles Surface Indeed.
Sir Peter But I acquit you. I promise you I don’t think near so ill of you as I did: what I have heard has given me great satisfaction.
Charles Surface Egad, then, ’twas lucky you didn’t hear any more. Wasn’t it, Joseph? Aside to Joseph.
Sir Peter Ah! you would have retorted on him.
Charles Surface Ah, ay, that was a joke.
Sir Peter Yes, yes, I know his honour too well.
Charles Surface But you might as well have suspected him as me in this matter, for all that. Mightn’t he, Joseph? Aside to Joseph.
Sir Peter Well, well, I believe you.
Joseph Surface Would they were both out of the room! Aside.
Sir Peter And in future, perhaps we may not be such strangers.
Reenter Servant, and whispers Joseph Surface.
Servant Lady Sneerwell is below, and says she will come up.
Joseph Surface Lady Sneerwell! Gad’s life! she must not come here.
Exit Servant.
Gentlemen, I beg pardon⁠—I must wait on you downstairs: here is a person come on particular business.
Charles Surface Well, you can see him in another room. Sir Peter and I have not met a long time, and I have something to say to him.
Joseph Surface Aside. They must not be left together. — Aloud. I’ll send this man away, and return directly. — Aside to Sir Peter. Sir Peter, not a word of the French milliner.
Sir Peter Aside to Joseph Surface. I! not for the world!⁠—
Exit Joseph Surface.
Ah, Charles, if you associated more with your brother, one might indeed hope for your reformation. He is a man of sentiment. — Well, there is nothing in the world so noble as a man of sentiment.
Charles Surface Pshaw! he is too moral by half; and so apprehensive of his good name, as he calls it, that I suppose he would as soon let a priest into his house as a girl.
Sir Peter No, no⁠—come, come⁠—you wrong him. No, no! Joseph is no rake, but he is no such saint either in that respect. — Aside. I have a great mind to tell him⁠—we should have such a laugh at Joseph.
Charles Surface Oh, hang him! he’s a very anchorite, a young hermit.
Sir Peter Hark’ee⁠—you must not abuse him; he may chance to hear of it again, I promise you.
Charles Surface Why, you won’t tell him?
Sir Peter No⁠—but⁠—this way. — Aside. Egad, I’ll tell him. — Aloud. Hark’ee⁠—have you a mind to have a good laugh at Joseph?
Charles Surface I should like it of all things.
Sir Peter Then, i’ faith, we will!⁠—I’ll be quit with him for discovering me. — He had a girl with him when I called. Whispers.
Charles Surface What! Joseph? you jest.
Sir Peter Hush!⁠—a little French milliner⁠—and the best of the jest is⁠—she is in the room now.
Charles Surface The devil she is!
Sir Peter Hush! I tell you. Points to the screen.
Charles Surface Behind the screen! ’Slife, let’s unveil her!
Sir Peter No, no⁠—he’s coming:⁠—you shan’t indeed!
Charles Surface Oh, egad, we’ll have a peep at the little milliner!
Sir Peter Not for the world!⁠—Joseph will never forgive me.
Charles Surface I’ll stand by you⁠—
Sir Peter Odds, here he is!
Reenter Joseph Surface just as Charles Surface throws down the screen.22
Charles Surface Lady Teazle, by all that’s wonderful.
Sir Peter Lady Teazle, by all that’s damnable!23
Charles Surface Sir Peter, this is one of the smartest French milliners I ever saw. Egad, you seem all to have been diverting yourselves here at hide and seek, and I don’t see who is out of the secret. Shall I beg your ladyship to inform me? Not a word!⁠—Brother, will you be pleased to explain this matter? What! is Morality dumb too?⁠—Sir Peter, though I found you in the dark, perhaps you are not so now! All mute!⁠—Well⁠—though I can make nothing of the affair, I suppose you perfectly understand one another; so I will leave you to yourselves. — Going. Brother, I’m sorry to find you have given that worthy man grounds for so much uneasiness. — Sir Peter! there’s nothing in the world so noble as a man of sentiment! They stand for some time looking at each other.
Exit Charles.
Joseph Surface Sir Peter⁠—notwithstanding⁠—I confess⁠—that appearances are against me⁠—if you will afford me your patience⁠—I make no doubt⁠—but I shall explain everything to your satisfaction.
Sir Peter If you please, sir.
Joseph Surface The fact is, sir, that Lady Teazle, knowing my pretensions to your ward Maria⁠—I say sir, Lady Teazle, being apprehensive of the jealousy of your temper⁠—and knowing my friendship to the family⁠—she, sir, I say⁠—called here⁠—in order that⁠—I might explain these pretensions⁠—but on your coming⁠—being apprehensive⁠—as I said⁠—of your jealousy⁠—she withdrew⁠—and this, you may depend on it, is the whole truth of the matter.
Sir Peter A very clear account, upon my word; and I dare swear the lady will vouch for every article of it.
Lady Teazle For not one word of it, Sir Peter!
Sir Peter How! don’t you think it worth while to agree in the lie?
Lady Teazle There is not one syllable of truth in what that gentleman has told you.
Sir Peter I believe you, upon my soul, ma’am!
Joseph Surface Aside to Lady Teazle. ’Sdeath, madam, will you betray me?
Lady Teazle Good Mr. Hypocrite, by your leave, I’ll speak for myself.
Sir Peter Ay, let her alone, sir; you’ll find she’ll make out a better story than you, without prompting.
Lady Teazle Hear me, Sir Peter!⁠—I came here on no matter relating to your ward, and even ignorant of this gentleman’s pretensions to her. But I came, seduced by his insidious arguments, at least to listen to his pretended passion, if not to sacrifice your honour to his baseness.
Sir Peter Now, I believe, the truth is coming, indeed!
Joseph Surface The woman’s mad.
Lady Teazle No, sir; she has recovered her senses, and your own arts have furnished her with the means. — Sir Peter, I do not expect you to credit me⁠—but the tenderness you expressed for me, when I am sure you could not think I was a witness to it, has so penetrated to my heart, that had I left the place without the shame of this discovery, my future life should have spoken the sincerity of my gratitude. As for that smooth-tongued hypocrite, who would have seduced the wife of his too credulous friend, while he affected honourable addresses to his ward⁠—I behold him now in a light so truly despicable, that I shall never again respect myself for having listened to him.
Exit Lady Teazle.
Joseph Surface Notwithstanding all this, Sir Peter, Heaven knows⁠—
Sir Peter That you are a villain! and so I leave you to your conscience.
Joseph Surface You are too rash, Sir Peter; you shall hear me. The man who shuts out conviction by refusing to⁠—
Sir Peter Oh, damn your sentiments!
Exeunt Sir Peter and Joseph Surface, talking.

Act V

Scene I

The library in Joseph Surface’s house.

Enter Joseph Surface and Servant.
Joseph Surface Mr. Stanley! and why should you think I would see him? you must know he comes to ask something.
Servant Sir, I should not have let him in, but that Mr. Rowley came to the door with him.
Joseph Surface Pshaw! blockhead! to suppose that I should now be in a temper to receive visits from poor relations!⁠—Well, why don’t you show the fellow up?
Servant I will, sir. — Why, sir, it was not my fault that Sir Peter discovered my lady⁠—
Joseph Surface Go, fool!⁠—
Exit Servant.
Sure Fortune never played a man of my, policy such a trick before! My character with Sir Peter, my hopes with Maria, destroyed in a moment! I’m in a rare humour to listen to other people’s distresses! I shan’t be able to bestow even a benevolent sentiment on Stanley. — So! here he comes, and Rowley with him. I must try to recover myself, and put a little charity into my face, however.
Enter Sir Oliver Surface and Rowley.
Sir Oliver What! does he avoid us? That was he, was it not?
Rowley It was, sir. But I doubt you are come a little too abruptly. His nerves are so weak, that the sight of a poor relation may be too much for him. I should have gone first to break it to him.
Sir Oliver Oh, plague of his nerves! Yet this is he whom Sir Peter extols as a man of the most benevolent way of thinking!
Rowley As to his way of thinking, I cannot pretend to decide; for, to do him justice, he appears to have as much speculative benevolence as any private gentleman in the kingdom, though he is seldom so sensual as to indulge himself in the exercise of it.
Sir Oliver Yet he has a string of charitable sentiments at his fingers’ ends.
Rowley Or, rather, at his tongue’s end, Sir Oliver; for I believe there is no sentiment he has such faith in as that Charity begins at home.
Sir Oliver And his, I presume, is of that domestic sort which never stirs abroad at all.
Rowley I doubt you’ll find it so;⁠—but he’s coming. I mustn’t seem to interrupt you; and you know, immediately as you leave him, I come in to announce your arrival in your real character.
Sir Oliver True; and afterwards you’ll meet me at Sir Peter’s.
Rowley Without losing a moment.
Sir Oliver I don’t like the complaisance of his features.
Reenter Joseph Surface.
Joseph Surface Sir, I beg you ten thousand pardons for keeping you a moment waiting⁠—Mr. Stanley, I presume.
Sir Oliver At your service.
Joseph Surface Sir, I beg you will do me the honour to sit down⁠—I entreat you, sir⁠—
Sir Oliver Dear sir⁠—there’s no occasion. Aside. Too civil by half!
Joseph Surface I have not the pleasure of knowing you, Mr. Stanley; but I am extremely happy to see you look so well. You were nearly related to my mother, I think, Mr. Stanley.
Sir Oliver I was, sir; so nearly that my present poverty, I fear, may do discredit to her wealthy children, else I should not have presumed to trouble you.
Joseph Surface Dear sir, there needs no apology;⁠—he that is in distress, though a stranger, has a right to claim kindred with the wealthy. I am sure I wish I was one of that class, and had it in my power to offer you even a small relief.
Sir Oliver If your uncle, Sir Oliver, were here, I should have a friend.
Joseph Surface I wish he was, sir, with all my heart: you should not want an advocate with him, believe me, sir.
Sir Oliver I should not need one⁠—my distresses would recommend me. But I imagined his bounty would enable you to become the agent of his charity.
Joseph Surface My dear sir, you were strangely misinformed. Sir Oliver is a worthy man, a very worthy man; but avarice, Mr. Stanley, is the vice of age. I will tell you, my good sir, in confidence, what he has done for me has been a mere nothing; though people, I know, have thought otherwise, and, for my part, I never chose to contradict the report.
Sir Oliver What! has he never transmitted you bullion⁠—rupees⁠—pagodas?24
Joseph Surface Oh, dear sir, nothing of the kind! No, no; a few presents now and then⁠—china, shawls, congou tea, avadavats, and Indian crackers⁠—little more, believe me.
Sir Oliver Here’s gratitude for twelve thousand pounds!⁠—Avadavats and Indian crackers! Aside.
Joseph Surface Then, my dear sir, you have heard, I doubt not, of the extravagance of my brother: there are very few would credit what I have done for that unfortunate young man.
Sir Oliver Not I, for one! Aside.
Joseph Surface The sums I have lent him!⁠—Indeed I have been exceedingly to blame; it was an amiable weakness; however, I don’t pretend to defend it⁠—and now I feel it doubly culpable, since it has deprived me of the pleasure of serving you, Mr. Stanley, as my heart dictates.
Sir Oliver Aside. Dissembler!⁠—Aloud. Then, sir, you can’t assist me?
Joseph Surface At present, it grieves me to say, I cannot; but, whenever I have the ability, you may depend upon hearing from me.
Sir Oliver I am extremely sorry⁠—
Joseph Surface Not more than I, believe me; to pity without the power to relieve, is still more painful than to ask and be denied.
Sir Oliver Kind sir, your most obedient humble servant.
Joseph Surface You leave me deeply affected, Mr. Stanley. — William, be ready to open the door. Calls to Servant.
Sir Oliver Oh, dear sir, no ceremony.
Joseph Surface Your very obedient.
Sir Oliver Sir, your most obsequious.
Joseph Surface You may depend upon hearing from me, whenever I can be of service.
Sir Oliver Sweet sir, you are too good!
Joseph Surface In the meantime I wish you health and spirits.
Sir Oliver Your ever grateful and perpetual humble servant.
Joseph Surface Sir, yours as sincerely.
Sir Oliver Aside. Charles, you are my heir!
Joseph Surface This is one bad effect of a good character; it invites application from the unfortunate, and there needs no small degree of address to gain the reputation of benevolence without incurring the expense. The silver ore of pure charity is an expensive article in the catalogue of a man’s good qualities; whereas the sentimental French plate I use instead of it makes just as good a show, and pays no tax.
Reenter Rowley.
Rowley Mr. Surface, your servant: I was apprehensive of interrupting you, though my business demands immediate attention, as this note will inform you.
Joseph Surface Always happy to see Mr. Rowley⁠—a rascal. — Aside. Reads the letter. Sir Oliver Surface!⁠—My uncle arrived!
Rowley He is, indeed: we have just parted⁠—quite well, after a speedy voyage, and impatient to embrace his worthy nephew.
Joseph Surface I am astonished!⁠—William! stop Mr. Stanley, if he’s not gone. Calls to Servant.
Rowley Oh! he’s out of reach, I believe.
Joseph Surface Why did you not let me know this when you came in together?
Rowley I thought you had particular business. But I must be gone to inform your brother, and appoint him here to meet your uncle. He will be with you in a quarter of an hour.
Joseph Surface So he says. Well, I am strangely overjoyed at his coming. — Aside. Never, to be sure, was anything so damned unlucky!
Rowley You will be delighted to see how well he looks.
Joseph Surface Ah! I’m rejoiced to hear it. — Aside. Just at this time!
Rowley I’ll tell him how impatiently you expect him.
Joseph Surface Do, do; pray give my best duty and affection. Indeed, I cannot express the sensations I feel at the thought of seeing him.
Exit Rowley.
Certainly his coming just at this time is the cruellest piece of ill-fortune.

Scene II

A room in Sir Peter Teazle’s house.

Enter Mrs. Candour and Maid.
Maid Indeed, ma’am, my lady will see nobody at present.
Mrs. Candour Did you tell her it was her friend, Mrs. Candour?
Maid Yes, ma’am; but she begs you will excuse her.
Mrs. Candour Do go again: I shall be glad to see her, if it be only for a moment, for I’m sure she must be in great distress.⁠—
Exit Maid.
Dear heart, how provoking! I’m not mistress of half the circumstances! We shall have the whole affair in the newspapers, with the names of the parties at length, before I have dropped the story at a dozen houses.
Enter Sir Benjamin Backbite.
Oh, dear Sir Benjamin! you have heard, I suppose⁠—
Sir Benjamin Of Lady Teazle and Mr. Surface⁠—
Mrs. Candour And Sir Peter’s discovery⁠—
Sir Benjamin Oh, the strangest piece of business, to be sure!
Mrs. Candour Well, I never was so surprised in my life. I am so sorry for all parties, indeed.
Sir Benjamin Now, I don’t pity Sir Peter at all: he was so extravagantly partial to Mr. Surface.
Mrs. Candour Mr. Surface! Why, ’twas with Charles Lady Teazle was detected.
Sir Benjamin No, no, I tell you: Mr. Surface is the gallant.
Mrs. Candour No such thing! Charles is the man. ’T was Mr. Surface brought Sir Peter on purpose to discover them.
Sir Benjamin I tell you I had it from one⁠—
Mrs. Candour And I have it from one⁠—
Sir Benjamin Who had it from one, who had it⁠—
Mrs. Candour From one immediately⁠—But here comes Lady Sneerwell; perhaps she knows the whole affair.
Enter Lady Sneerwell.
Lady Sneerwell So, my dear Mrs. Candour, here’s a sad affair of our friend Lady Teazle!
Mrs. Candour Ay, my dear friend, who would have thought⁠—
Lady Sneerwell Well, there is no trusting appearances; though, indeed, she was always too lively for me.
Mrs. Candour To be sure, her manners were a little too free; but then she was so young!
Lady Sneerwell And had, indeed, some good qualities.
Mrs. Candour So she had, indeed. But have you heard the particulars?
Lady Sneerwell No; but everybody says that Mr. Surface⁠—
Sir Benjamin Ay, there; I told you Mr. Surface was the man.
Mrs. Candour No, no: indeed the assignation was with Charles.
Lady Sneerwell With Charles! You alarm me, Mrs. Candour!
Mrs. Candour Yes, yes; he was the lover. Mr. Surface, to do him justice, was only the informer.
Sir Benjamin Well, I’ll not dispute with you, Mrs. Candour; but, be it which it may, I hope that Sir Peter’s wound, will not⁠—
Mrs. Candour Sir Peter’s wound! Oh, mercy! I didn’t hear a word of their fighting.
Lady Sneerwell Nor I, a syllable.
Sir Benjamin No! what, no mention of the duel?
Mrs. Candour Not a word.
Sir Benjamin Oh, yes: they fought before they left the room.
Lady Sneerwell Pray let us hear.
Mrs. Candour Ay, do oblige us with the duel.
Sir Benjamin Sir, says Sir Peter, immediately after the discovery, you are a most ungrateful fellow.
Mrs. Candour Ay, to Charles⁠—
Sir Benjamin No, no⁠—to Mr. Surface⁠—a most ungrateful fellow; and old as I am, sir, says he, I insist on immediate satisfaction.
Mrs. Candour Ay, that must have been to Charles; for ’tis very unlikely Mr. Surface should fight in his own house.
Sir Benjamin Gad’s life, ma’am, not at all⁠—giving me immediate satisfaction.⁠—On this, ma’am, Lady Teazle, seeing Sir Peter in such danger, ran out of the room in strong hysterics, and Charles after her, calling out for hartshorn and water; then, madam, they began to fight with swords⁠—
Enter Crabtree.
Crabtree With pistols, nephew⁠—pistols! I have it from undoubted authority.
Mrs. Candour Oh, Mr. Crabtree, then it is all true!
Crabtree Too true, indeed, madam, and Sir Peter is dangerously wounded⁠—
Sir Benjamin By a thrust in segoon25 quite through his left side⁠—
Crabtree By a bullet lodged in the thorax.
Mrs. Candour Mercy on me! Poor Sir Peter!
Crabtree Yes, madam; though Charles would have avoided the matter, if he could.
Mrs. Candour I told you who it was; I knew Charles was the person.
Sir Benjamin My uncle, I see, knows nothing of the matter.
Crabtree But Sir Peter taxed him with the basest ingratitude⁠—
Sir Benjamin That I told you, you know⁠—
Crabtree Do, nephew, let me speak!⁠—and insisted on immediate⁠—
Sir Benjamin Just as I said⁠—
Crabtree Odds life, nephew, allow others to know something too! A pair of pistols lay on the bureau (for Mr. Surface, it seems, had come home the night before late from Salthill, where he had been to see the Montem26 with a friend, who has a son at Eton), so, unluckily, the pistols were left charged.
Sir Benjamin I heard nothing of this.
Crabtree Sir Peter forced Charles to take one, and they fired, it seems, pretty nearly together. Charles’s shot took effect, as I tell you, and Sir Peter’s missed; but, what is very extraordinary, the ball struck against a little bronze Shakespeare that stood over the fireplace, grazed out of the window at a right angle, and wounded the postman, who was just coming to the door with a double letter from Northamptonshire.27
Sir Benjamin My uncle’s account is more circumstantial, I confess; but I believe mine is the true one, for all that.
Lady Sneerwell Aside. I am more interested in this affair than they imagine, and must have better information.
Exit Lady Sneerwell.
Sir Benjamin Ah! Lady Sneerwell’s alarm is very easily accounted for.
Crabtree Yes, yes, they certainly do say⁠—but that’s neither here nor there.
Mrs. Candour But, pray, where is Sir Peter at present?
Crabtree Oh, they brought him home, and he is now in the house, though the servants are ordered to deny him.
Mrs. Candour I believe so, and Lady Teazle, I suppose, attending him.
Crabtree Yes, yes; and I saw one of the faculty enter just before me.
Sir Benjamin Hey! who comes here?
Crabtree Oh, this is he: the physician, depend on’t.
Mrs. Candour Oh, certainly! it must be the physician; and now we shall know.
Enter Sir Oliver Surface.
Crabtree Well, doctor, what hopes?
Mrs. Candour Ay, doctor, how’s your patient?
Sir Benjamin Now, doctor, isn’t it a wound with a small-sword?
Crabtree A bullet lodged in the thorax, for a hundred!
Sir Oliver Doctor! a wound with a small-sword! and a bullet in the thorax!⁠—Oons! are you mad, good people?
Sir Benjamin Perhaps, sir, you are not a doctor?
Sir Oliver Truly, I am to thank you for my degree, if I am.
Crabtree Only a friend of Sir Peter’s, then, I presume. But, sir, you must have heard of his accident?
Sir Oliver Not a word!
Crabtree Not of his being dangerously wounded?
Sir Oliver The devil he is!
Sir Benjamin Run through the body⁠—
Crabtree Shot in the breast⁠—
Sir Benjamin By one Mr. Surface⁠—
Crabtree Ay, the younger.
Sir Oliver Hey! what the plague! you seem to differ strangely in your accounts: however, you agree that Sir Peter is dangerously wounded.
Sir Benjamin Oh, yes, we agree in that.
Crabtree Yes, yes, I believe there can be no doubt of that.
Sir Oliver Then, upon my word, for a person in that situation, he is the most imprudent man alive; for here he comes, walking as if nothing at all was the matter.
Enter Sir Peter Teazle.
Odds heart, Sir Peter! you are come in good time, I promise you; for we had just given you over!
Sir Benjamin Aside to Crabtree. Egad, uncle, this is the most sudden recovery!
Sir Oliver Why, man! what do you out of bed with a small-sword through your body, and a bullet lodged in your thorax?
Sir Peter A small-sword and a bullet!
Sir Oliver Ay; these gentlemen would have killed you without law or physic, and wanted to dub me a doctor, to make me an accomplice.
Sir Peter Why, what is all this?
Sir Benjamin We rejoice, Sir Peter, that the story of the duel is not true, and are sincerely sorry for your other misfortune.
Sir Peter So, so; all over the town already! Aside.
Crabtree Though, Sir Peter, you were certainly vastly to blame to marry at your years.
Sir Peter Sir, what business is that of yours?
Mrs. Candour Though, indeed, as Sir Peter made so good a husband, he’s very much to be pitied.
Sir Peter Plague on your pity, ma’am! I desire none of it.
Sir Benjamin However, Sir Peter, you must not mind the laughing and jests you will meet with on the occasion.
Sir Peter Sir, sir! I desire to be master in my own house.
Crabtree ’T is no uncommon case, that’s one comfort.
Sir Peter I insist on being left to myself: without ceremony⁠—I insist on your leaving my house directly!
Mrs. Candour Well, well, we are going; and depend on’t, we’ll make the best report of it we can.
Sir Peter Leave my house!
Crabtree And tell how hardly you’ve been treated.
Sir Peter Leave my house!
Sir Benjamin And how patiently you bear it.
Sir Peter Fiends! vipers! furies! Oh! that their own venom would choke them!
Sir Oliver They are very provoking, indeed, Sir Peter.
Enter Rowley.
Rowley I heard high words: what has ruffled you, sir?
Sir Peter Pshaw! what signifies asking? Do I ever pass a day without my vexations?
Rowley Well, I’m not inquisitive.
Sir Oliver Well, Sir Peter, I have seen both my nephews in the manner we proposed.
Sir Peter A precious couple they are!
Rowley Yes, and Sir Oliver is convinced that your judgment was right, Sir Peter.
Sir Oliver Yes, I find Joseph is indeed the man, after all.
Rowley Ay, as Sir Peter says, he is a man of sentiment.
Sir Oliver And acts up to the sentiments he professes.
Rowley It certainly is edification to hear him talk.
Sir Oliver Oh, he’s a model for the young men of the age. — But how’s this, Sir Peter? you don’t join us in your friend Joseph’s praise, as I expected.
Sir Peter Sir Oliver, we live in a damned wicked world, and the fewer we praise the better.
Rowley What! do you say so, Sir Peter, who were never mistaken in your life?
Sir Peter Pshaw! plague on you both! I see by your sneering you have heard the whole affair. I shall go mad among you!
Rowley Then, to fret you no longer, Sir Peter, we are indeed acquainted with it all. I met Lady Teazle coming from Mr. Surface’s so humble, that she deigned to request me to be her advocate with you.
Sir Peter And does Sir Oliver know all this?
Sir Oliver Every circumstance.
Sir Peter What of the closet and the screen, hey?
Sir Oliver Yes, yes, and the little French milliner. Oh, I have been vastly diverted with the story! ha! ha! ha!
Sir Peter ’T was very pleasant.
Sir Oliver I never laughed more in my life, I assure you; ah! ah! ah!
Sir Peter Oh, vastly diverting! ha! ha! ha!
Rowley To be sure, Joseph with his sentiments! ha! ha! ha!
Sir Peter Yes, yes, his sentiments! ha! ha! ha! Hypocritical villain!
Sir Oliver Ay, and that rogue Charles to pull Sir Peter out of the closet! ha! ha! ha!
Sir Peter Ha! ha! ’twas devilish entertaining, to be sure!
Sir Oliver Ha! ha! ha! Egad, Sir Peter, I should like to have seen your face when the screen was thrown down! ha! ha!
Sir Peter Yes, yes, my face when the screen was thrown down: ha! ha! ha! Oh, I must never show my head again!
Sir Oliver But come, come, it isn’t fair to laugh at you neither, my old friend; though, upon my soul, I can’t help it.
Sir Peter Oh, pray don’t restrain your mirth on my account: it does not hurt me at all! I laugh at the whole affair myself. Yes, yes, I think being a standing jest for all one’s acquaintance a very happy situation. Oh, yes, and then of a morning to read the paragraphs about Mr.⁠⸺, Lady T⁠⸺, and Sir P⁠⸺, will be so entertaining!
Rowley Without affectation, Sir Peter, you may despise the ridicule of fools. But I see Lady Teazle going towards the next room; I am sure you must desire a reconciliation as earnestly as she does.
Sir Oliver Perhaps my being here prevents her coming to you. Well, I’ll leave honest Rowley to mediate between you; but he must bring you all presently to Mr. Surface’s, where I am now returning, if not to reclaim a libertine, at least to expose hypocrisy.
Sir Peter Ah, I’ll be present at your discovering yourself there with all my heart; though ’tis a vile unlucky place for discoveries.
Rowley We’ll follow.
Exit Sir Oliver Surface.
Sir Peter She is not coming here, you see, Rowley.
Rowley No, but she has left the door of that room open, you perceive. See, she is in tears.
Sir Peter Certainly, a little mortification appears very becoming in a wife. Don’t you think it will do her good to let her pine a little?
Rowley Oh, this is ungenerous in you!
Sir Peter Well, I know not what to think. You remember the letter I found of hers evidently intended for Charles?
Rowley A mere forgery, Sir Peter! laid in your way on purpose. This is one of the points which I intend Snake shall give you conviction of.
Sir Peter I wish I were once satisfied of that. She looks this way. What a remarkably elegant turn of the head she has. Rowley, I’ll go to her.
Rowley Certainly.
Sir Peter Though, when it is known that we are reconciled, people will laugh at me ten times more.
Rowley Let them laugh, and retort their malice only by showing them you are happy in spite of it.
Sir Peter I’ faith, so I will! and, if I’m not mistaken, we may yet be the happiest couple in the country.
Rowley Nay, Sir Peter, he who once lays aside suspicion⁠—
Sir Peter Hold, Master Rowley I if you have any regard for me, never let me hear you utter anything like a sentiment: I have had enough of them to serve me the rest of my life.

Scene III

The library in Joseph Surface’s house.

Enter Joseph Surface and Lady Sneerwell.
Lady Sneerwell Impossible! Will not Sir Peter immediately be reconciled to Charles, and of course no longer oppose his union with Maria? The thought is distraction to me.
Joseph Surface Can passion furnish a remedy?
Lady Sneerwell No, nor cunning either. Oh, I was a fool, an idiot, to league with such a blunderer!
Joseph Surface Sure, Lady Sneerwell, I am the greatest sufferer; yet you see I bear the accident with calmness.
Lady Sneerwell Because the disappointment doesn’t reach your heart; your interest only attached you to Maria. Had you felt for her what I have for that ungrateful libertine, neither your temper nor hypocrisy could prevent your showing the sharpness of your vexation.
Joseph Surface But why should your reproaches fall on me for this disappointment?
Lady Sneerwell Are you not the cause of it? Had you not a sufficient field for your roguery in imposing upon Sir Peter, and supplanting your brother, but you must endeavour to seduce his wife? I hate such an avarice of crimes; ’tis an unfair monopoly, and never prospers.
Joseph Surface Well, I admit I have been to blame. I confess I deviated from the direct road of wrong, but I don’t think we’re so totally defeated neither.
Lady Sneerwell No!
Joseph Surface You tell me you have made a trial of Snake since we met, and that you still believe him faithful to us?
Lady Sneerwell I do believe so.
Joseph Surface And that he has undertaken, should it be necessary, to swear and prove that Charles is at this time contracted by vows and honour to your ladyship, which some of his former letters to you will serve to support?
Lady Sneerwell This, indeed, might have assisted.
Joseph Surface Come, come; it is not too late yet.⁠—Knocking at the door. But hark! this is probably my uncle, Sir Oliver: retire to that room; we’ll consult farther when he is gone.
Lady Sneerwell Well, but if he should find you out, too?
Joseph Surface Oh, I have no fear of that. Sir Peter will hold his tongue for his own credit’s sake⁠—and you may depend on it I shall soon discover Sir Oliver’s weak side!
Lady Sneerwell I have no diffidence of your abilities: only be constant to one roguery at a time.
Joseph Surface I will, I will!⁠—
Exit Lady Sneerwell.
So! ’tis confounded hard, after such bad fortune, to be baited by one’s confederate in evil. Well, at all events, my character is so much better than Charles’s, that I certainly⁠—hey!⁠—what⁠—this is not Sir Oliver, but old Stanley again. Plague on’t that he should return to tease me just now! I shall have Sir Oliver come and find him here⁠—
Enter Sir Oliver Surface.
Gad’s life, Mr. Stanley, why have you come back to plague me at this time? You must not stay now, upon my word.
Sir Oliver Sir, I hear your uncle Oliver is expected here, and though he has been so penurious to you, I’ll try what he’ll do for me.
Joseph Surface Sir, ’tis impossible for you to stay now, so I must beg⁠—come any other time, and I promise you you shall be assisted.
Sir Oliver No: Sir Oliver and I must be acquainted.
Joseph Surface Zounds, sir! then I insist on your quitting the room directly.
Sir Oliver Nay, sir⁠—
Joseph Surface Sir, I insist on’t!⁠—Here, William! show this gentleman out. Since you compel me, sir, not one moment⁠—this is such insolence. Going to push him out.
Enter Charles Surface.
Charles Surface Heyday! what’s the matter now? What the devil, have you got hold of my little broker here? Zounds, brother, don’t hurt little Premium. What’s the matter, my little fellow?
Joseph Surface So! he has been with you too, has he?
Charles Surface To be sure, he has. Why, he’s as honest a little⁠—But sure, Joseph, you have not been borrowing money too, have you?
Joseph Surface Borrowing! no! But, brother, you know we expect Sir Oliver here every⁠—
Charles Surface O Gad, that’s true! Noll mustn’t find the little broker here, to be sure.
Joseph Surface Yet Mr. Stanley insists⁠—
Charles Surface Stanley! why his name’s Premium.
Joseph Surface No, sir, Stanley.
Charles Surface No, no, Premium.
Joseph Surface Well, no matter which⁠—but⁠—
Charles Surface Ay, ay, Stanley or Premium, ’tis the same thing, as you say; for I suppose he goes by half a hundred names, besides A. B. at the coffeehouse. Knocking.
Joseph Surface ’Sdeath! here’s Sir Oliver at the door. — Now I beg, Mr. Stanley⁠—
Charles Surface Ay, ay, and I beg Mr. Premium⁠—
Sir Oliver Gentlemen⁠—
Joseph Surface Sir, by Heaven you shall go!
Charles Surface Ay, out with him, certainly!
Sir Oliver This violence⁠—
Joseph Surface Sir, ’tis your own fault.
Charles Surface Out with him, to be sure. Both forcing Sir Oliver out.
Enter Sir Peter and Lady Teazle, Maria, and Rowley.
Sir Peter My old friend, Sir Oliver⁠—hey! What in the name of wonder⁠—here are dutiful nephews⁠—assault their uncle at a first visit!
Lady Teazle Indeed, Sir Oliver, ’twas well we came in to rescue you.
Rowley Truly it was; for I perceive, Sir Oliver, the character of old Stanley was no protection to you.
Sir Oliver Nor of Premium either: the necessities of the former could not extort a shilling from that benevolent gentleman; and with the other I stood a chance of faring worse than my ancestors, and being knocked down without being bid for.
Joseph Surface Charles!
Charles Surface Joseph!
Joseph Surface ’T is now complete!
Charles Surface Very.
Sir Oliver Sir Peter, my friend, and Rowley too⁠—look on that elder nephew of mine. You know what he has already received from my bounty; and you also know how gladly I would have regarded half my fortune as held in trust for him: judge then my disappointment in discovering him to be destitute of truth, charity, and gratitude!
Sir Peter Sir Oliver, I should be more surprised at this declaration, if I had not myself found him to be mean, treacherous, and hypocritical.
Lady Teazle And if the gentleman pleads not guilty to these, pray let him call me to his character.
Sir Peter Then, I believe, we need add no more: if he knows himself, he will consider it as the most perfect punishment that he is known to the world.
Charles Surface If they talk this way to Honesty, what will they say to me, by and by? Aside.
Sir Peter, Lady Teazle, and Maria retire.
Sir Oliver As for that prodigal, his brother there⁠—
Charles Surface Ay, now comes my turn: the damned family pictures will ruin me! Aside.
Joseph Surface Sir Oliver⁠—uncle, will you honour me with a hearing?
Charles Surface Now, if Joseph would make one of his long speeches, I might recollect myself a little. Aside.
Sir Oliver I suppose you would undertake to justify yourself entirely? To Joseph Surface.
Joseph Surface I trust I could.
Sir Oliver To Charles Surface. Well, sir!⁠—and you could justify yourself too, I suppose?
Charles Surface Not that I know of, Sir Oliver.
Sir Oliver What! Little Premium has been let too much into the secret, I suppose?
Charles Surface True, sir; but they were family secrets, and should not be mentioned again, you know.
Rowley Come, Sir Oliver, I know you cannot speak of Charles’s follies with anger.
Sir Oliver Odds heart, no more I can; nor with gravity either. — Sir Peter, do you know the rogue bargained with me for all his ancestors; sold me judges and generals by the foot, and maiden aunts as cheap as broken china.
Charles Surface To be sure, Sir Oliver, I did make a little free with the family canvas, that’s the truth on’t. My ancestors may rise in judgment against me, there’s no denying it; but believe me sincere when I tell you⁠—and upon my soul I would not say so if I was not⁠—that if I do not appear mortified at the exposure of my follies, it is because I feel at this moment the warmest satisfaction in seeing you, my liberal benefactor.
Sir Oliver Charles, I believe you. Give me your hand again: the ill-looking little fellow over the settee has made your peace.
Charles Surface Then, sir, my gratitude to the original is still increased.
Lady Teazle Advancing. Yet, I believe, Sir Oliver, here is one whom Charles is still more anxious to be reconciled to. Pointing to Maria.
Sir Oliver Oh, I have heard of his attachment there; and, with the young lady’s pardon, if I construe right⁠—that blush
Sir Peter Well, child, speak your sentiments!
Maria Sir, I have little to say, but that I shall rejoice to hear that he is happy; for me⁠—whatever claim I had to his affection, I willingly resign to one who has a better title.
Charles Surface How, Maria!
Sir Peter Heyday! what’s the mystery now?⁠—While he appeared an incorrigible rake, you would give your hand to no one else; and now that he is likely to reform I’ll warrant you won’t have him!
Maria His own heart and Lady Sneerwell know the cause.
Charles Surface Lady Sneerwell!
Joseph Surface Brother, it is with great concern I am obliged to speak on this point, but my regard to justice compels me, and Lady Sneerwell’s injuries can no longer be concealed. Opens the door.
Enter Lady Sneerwell.
Sir Peter So! another French milliner! Egad, he has one in every room in the house, I suppose!
Lady Sneerwell Ungrateful Charles! Well may you be surprised, and feel for the indelicate situation your perfidy has forced me into.
Charles Surface Pray, uncle, is this another plot of yours? For, as I have life, I don’t understand it.
Joseph Surface I believe, sir, there is but the evidence of one person more necessary to make it extremely clear.
Sir Peter And that person, I imagine, is Mr. Snake. — Rowley, you were perfectly right to bring him with us, and pray let him appear.
Rowley Walk in, Mr. Snake.
Enter Snake.
I thought his testimony might be wanted: however, it happens unluckily, that he comes to confront Lady Sneerwell, not to support her.
Lady Sneerwell A villain! Treacherous to me at last! Speak, fellow, have you, too, conspired against me?
Snake I beg your ladyship ten thousand pardons: you paid me extremely liberally for the lie in question; but I unfortunately have been offered double to speak the truth.
Sir Peter Plot and counterplot, egad! I wish your ladyship joy of your negotiation.
Lady Sneerwell The torments of shame and disappointment on you all! Going.
Lady Teazle Hold, Lady Sneerwell⁠—before you go, let me thank you for the trouble you and that gentleman have taken, in writing letters from me to Charles, and answering them yourself; and let me also request you to make my respects to the scandalous college of which you are president, and inform them that Lady Teazle, licentiate, begs leave to return the diploma they granted her, as she leaves off practice, and kills characters no longer.
Lady Sneerwell You, too, madam!⁠—provoking⁠—insolent! May your husband live these fifty years!
Sir Peter Oons! what a fury!
Lady Teazle A malicious creature, indeed!
Sir Peter Hey! not for her last wish?
Lady Teazle Oh, no!
Sir Oliver Well, sir, and what have you to say now?
Joseph Surface Sir, I am so confounded, to find that Lady Sneerwell could be guilty of suborning Mr. Snake in this manner, to impose on us all, that I know not what to say: however, lest her revengeful spirit should prompt her to injure my brother, I had certainly better follow her directly. For the man who attempts to⁠—
Sir Peter Moral to the last drop!
Sir Oliver Ay, and marry her, Joseph, if you can. Oil and Vinegar!⁠—egad, you’ll do very well together.
Rowley I believe we have no more occasion for Mr. Snake at present.
Snake Before I go, I beg pardon once for all, for whatever uneasiness I have been the humble instrument of causing to the parties present.
Sir Peter Well, well, you have made atonement by a good deed at last.
Snake But I must request of the company, that it shall never be known.
Sir Peter Hey!⁠—what the plague!⁠—are you ashamed of having done a right thing once in your life?
Snake Ah, sir, consider⁠—I live by the badness of my character;28 I have nothing but my infamy to depend on! and, if it were once known that I had been I betrayed into an honest action, I should lose every friend I have in the world.
Sir Oliver Well, well⁠—we’ll not traduce you by saying anything in your praise, never fear.
Exit Snake.
Sir Peter There’s a precious rogue!
Lady Teazle See, Sir Oliver, there needs no persuasion now to reconcile your nephew and Maria.
Sir Oliver Ay, ay, that’s as it should be, and, egad, we’ll have the wedding tomorrow morning.
Charles Surface Thank you, dear uncle.
Sir Peter What, you rogue! don’t you ask the girl’s consent first?
Charles Surface Oh, I have done that a long time⁠—a minute ago⁠—and she has looked yes.
Maria For shame, Charles!⁠—I protest, Sir Peter, there has not been a word⁠—
Sir Oliver Well, then, the fewer the better; may your love for each other never know abatement.
Sir Peter And may you live as happily together as Lady Teazle and I intend to do!
Charles Surface Rowley, my old friend, I am sure you congratulate me; and I suspect that I owe you much.
Sir Oliver You do, indeed, Charles.
Rowley If my efforts to serve you had not succeeded, you would have been in my debt for the attempt; but deserve to be happy and you overpay me.
Sir Peter Ay, honest Rowley always said you would reform.
Charles Surface

Why, as to reforming, Sir Peter, I’ll make no promises, and that I take to be a proof I intend to set about it. But here shall be my monitor⁠—my gentle guide. — Ah! can I leave the virtuous path those eyes illumine?

Though thou, dear maid, shouldst waive thy beauty’s sway,
Thou still must rule, because I will obey:
An humble fugitive from Folly view,
No sanctuary near but Love and you:

To the audience.

You can, indeed, each anxious fear remove,
For even Scandal dies, if you approve.


By Mr. Colman

Spoken by Lady Teazle

I, who was late so volatile and gay,
Like a trade-wind must now blow all one way,
Bend all my cares, my studies, and my vows,
To one dull rusty weathercock⁠—my spouse!
So wills our virtuous bard⁠—the motley Bayes29
Of crying epilogues and laughing plays!
Old bachelors, who marry smart young wives,
Learn from our play to regulate your lives:
Each bring his dear to town, all faults upon her⁠—
London will prove the very source of honour.
Plunged fairly in, like a cold bath it serves,
When principles relax, to brace the nerves:
Such is my case; and yet I must deplore
That the gay dream of dissipation’s o’er.
And say, ye fair! was ever lively wife,
Born with a genius for the highest life,
Like me untimely blasted in her bloom,
Like me condemn’d to such a dismal doom?
Save money⁠—when I just knew how to waste it!
Leave London⁠—just as I began to taste it!
Must I then watch the early crowing cock,
The melancholy ticking of a clock;
In a lone rustic hall forever pounded,
With dogs, cats, rats, and squalling brats surrounded?
With humble curate can I now retire,
(While good Sir Peter boozes with the squire,)
And at backgammon mortify my soul,
That pants for loo, or flutters at a vole?
Seven’s the main! Dear sound that must expire,
Lost at hot cockles round a Christmas fire;
The transient hour of fashion too soon spent,
Farewell the tranquil mind, farewell content!
Farewell the plumed head, the cushion’d tête,
That takes the cushion from its proper seat!
That spirit-stirring drum!⁠—card drums I mean,
Spadille⁠—odd trick⁠—pam⁠—basto⁠—king and queen!30
And you, ye knockers, that, with brazen throat,
The welcome visitors’ approach denote;
Farewell all quality of high renown,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious town!
Farewell! your revels I partake no more,
And Lady Teazle’s occupation’s o’er!
All this I told our bard; he smiled, and said ’twas clear,
I ought to play deep tragedy next year.
Meanwhile he drew wise morals from his play,
And in these solemn periods stalk’d away:⁠—
“Bless’d were the fair like you; her faults who stopp’d,
And closed her follies when the curtain dropp’d!
No more in vice or error to engage,
Or play the fool at large on life’s great stage.”


  1. In the original draft of this scene, now in the possession of the Sheridans of Frampton Court, Dorchester, the person with whom Lady Sneerwell is conversing is a Miss Verjuice, and it is only later in the scene, after the entrance of Joseph Surface, that we find a reference to “Snake, the Scribbler.” In revising the scene, Sheridan found that one character might suffice for the minor dirty work of the plot; and to this character he gave the dialogue of Miss Verjuice and the name of Snake. The name Sneerwell is to be found in Fielding’s Pasquin.

  2. In A Journey to Bath, an unacted comedy by Mrs. Frances Sheridan, three acts of which are preserved in the British Museum (MS. 25, 975), there is a Mrs. Surface, “one who keeps a lodging-house at Bath.” She is no relation to either of the Surfaces in the School for Scandal; yet it may be worth noting that she is a scandalmonger who hates scandal. See Mr. W. Fraser Rae’s edition of Sheridan’s Plays as He Wrote Them (London: Nutt, 1902). A Journey to Bath is also included.

  3. Rowley is one of the many faithful stewards, frequent in comedy. Perhaps the first of them was Trusty in Steele’s Funeral.

  4. In 1777, when Sheridan wrote, only people of the highest position and fashion made their footmen powder their hair; so Sir Peter is here reproaching Lady Teazle with her exalted ambitions.

  5. Professor Ward, in his History of English Dramatic Literature, draws attention to a parallel passage in Fletcher’s Noble Gentleman (Act II., Scene I.), in which Marine threatens to take his fashionable wife home again:

    “Make you ready straight,
    And in that gown which you first came to town in,
    Your safe-cloak, and your hood suitable,
    Thus on a double gelding shall you amble,
    And my man Jaques shall be set before you.”

  6. It seems as though John G. Saxe may have remembered this speech of Sir Peter’s when he wrote his epigram, “Too Candid by half”:

    “As Tom and his wife were discoursing one day
    Of their several faults, in a bantering way,
    Said she: ‘Though my wit you disparage,
    I’m sure, my dear husband, our friends will attest
    This much, at the least, that my judgment is best.’
    Quoth Tom: ‘So they said at our marriage!’ ”

  7. The reading of this epigram by Sir Benjamin Backbite is perhaps another of Sheridan’s reminiscences of Molière; at least there is a situation not unlike it in the Precieuses Ridicules, in the Femmes Savantes, and in the Misanthrope. In the final quarter of the eighteenth century, there arose a species of dandy called the macaroni, much as in the final quarter of the nineteenth century there arose a variety called the dude.

    “The Italians are extremely fond of a dish they call macaroni, composed of a kind of paste; and, as they consider this the summum bonuni of all good eating, so they figuratively call everything they think elegant and uncommon macaroni. Our young travellers, who generally catch the follies of the countries they visit, judged that the title of macaroni was applicable to a clever fellow; and, accordingly, to distinguish themselves as such, they instituted a club under this denomination, the members of which were supposed to be the standards of taste. They make a most ridiculous figure, with hats of an inch in the brim, that do not cover, but lie upon, the head; with about two pounds of fictitious hair, formed into what is called a club, hanging down their shoulders, as white as a baker’s sack” (Pocketbook, 1773, quoted in Mr. T. L. O. Davies’s “Supplementary Glossary”). The name of the macaroni is also preserved in the first stanza of our “Yankee Doodle,” which is almost contemporaneous with Sheridan’s play.

  8. Moore noted the resemblance of this aside to Pope’s line, in the “Rape of the Lock”:⁠—

    “At every word, a reputation dies.”

    This scandal scene of Sheridan’s had predecessors in the comedies of Congreve and of Wycherley, not to go back as far as the Misanthrope of Molière. Hard and cruel as Sheridan’s scene now seems to us, it is gentle indeed when contrasted with the cudgel-play of Congreve and Wycherley. It is possible that Sheridan owed some of his comparative suavity to the example of Addison, who contributed to No. 17 of the Spectator, a “Fine Lady’s Journal,” in which there is a passage of tittle-tattle more like Sheridan than Wycherley or Congreve.

  9. Geneste, in his History of the English Stage, draws attention to a parallel passage in the Trinummus of Plautus, and suggests that it would furnish a very pat motto for this play:

    “Quod si exquiratur usque ab stirpe auctoritas,
    Unde quicquid auditum dicant, nisi id appareat.
    Famigeratori res sit cum damno et malo:
    Hoc ita si fiat, publico fiat bono.
    Pauci sint faxim, qui sciant quod nesciunt;
    Occlusioremque habeant stultiloquentiam.”

  10. In 1777 a committee of the House of Commons was appointed to inquire into the laws concerning usury and annuities; and on its report in May, the month in which this play was first acted, a bill was brought in and passed, providing that all contracts with minors for annuities shall be void, and that those procuring them and solicitors charging more than ten shillings per cent shall be subject to fine or imprisonment.

  11. The traditional business of the scene is for Sir Peter and Lady Teazle here to take each other by the hand and to repeat, in unison, “Never! never! never!”

  12. In the original draft of the several scenes which Sheridan finally combined into the School for Scandal, this phrase, “bags and bouquets,” was said to Sir Peter as he was complaining of Lady Teazle’s extravagances. This utilization at last of a phrase at first rejected elsewhere is highly characteristic of Sheridan.

  13. Sheridan has been accused, justly enough, of making his servants talk as their masters; but this is an old failing of writers of comedy, although few of them would have risked this accurate use of the legal phraseology which Sheridan at all times affected. But there is in Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour (Act III., Scene II.) a speech of Knowell’s servant, Brainworm, in which we find the very same technical term as we have in the text: “This smoky varnish being washed off, and three or four patches removed, I appear your worship’s [servant] in reversion, after the decease of your good father, Brainworm.” Sheridan’s Trip and Fag recall the amusing personages of High Life Below Stairs, suggested by a paper of Steele’s, “On Servants,” in the Spectator, No. 88.

  14. It has been asserted (in Notes and Queries, 5th S., ii., 245, and elsewhere) that Sheridan derived this song from a ballad in Suckling’s play, the Goblins; but a careful comparison of the two songs shows that there is really no foundation for the charge. The music to Sheridan’s song was composed by his father-in-law, Thomas Linley, who had been his partner in The Duenna.

  15. In Foote’s Minor, there is a spendthrift son, whose father visits him in disguise to test him; and in Foote’s Arthur, a father returns in disguise, and, to his great delight, hears his son disclose the most admirable sentiments; but there is no real likeness between either of Foote’s scenes and this of Sheridan’s, the real original of which is perhaps to be found in his mother’s Sidney Biddulph, in which an East Indian uncle returns to test a nephew and a niece. Yet there is possibly a slight resemblance between “little Premium the broker,” and “little Transfer, the broker,” in the Minor.

  16. An erring tradition authorizes Moses to interpolate freely and frequently throughout the rest of the scene a more or less meaningless “I’ll take my oath of that.” As the part of Moses is generally taken by the low comedian who also appears as Tony Lumpkin, this gag may be a reminiscence of the comic scene in She Stoops to Conquer, in which Tony offers to swear to his mother’s assertion that Miss Hardcastle’s jewels have been stolen.

  17. The absurdity of an auction with only one bidder has been commented upon often, but surely Sheridan never intended the auction to be taken seriously. The pretence of an auction is surely a freak of Charles’s humour and high spirits.

  18. The School for Scandal was one of the plays performed by the English actors on their famous visit to Paris in 1827⁠—a visit which revealed the might and range of the English drama to the French and thereby served to make possible the Romanticist revolt of 1830. Victor Hugo was an assiduous follower of the English performances; and it may be that this scene of the School for Scandal suggested to him the scene with the portraits in Hernani.

  19. In a note to an anonymous pamphlet biographical sketch of Sheridan, published in 1799, there is quoted a remark of a lady which is not without point and pertinency: “Mr. Sheridan is a fool if he pays a bill (of which, by the by, he is not accused) of one of the tradesmen who received his comedy with such thunders of applause. He ought to tell them in the words of Charles, that he could never make Justice keep pace with Generosity, and they could have no right to complain.”

  20. It has been often objected that the hiding of Lady Teazle behind the screen put her in full view of the opposite neighbour, the maiden lady of so curious a temper; but it must be remembered that it is Joseph who makes this remark and has the screen set, and it is Lady Teazle who unwittingly rushes to hide behind it.

  21. The late Abraham Hayward, in his Selected Essays (i. 400), calls this “the recast of a fine reflection in Zadig,” and quotes, in a footnote, Voltaire’s words: “Astarte est femme, elle laisse parler ses regards avec d’autant plus d’imprudence qu’elle ne se croit pas encore coupable. Malheureusement rassuree sur son innocence, elle neglige les dehors necessaires. Je tremblerai pour elle tant qu’elle n’aura rien a se reprocher.

  22. Boaden, the biographer of Kemble, has the hyper-ingenuity to discover in the fall of the rug in Molly Seagrim’s bedroom, disclosing, the philosopher Square, in Tom Jones, the first germ of the fall of the screen in the School for Scandal.

  23. Nowadays most Sir Peters take this situation to heart as though the School for Scandal were a tragedy, but the play is a comedy, and this scene is, and is meant to be, comic, and not tragic, or even purely pathetic. It is the vanity rather than the honour of Sir Peter in which he feels the wound. If he is as deeply moved as Othello, the following speech of Charles is unspeakably heartless and brutal;⁠—and so, indeed, it is, as it is delivered by most comedians.

  24. The rupee and the pagoda were coins current in Hindustan. The rupee is of silver and is equivalent to about two shillings sterling. The pagoda was either gold or silver, and its value varied from eight to nine shillings sterling. The avadavats mentioned in an earlier speech are birds of brilliant plumage.

  25. “Segoon” is a corruption of segunde, the Spanish form of the French fencing term seconde. Mr. Walter Herries Pollock kindly gave me this information, sought elsewhere in vain. A thrust in segoon, he writes, is “a thrust delivered low, under the adversary’s blade, with the hand in the tierce position, that is, with the knuckles upwards, and the wrist turned downwards. The parry is now more frequently used than is the thrust of seconde, and is especially valuable in disarming; but the thrust is very useful in certain cases, and particularly for one form of the coup d’arret. A lunge in seconde which goes through the lung is nowadays an odd thing to hear of; but such a result might come from the blade of the man using the thrust in seconde being thrown upwards by a slip on the adversary’s blade, arm, or shirt.”

  26. The Montem was a triennial ceremony of the boys at Eton, abolished only in 1847. It consisted of a procession to a mound (ad montem) near the Bath Road, where they exacted money from those present and from all passersby. The sum collected, sometimes nearly £1,000, went to the captain or senior scholar, and served to pay his expenses at the university. There is an interesting account of the Montem in Coningsby.

  27. Tradition formerly authorized Mrs. Candour to interpolate here a query as to whether the postage had been paid or not; but this seems to be carrying the joke a little too far.

  28. In the first draft of the play this speech of Snake’s was in one of the earliest scenes. The anonymous writer of a pamphlet, “Letter to Thomas Moore, Esq., on the subject of Sheridan’s School for Scandal” (Bath, 1826), declares that “this is but boyish composition, and quite too broad even for farce. It might have been said to Snake by another, but is out of even stage-nature or stage-necessity, as coming from himself” (p. 16).

  29. Bayes was the hero of the Duke of Buckingham’s Rehearsal, and was a caricature of John Dryden. At the time this epilogue was written the Rehearsal had not yet been driven from the stage by the Critic.

  30. In the game of ombre, at its height when Pope wrote the “Rape of the Lock,” and still surviving when Colman wrote this epilogue, “Spadille” was the ace of spades, “pam” was the knave of clubs, and “basto” was the ace of clubs.


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The School for Scandal
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