The Way of the World

By William Congreve.


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Audire est operae pretium, procedere recte
Qui maechis non vultis.


Metuat doti deprensa.


Commendatory Verses

To Mr. Congreve, occasioned by his Comedy called The Way of the World

When pleasure’s falling to the low delight,
In the vain joys of the uncertain sight;3
No sense of wit when rude spectators know,
But in distorted gesture, farce and show;
How could, great author, your aspiring mind
Dare to write only to the few refined?
Yet though that nice ambition you pursue,
’Tis not in Congreve’s power to please but few.
Implicitly devoted to his fame,
Well-dressed barbarians know his awful name;
Though senseless they’re of mirth, but when they laugh,
As they feel wine, but when, till drunk, they quaff.4
On you from fate a lavish portion fell
In every way of writing to excel.
Your muse applause to Arabella5 brings,
In notes as sweet as Arabella sings.
Whene’er you draw an undissembled woe,
With sweet distress your rural numbers flow:
Pastora’s the complaint of every swain,
Pastora still the echo of the plain!
Or if your muse describe, with warming force,
The wounded Frenchman falling from his horse;
And her own William glorious in the strife,6
Bestowing on the prostrate foe his life:
You the great act as generously rehearse,
And all the English fury’s in your verse.
By your selected scenes and handsome choice,
Ennobled Comedy exalts her voice;
You check unjust esteem and fond desire,
And teach to scorn what else we should admire:
The just impression taught by you we bear,
The player acts the world, the world the player;
Whom still that world unjustly disesteems,
Though he alone professes what he seems.
But when your muse assumes her tragic part,
She conquers and she reigns in every heart:
To mourn with her men cheat their private woe,
And generous pity’s all the grief they know.
The widow, who, impatient of delay,
From the town joys must mask it to the play,
Joins with your Mourning Bride’s resistless moan,
And weeps a loss she slighted when her own:
You give us torment, and you give us ease,
And vary our afflictions as you please.
Is not a heart so kind as yours in pain,
To load your friends with cares you only feign;
Your friends in grief, composed yourself, to leave?
But ’tis the only way you’ll e’er deceive.
Then still, great sir, your moving power employ.
To lull our sorrow, and correct our joy.

Richard Steele


To the Right Honourable
Ralph, Earl of Mountague, etc.

My Lord,

Whether the world will arraign me of vanity or not, that I have presumed to dedicate this comedy to your Lordship, I am yet in doubt; though, it may be, it is some degree of vanity even to doubt of it. One who has at any time had the honour of your Lordship’s conversation, cannot be supposed to think very meanly of that which he would prefer to your perusal. Yet it were to incur the imputation of too much sufficiency to pretend to such a merit as might abide the test of your Lordship’s censure.

Whatever value may be wanting to this play while yet it is mine, will be sufficiently made up to it when it is once become your Lordship’s; and it is my security, that I cannot have overrated it more by my dedication than your Lordship will dignify it by your patronage.

That it succeeded on the stage was almost beyond my expectation; for but little of it was prepared for that general taste which seems now to be predominant in the palates of our audience.

Those characters which are meant to be ridiculed in most of our comedies are of fools so gross, that in my humble opinion they should rather disturb than divert the well-natured and reflecting part of an audience; they are rather objects of charity than contempt, and instead of moving our mirth, they ought very often to excite our compassion.

This reflection moved me to design some characters which should appear ridiculous not so much through a natural folly (which is incorrigible, and therefore not proper for the stage) as through an affected wit: a wit which, at the same time that it is affected, is also false. As there is some difficulty in the formation of a character of this nature, so there is some hazard which attends the progress of its success upon the stage: for many come to a play so overcharged with criticism, that they very often let fly their censure, when through their rashness they have mistaken their aim. This I had occasion lately to observe: for this play had been acted two or three days before some of these hasty judges could find the leisure to distinguish betwixt the character of a Witwoud and a Truewit.

I must beg your Lordship’s pardon for this digression from the true course of this epistle; but that it may not seem altogether impertinent, I beg that I may plead the occasion of it, in part of that excuse of which I stand in need, for recommending this comedy to your protection. It is only by the countenance of your Lordship, and the few so qualified, that such who write with care and pains can hope to be distinguished: for the prostituted name of poet promiscuously levels all that bear it.

Terence, the most correct writer in the world, had a Scipio and a Lelius, if not to assist him, at least to support him in his reputation. And notwithstanding his extraordinary merit, it may be their countenance was not more than necessary.

The purity of his style, the delicacy of his turns, and the justness of his characters, were all of them beauties which the greater part of his audience were incapable of tasting. Some of the coarsest strokes of Plautus, so severely censured by Horace, were more likely to affect the multitude; such, who come with expectation to laugh at the last act of a play, and are better entertained with two or three unseasonable jests than with the artful solution of the fable.

As Terence excelled in his performances, so had he great advantages to encourage his undertakings, for he built most on the foundations of Menander: his plots were generally modelled, and his characters ready drawn to his hand. He copied Menander; and Menander had no less light in the formation of his characters from the observations of Theophrastus, of whom he was a disciple; and Theophrastus, it is known, was not only the disciple, but the immediate successor of Aristotle, the first and greatest judge of poetry. These were great models to design by; and the further advantage which Terence possessed towards giving his plays the due ornaments of purity of style, and justness of manners, was not less considerable from the freedom of conversation which was permitted him with Lelius and Scipio, two of the greatest and most polite men of his age. And, indeed, the privilege of such a conversation is the only certain means of attaining to the perfection of dialogue.

If it has happened in any part of this comedy that I have gained a turn of style or expression more correct, or at least more corrigible, than in those which I have formerly written, I must, with equal pride and gratitude, ascribe it to the honour of your Lordship’s admitting me into your conversation, and that of a society where everybody else was so well worthy of you, in your retirement last summer from the town: for it was immediately after, that this comedy was written. If I have failed in my performance, it is only to be regretted, where there were so many not inferior either to a Scipio or a Lelius, that there should be one wanting equal in capacity to a Terence.

If I am not mistaken, poetry is almost the only art which has not yet laid claim to your Lordship’s patronage. Architecture and painting, to the great honour of our country, have flourished under your influence and protection. In the meantime, poetry, the eldest sister of all arts, and parent of most, seems to have resigned her birthright, by having neglected to pay her duty to your Lordship, and by permitting others of a later extraction to prepossess that place in your esteem, to which none can pretend a better title. Poetry, in its nature, is sacred to the good and great: the relation between them is reciprocal, and they are ever propitious to it. It is the privilege of poetry to address them, and it is their prerogative alone to give it protection.

This received maxim is a general apology for all writers who consecrate their labours to great men: but I could wish, at this time, that this address were exempted from the common pretence of all dedications; and that as I can distinguish your Lordship even among the most deserving, so this offering might become remarkable by some particular instance of respect, which should assure your Lordship that I am, with all due sense of your extreme worthiness and humanity, my Lord, your Lordship’s most obedient and most obliged humble servant,

Will Congreve.

The Way of the World


Of those few fools, who with ill stars are curst,
Sure scribbling fools, called poets, fare the worst:
For they’re a sort of fools which Fortune makes,
And, after she has made ’em fools, forsakes.
With Nature’s oafs ’tis quite a diff’rent case,
For Fortune favours all her idiot race.
In her own nest the cuckoo eggs we find,
O’er which she broods to hatch the changeling kind:7
No portion for her own she has to spare,
So much she dotes on her adopted care.

Poets are bubbles, by the town drawn in,
Suffered at first some trifling stakes to win:
But what unequal hazards do they run!
Each time they write they venture all they’ve won:
The squire that’s buttered still, is sure to be undone.8
This author, heretofore, has found your favour,
But pleads no merit from his past behaviour.
To build on that might prove a vain presumption,
Should grants to poets made admit resumption,
And in Parnassus he must lose his seat,
If that be found a forfeited estate.

He owns, with toil he wrought the following scenes,
But if they’re naught ne’er spare him for his pains:
Damn him the more; have no commiseration
For dullness on mature deliberation.
He swears he’ll not resent one hissed-off scene,
Nor, like those peevish wits, his play maintain,
Who, to assert their sense, your taste arraign.
Some plot we think he has, and some new thought;
Some humour too, no farce⁠—but that’s a fault.
Satire, he thinks, you ought not to expect;
For so reformed a town who dares correct?
To please, this time, has been his sole pretence,
He’ll not instruct, lest it should give offence.
Should he by chance a knave or fool expose,
That hurts none here, sure here are none of those.
In short, our play shall (with your leave to show it)
Give you one instance of a passive poet,
Who to your judgments yields all resignation:
So save or damn, after your own discretion.

Dramatis Personae

Scene: London.

The time equal to that of the representation.

Act I

Scene I

A Chocolate-house.

Mirabell and Fainall rising from cards. Betty waiting.
Mirabell You are a fortunate man, Mr. Fainall.
Fainall Have we done?
Mirabell What you please. I’ll play on to entertain you.
Fainall No, I’ll give you your revenge another time, when you are not so indifferent; you are thinking of something else now, and play too negligently: the coldness of a losing gamester lessens the pleasure of the winner. I’d no more play with a man that slighted his ill fortune than I’d make love to a woman who undervalued the loss of her reputation.
Mirabell You have a taste extremely delicate, and are for refining on your pleasures.
Fainall Prithee, why so reserved? Something has put you out of humour.
Mirabell Not at all: I happen to be grave today, and you are gay; that’s all.
Fainall Confess, Millamant and you quarrelled last night, after I left you; my fair cousin has some humours that would tempt the patience of a Stoic. What, some coxcomb came in, and was well received by her, while you were by?
Mirabell Witwoud and Petulant, and what was worse, her aunt, your wife’s mother, my evil genius⁠—or to sum up all in her own name, my old Lady Wishfort came in.
Fainall Oh, there it is then: she has a lasting passion for you, and with reason.⁠—What, then my wife was there?
Mirabell Yes, and Mrs. Marwood and three or four more, whom I never saw before; seeing me, they all put on their grave faces, whispered one another, then complained aloud of the vapours, and after fell into a profound silence.
Fainall They had a mind to be rid of you.
Mirabell For which reason I resolved not to stir. At last the good old lady broke through her painful taciturnity with an invective against long visits. I would not have understood her, but Millamant joining in the argument, I rose and with a constrained smile told her, I thought nothing was so easy as to know when a visit began to be troublesome; she reddened and I withdrew, without expecting her reply.
Fainall You were to blame to resent what she spoke only in compliance with her aunt.
Mirabell She is more mistress of herself than to be under the necessity of such a resignation.
Fainall What! though half her fortune depends upon her marrying with my lady’s approbation?
Mirabell I was then in such a humour, that I should have been better pleased if she had been less discreet.
Fainall Now I remember, I wonder not they were weary of you; last night was one of their cabal nights: they have ’em three times a week and meet by turns at one another’s apartments, where they come together like the coroner’s inquest, to sit upon the murdered reputations of the week. You and I are excluded, and it was once proposed that all the male sex should be excepted; but somebody moved that to avoid scandal there might be one man of the community, upon which motion Witwoud and Petulant were enrolled members.
Mirabell And who may have been the foundress of this sect? My Lady Wishfort, I warrant, who publishes her detestation of mankind, and full of the vigour of fifty-five, declares for a friend and ratafia;9 and let posterity shift for itself, she’ll breed no more.
Fainall The discovery of your sham addresses to her, to conceal your love to her niece, has provoked this separation. Had you dissembled better, things might have continued in the state of nature.10
Mirabell I did as much as man could, with any reasonable conscience; I proceeded to the very last act of flattery with her, and was guilty of a song in her commendation. Nay, I got a friend to put her into a lampoon, and compliment her with the imputation of an affair with a young fellow, which I carried so far, that I told her the malicious town took notice that she was grown fat of a sudden; and when she lay in of a dropsy, persuaded her she was reported to be in labour. The devil’s in’t, if an old woman is to be flattered further, unless a man should endeavour downright personally to debauch her: and that my virtue forbade me. But for the discovery of this amour, I am indebted to your friend, or your wife’s friend, Mrs. Marwood.
Fainall What should provoke her to be your enemy, unless she has made you advances which you have slighted? Women do not easily forgive omissions of that nature.
Mirabell She was always civil to me, till of late. I confess I am not one of those coxcombs who are apt to interpret a woman’s good manners to her prejudice, and think that she who does not refuse ’em everything can refuse ’em nothing.
Fainall You are a gallant man, Mirabell; and though you may have cruelty enough not to satisfy a lady’s longing, you have too much generosity not to be tender of her honour. Yet you speak with an indifference which seems to be affected, and confesses you are conscious of a negligence.
Mirabell You pursue the argument with a distrust that seems to be unaffected, and confesses you are conscious of a concern for which the lady is more indebted to you than is your wife.
Fainall Fie, fie, friend, if you grow censorious I must leave you.⁠—I’ll look upon the gamesters in the next room.
Mirabell Who are they?
Fainall Petulant and Witwoud.⁠—To Betty. Bring me some chocolate. Exit.
Mirabell Betty, what says your clock?
Betty Turned of the last canonical hour,11 sir. Exit.
Mirabell How pertinently the jade answers me! Looking on his watch. Ha! almost one a’ clock!⁠—Oh, y’are come!
Enter Footman.
Mirabell Well, is the grand affair over? You have been something tedious.
Footman Sir, there’s such coupling at Pancras12 that they stand behind one another, as ’twere in a country-dance. Ours was the last couple to lead up; and no hopes appearing of dispatch, besides, the parson growing hoarse, we were afraid his lungs would have failed before it came to our turn; so we drove round to Duke’s Place,13 and there they were riveted in a trice.
Mirabell So, so, you are sure they are married?
Footman Married and bedded, sir; I am witness.
Mirabell Have you the certificate?
Footman Here it is, sir.
Mirabell Has the tailor brought Waitwell’s clothes home, and the new liveries?
Footman Yes, sir.
Mirabell That’s well. Do you go home again, d’ye hear, and adjourn the consummation till farther order. Bid Waitwell shake his ears, and Dame Partlet14 rustle up her feathers, and meet me at one o’clock by Rosamond’s Pond,15 that I may see her before she returns to her lady. And, as you tender your ears, be secret.

Scene II

The same.

Mirabell, Fainall, and Betty.
Fainall Joy of your success, Mirabell; you look pleased.
Mirabell Aye; I have been engaged in a matter of some sort of mirth, which is not yet ripe for discovery. I am glad this is not a cabal-night. I wonder, Fainall, that you who are married, and of consequence should be discreet, will suffer your wife to be of such a party.
Fainall Faith, I am not jealous. Besides, most who are engaged are women and relations; and for the men, they are of a kind too contemptible to give scandal.
Mirabell I am of another opinion: the greater the coxcomb, always the more the scandal; for a woman who is not a fool can have but one reason for associating with a man who is one.
Fainall Are you jealous as often as you see Witwoud entertained by Millamant?
Mirabell Of her understanding I am, if not of her person.
Fainall You do her wrong; for, to give her her due, she has wit.
Mirabell She has beauty enough to make any man think so, and complaisance enough not to contradict him who shall tell her so.
Fainall For a passionate lover methinks you are a man somewhat too discerning in the failings of your mistress.
Mirabell And for a discerning man somewhat too passionate a lover, for I like her with all her faults; nay, like her for her faults. Her follies are so natural, or so artful, that they become her, and those affectations which in another woman would be odious serve but to make her more agreeable. I’ll tell thee, Fainall, she once used me with that insolence that in revenge I took her to pieces, sifted her, and separated her failings: I studied ’em and got ’em by rote. The catalogue was so large that I was not without hopes, one day or other, to hate her heartily. To which end I so used myself to think of ’em, that at length, contrary to my design and expectation, they gave me every hour less and less disturbance, till in a few days it became habitual to me to remember ’em without being displeased. They are now grown as familiar to me as my own frailties, and in all probability in a little time longer I shall like ’em as well.
Fainall Marry her, marry her; be half as well acquainted with her charms as you are with her defects, and, my life on’t, you are your own man again.
Mirabell Say you so?
Fainall Aye, aye; I have experience. I have a wife, and so forth.
Enter Messenger.
Messenger Is one squire Witwoud here?
Betty Yes; what’s your business?
Messenger I have a letter for him, from his brother Sir Wilfull, which I am charged to deliver into his own hands.
Betty He’s in the next room, friend. That way.
Exit Messenger.
Mirabell What, is the chief of that noble family in town, Sir Wilfull Witwoud?
Fainall He is expected today. Do you know him?
Mirabell I have seen him; he promises to be an extraordinary person. I think you have the honour to be related to him.
Fainall Yes; he is half-brother to this Witwoud by a former wife, who was sister to my Lady Wishfort, my wife’s mother. If you marry Millamant, you must call cousins too.
Mirabell I had rather be his relation than his acquaintance.
Fainall He comes to town in order to equip himself for travel.
Mirabell For travel! Why the man that I mean is above forty.
Fainall No matter for that; ’tis for the honour of England that all Europe should know we have blockheads of all ages.
Mirabell I wonder there is not an act of parliament to save the credit of the nation and prohibit the exportation of fools.
Fainall By no means, ’tis better as ’tis; ’tis better to trade with a little loss, than to be quite eaten up with being overstocked.
Mirabell Pray, are the follies of this knight-errant and those of the squire, his brother, anything related?
Fainall Not at all: Witwoud grows by the knight like a medlar grafted on a crab. One will melt in your mouth and t’other set your teeth on edge; one is all pulp and the other all core.
Mirabell So one will be rotten before he be ripe, and the other will be rotten without ever being ripe at all.
Fainall Sir Wilfull is an odd mixture of bashfulness and obstinacy. But when he’s drunk, he’s as loving as the monster in The Tempest,16 and much after the same manner. To give t’other his due, he has something of good-nature, and does not always want wit.
Mirabell Not always: but as often as his memory fails him and his commonplace of comparisons.17 He is a fool with a good memory and some few scraps of other folks’ wit. He is one whose conversation can never be approved, yet it is now and then to be endured. He has indeed one good quality: he is not exceptious, for he so passionately affects the reputation of understanding raillery that he will construe an affront into a jest, and call downright rudeness and ill language satire and fire.
Fainall If you have a mind to finish his picture, you have an opportunity to do it at full length. Behold the original.
Enter Witwoud.
Witwoud Afford me your compassion, my dears! Pity me, Fainall, Mirabell, pity me.
Mirabell I do from my soul.
Fainall Why, what’s the matter?
Witwoud No letters for me, Betty?
Betty Did not a messenger bring you one but now, sir?
Witwoud Aye, but no other?
Betty No, sir.
Witwoud That’s hard, that’s very hard.⁠—A messenger! A mule, a beast of burden, he has brought me a letter from the fool my brother, as heavy as a panegyric in a funeral sermon, or a copy of commendatory verses from one poet to another. And what’s worse, ’tis as sure a forerunner of the author as an epistle dedicatory.
Mirabell A fool, and your brother, Witwoud!
Witwoud Aye, aye, my half-brother. My half-brother he is, no nearer, upon honour.
Mirabell Then ’tis possible he may be but half a fool.
Witwoud Good, good, Mirabell, le drôle! Good, good, hang him, don’t let’s talk of him.⁠—Fainall, how does your lady? Gad, I say anything in the world to get this fellow out of my head. I beg pardon that I should ask a man of pleasure and the town a question at once so foreign and domestic. But I talk like an old maid at a marriage, I don’t know what I say: but she’s the best woman in the world.
Fainall ’Tis well you don’t know what you say, or else your commendation would go near to make me either vain or jealous.
Witwoud No man in town lives well with a wife but Fainall.⁠—Your judgment, Mirabell.
Mirabell You had better step and ask his wife, if you would be credibly informed.
Witwoud Mirabell!
Mirabell Aye.
Witwoud My dear, I ask ten thousand pardons⁠—gad, I have forgot what I was going to say to you.
Mirabell I thank you heartily, heartily.
Witwoud No, but prithee excuse me:⁠—my memory is such a memory.
Mirabell Have a care of such apologies, Witwoud; for I never knew a fool but he affected to complain either of the spleen or his memory.
Fainall What have you done with Petulant?
Witwoud He’s reckoning his money⁠—my money it was⁠—I have no luck today.
Fainall You may allow him to win of you at play, for you are sure to be too hard for him at repartee: since you monopolise the wit that is between you, the fortune must be his of course.
Mirabell I don’t find that Petulant confesses the superiority of wit to be your talent, Witwoud.
Witwoud Come, come, you are malicious now, and would breed debates.⁠—Petulant’s my friend, and a very honest fellow, and a very pretty fellow, and has a smattering⁠—faith and troth, a pretty deal of an odd sort of a small wit: nay, I’ll do him justice. I’m his friend, I won’t wrong him neither.⁠—And if he had any judgment in the world, he would not be altogether contemptible. Come, come, don’t detract from the merits of my friend.
Fainall You don’t take your friend to be over-nicely bred?
Witwoud No, no, hang him, the rogue has no manners at all, that I must own; no more breeding than a bum-baily, that I grant you⁠—’tis pity; the fellow has fire and life.
Mirabell What, courage?
Witwoud Hum, faith, I don’t know as to that, I can’t say as to that. Yes, faith, in a controversy he’ll contradict anybody.
Mirabell Though ’twere a man whom he feared or a woman whom he loved.
Witwoud Well, well, he does not always think before he speaks. We have all our failings; you are too hard upon him, you are, faith. Let me excuse him⁠—I can defend most of his faults, except one or two; one he has, that’s the truth on’t; if he were my brother I could not acquit him⁠—that, indeed, I could wish were otherwise.
Mirabell Aye, marry, what’s that, Witwoud?
Witwoud Oh, pardon me!⁠—Expose the infirmities of my friend? No, my dear, excuse me there.
Fainall What, I warrant he’s unsincere, or ’tis some such trifle.
Witwoud No, no; what if he be? ’Tis no matter for that, his wit will excuse that. A wit should no more be sincere than a woman constant: one argues a decay of parts, as t’other of beauty.
Mirabell Maybe you think him too positive?
Witwoud No, no; his being positive is an incentive to argument, and keeps up conversation.
Fainall Too illiterate?
Witwoud That? That’s his happiness. His want of learning gives him the more opportunities to show his natural parts.
Mirabell He wants words?
Witwoud Aye; but I like him for that now: for his want of words gives me the pleasure very often to explain his meaning.
Fainall He’s impudent?
Witwoud No that’s not it.
Mirabell Vain?
Witwoud No.
Mirabell What! He speaks unseasonable truths sometimes, because he has not wit enough to invent an evasion?
Witwoud Truths? Ha, ha, ha! No, no, since you will have it⁠—I mean he never speaks truth at all⁠—that’s all. He will lie like a chambermaid, or a woman of quality’s porter. Now that is a fault.
Enter Coachman.
Coachman Is Master Petulant here, mistress?
Betty Yes.
Coachman Three gentlewomen in a coach would speak with him.
Fainall O brave Petulant! Three!
Betty I’ll tell him.
Coachman You must bring two dishes of chocolate and a glass of cinnamon water.18
Exeunt Betty and Coachman.
Witwoud That should be for two fasting strumpets, and a bawd troubled with wind. Now you may know what the three are.
Mirabell You are very free with your friend’s acquaintance.
Witwoud Aye, aye, friendship without freedom is as dull as love without enjoyment or wine without toasting: but to tell you a secret, these are trulls whom he allows coach-hire, and something more by the week, to call on him once a day at public places.
Mirabell How!
Witwoud You shall see he won’t go to ’em because there’s no more company here to take notice of him. Why, this is nothing to what he used to do:⁠—before he found out this way, I have known him call for himself⁠—
Fainall Call for himself? What dost thou mean?
Witwoud Mean! Why he would slip you out of this chocolate-house,19 just when you had been talking to him. As soon as your back was turned⁠—whip he was gone; then trip to his lodging, clap on a hood and scarf and a mask, slap into a hackney-coach, and drive hither to the door again in a trice; where he would send in for himself; that I mean, call for himself, wait for himself, nay, and what’s more, not finding himself, sometimes leave a letter for himself.
Mirabell I confess this is something extraordinary. I believe he waits for himself now, he is so long a coming; oh, I ask his pardon.
Enter Petulant and Betty.
Betty Sir, the coach stays.
Petulant Well, well, I come. ’Sbud, a man had as good be a professed midwife as a professed whoremaster, at this rate! To be knocked up and raised at all hours, and in all places. Pox on ’em, I won’t come.⁠—D’ye hear, tell ’em I won’t come.⁠—Let ’em snivel and cry their hearts out.
Fainall You are very cruel, Petulant.
Petulant All’s one, let it pass. I have a humour to be cruel.
Mirabell I hope they are not persons of condition that you use at this rate.
Petulant Condition? Condition’s a dried fig, if I am not in humour. By this hand, if they were your⁠—a⁠—a⁠—your what-d’ye-call-’ems themselves, they must wait or rub off, if I want appetite.
Mirabell What-d’ye-call-’ems! What are they, Witwoud?
Witwoud Empresses, my dear. By your what-d’ye-call-’ems he means sultana queens.
Petulant Aye, Roxolanas.
Mirabell Cry you mercy.
Fainall Witwoud says they are⁠—
Petulant What does he say th’are?
Witwoud I? Fine ladies, I say.
Petulant Pass on, Witwoud. Harkee, by this light, his relations: two co-heiresses his cousins, and an old aunt, who loves caterwauling better than a conventicle.
Witwoud Ha, ha, ha! I had a mind to see how the rogue would come off. Ha, ha, ha! Gad, I can’t be angry with him, if he had said they were my mother and my sisters.
Mirabell No?
Witwoud No; the rogue’s wit and readiness of invention charm me, dear Petulant.
Betty They are gone, sir, in great anger.
Petulant Enough, let ’em trundle. Anger helps complexion, saves paint.
Fainall This continence is all dissembled; this is in order to have something to brag of the next time he makes court to Millamant, and swear he has abandoned the whole sex for her sake.
Mirabell Have you not left off your impudent pretensions there yet? I shall cut your throat, sometime or other, Petulant, about that business.
Petulant Aye, aye, let that pass. There are other throats to be cut.
Mirabell Meaning mine, sir?
Petulant Not I⁠—I mean nobody⁠—I know nothing. But there are uncles and nephews in the world⁠—and they may be rivals. What then? All’s one for that.
Mirabell How? Harkee, Petulant, come hither⁠—explain, or I shall call your interpreter.
Petulant Explain? I know nothing. Why, you have an uncle, have you not, lately come to town, and lodges by my Lady Wishfort’s?
Mirabell True.
Petulant Why, that’s enough⁠—you and he are not friends; and if he should marry and have a child, yon may be disinherited, ha?
Mirabell Where hast thou stumbled upon all this truth?
Petulant All’s one for that; why, then, say I know something.
Mirabell Come, thou art an honest fellow, Petulant, and shalt make love to my mistress, thou shalt, faith. What hast thou heard of my uncle?
Petulant I? Nothing, I. If throats are to be cut, let swords clash. Snug’s the word; I shrug and am silent.
Mirabell Oh, raillery, raillery! Come, I know thou art in the women’s secrets.⁠—What, you’re a cabalist; I know you stayed at Millamant’s last night after I went. Was there any mention made of my uncle or me? Tell me; if thou hadst but good nature equal to thy wit, Petulant, Tony Witwoud, who is now thy competitor in fame, would show as dim by thee as a dead whiting’s eye by a pearl of orient; he would no more be seen by thee than Mercury is by the sun: come, I’m sure thou wo’t tell me.20
Petulant If I do, will you grant me common sense, then, for the future?
Mirabell Faith, I’ll do what I can for thee, and I’ll pray that Heavan may grant it thee in the meantime.
Petulant Well, hark’ee.
Mirabell and Petulant talk apart.
Fainall Petulant and you both will find Mirabell as warm a rival as a lover.
Witwoud Pshaw, pshaw, that she laughs at Petulant is plain. And for my part, but that it is almost a fashion to admire her, I should⁠—hark’ee⁠—to tell you a secret, but let it go no further between friends, I shall never break my heart for her.
Fainall How!
Witwoud She’s handsome; but she’s a sort of an uncertain woman.
Fainall I thought you had died for her.
Witwoud Umh⁠—no⁠—
Fainall She has wit.
Witwoud ’Tis what she will hardly allow anybody else. Now, demme, I should hate that, if she were as handsome as Cleopatra. Mirabell is not so sure of her as he thinks for.
Fainall Why do you think so?
Witwoud We stayed pretty late there last night, and heard something of an uncle to Mirabell, who is lately come to town, and is between him and the best part of his estate. Mirabell and he are at some distance, as my Lady Wishfort has been told; and you know she hates Mirabell worse than a quaker hates a parrot,21 or than a fishmonger hates a hard frost.22 Whether this uncle has seen Mrs. Millamant or not, I cannot say; but there were items of such a treaty being in embryo; and if it should come to life, poor Mirabell would be in some sort unfortunately fobbed, i’faith.
Fainall ’Tis impossible Millamant should hearken to it.
Witwoud Faith, my dear, I can’t tell; she’s a woman and a kind of a humorist.
Mirabell And this is the sum of what you could collect last night?
Petulant The quintessence. Maybe Witwoud knows more; he stayed longer. Besides, they never mind him; they say anything before him.
Mirabell I thought you had been the greatest favourite.
Petulant Aye, tête-à-tête; but not in public, because I make remarks.
Mirabell You do?
Petulant Aye, aye, pox, I’m malicious, man. Now he’s soft, you know, they are not in awe of him⁠—the fellow’s well bred, he’s what you call a⁠—what d’ye-call-’em⁠—a fine gentleman, but he’s silly withal.
Mirabell I thank you, I know as much as my curiosity requires. Fainall, are you for the Mall?23
Fainall Aye, I’ll take a turn before dinner.
Witwoud Aye, we’ll all walk in the park; the ladies talked of being there.
Mirabell I thought you were obliged to watch for your brother Sir Wilfull’s arrival.
Witwoud No, no, he comes to his aunt’s, my Lady Wishfort; pox on him, I shall be troubled with him too; what shall I do with the fool?
Petulant Beg him for his estate, that I may beg you afterwards, and so have but one trouble with you both.
Witwoud O rare Petulant! Thou art as quick as fire in a frosty morning; thou shalt to the Mall with us, and we’ll be very severe.
Petulant Enough; I’m in a humour to be severe.
Mirabell Are you? Pray then walk by yourselves. Let not us be accessory to your putting the ladies out of countenance with your senseless ribaldry, which you roar out aloud as often as they pass by you, and when you have made a handsome woman blush, then you think you have been severe.
Petulant What, what! Then let ’em either show their innocence by not understanding what they hear, or else show their discretion by not hearing what they would not be thought to understand.
Mirabell But hast not thou then sense enough to know that thou ought’st to be most ashamed thyself when thou hast put another out of countenance?
Petulant Not I, by this hand⁠—I always take blushing either for a sign of guilt or ill-breeding.
Mirabell I confess you ought to think so. You are in the right, that you may plead the error of your judgment in defence of your practice.

Where modesty’s ill manners, ’tis but fit
That impudence and malice pass for wit.


Act II

Scene I

St. James’s Park.

Mrs. Fainall and Mrs. Marwood.
Mrs. Fainall Aye, aye, dear Marwood, if we will be happy, we must find the means in ourselves, and among ourselves. Men are ever in extremes; either doting or averse. While they are lovers, if they have fire and sense, their jealousies are insupportable: and when they cease to love (we ought to think at least) they loathe, they look upon us with horror and distaste, they meet us like the ghosts of what we were, and as from such, fly from us.
Mrs. Marwood True, ’tis an unhappy circumstance of life, that love should ever die before us; and that the man so often should outlive the lover. But say what you will, ’tis better to be left than never to have been loved. To pass our youth in dull indifference, to refuse the sweets of life because they once must leave us, is as preposterous as to wish to have been born old, because we one day must be old. For my part, my youth may wear and waste, but it shall never rust in my possession.
Mrs. Fainall Then it seems you dissemble an aversion to mankind only in compliance to my mother’s humour.
Mrs. Marwood Certainly. To be free, I have no taste of those insipid dry discourses with which our sex of force must entertain themselves apart from men. We may affect endearments to each other, profess eternal friendships, and seem to dote like lovers; but ’tis not in our natures long to persevere. Love will resume his empire in our breasts, and every heart, or soon or late, receive and readmit him as its lawful tyrant.
Mrs. Fainall Bless me, how have I been deceived! Why, you profess a libertine.
Mrs. Marwood You see my friendship by my freedom. Come, be as sincere, acknowledge that your sentiments agree with mine.
Mrs. Fainall Never!
Mrs. Marwood You hate mankind?
Mrs. Fainall Heartily, inveterately.
Mrs. Marwood Your husband?
Mrs. Fainall Most transcendently;24 aye, though I say it, meritoriously.
Mrs. Marwood Give me your hand upon it.
Mrs. Fainall There.
Mrs. Marwood I join with you; what I have said has been to try you.
Mrs. Fainall Is it possible? Dost thou hate those vipers, men?
Mrs. Marwood I have done hating ’em, and am now come to despise ’em; the next thing I have to do is eternally to forget ’em.
Mrs. Fainall There spoke the spirit of an Amazon, a Penthesilea.25
Mrs. Marwood And yet I am thinking sometimes to carry my aversion further.
Mrs. Fainall How?
Mrs. Marwood Faith, by marrying; if I could but find one that loved me very well, and would be throughly sensible of ill usage, I think I should do myself the violence of undergoing the ceremony.
Mrs. Fainall You would not make him a cuckold?
Mrs. Marwood No; but I’d make him believe I did, and that’s as bad.
Mrs. Fainall Why had not you as good do it?
Mrs. Marwood Oh, if he should ever discover it, he would then know the worst, and be out of his pain; but I would have him ever to continue upon the rack of fear and jealousy.
Mrs. Fainall Ingenious mischief! Would thou wert married to Mirabell.
Mrs. Marwood Would I were.
Mrs. Fainall You change colour.
Mrs. Marwood Because I hate him.
Mrs. Fainall So do I; but I can hear him named. But what reason have you to hate him in particular?
Mrs. Marwood I never loved him; he is, and always was, insufferably proud.
Mrs. Fainall By the reason you give for your aversion, one would think it dissembled; for you have laid a fault to his charge, of which his enemies must acquit him.
Mrs. Marwood Oh, then it seems you are one of his favourable enemies! Methinks you look a little pale, and now you flush again.
Mrs. Fainall Do I? I think I am a little sick o’ the sudden.
Mrs. Marwood What ails you?
Mrs. Fainall My husband. Don’t you see him? He turned short upon me unawares, and has almost overcome me.
Enter Fainall and Mirabell.
Mrs. Marwood Ha, ha, ha! He comes opportunely for you.
Mrs. Fainall For you, for he has brought Mirabell with him.
Fainall My dear!
Mrs. Fainall My soul!
Fainall You don’t look well today, child.
Mrs. Fainall D’ye think so?
Mirabell He is the only man that does, madam.
Mrs. Fainall The only man that would tell me so at least, and the only man from whom I could hear it without mortification.
Fainall Oh, my dear, I am satisfied of your tenderness; I know you cannot resent anything from me; especially what is an effect of my concern.
Mrs. Fainall Mr. Mirabell, my mother interrupted you in a pleasant relation last night: I would fain hear it out.
Mirabell The persons concerned in that affair have yet a tolerable reputation.⁠—I am afraid Mr. Fainall will be censorious.
Mrs. Fainall He has a humour more prevailing than his curiosity, and will willingly dispense with the hearing of one scandalous story, to avoid giving an occasion to make another by being seen to walk with his wife. This way, Mr. Mirabell, and I dare promise you will oblige us both.
Exeunt Mrs. Fainall and Mirabell.
Fainall Excellent creature! Well, sure, if I should live to be rid of my wife, I should be a miserable man.
Mrs. Marwood Aye?
Fainall For having only that one hope, the accomplishment of it of consequence must put an end to all my hopes, and what a wretch is he who must survive his hopes! Nothing remains when that day comes but to sit down and weep like Alexander when he wanted other worlds to conquer.
Mrs. Marwood Will you not follow ’em?
Fainall Faith, I think not,
Mrs. Marwood Pray let us; I have a reason.
Fainall You are not jealous?
Mrs. Marwood Of whom?
Fainall Of Mirabell.
Mrs. Marwood If I am, is it inconsistent with my love to you that I am tender of your honour?
Fainall You would intimate then, as if there were a fellow-feeling between my wife and him?
Mrs. Marwood I think she does not hate him to that degree she would be thought.
Fainall But he, I fear, is too insensible.
Mrs. Marwood It may be you are deceived.
Fainall It may be so. I do not now begin to apprehend it.
Mrs. Marwood What?
Fainall That I have been deceived, madam, and you are false.
Mrs. Marwood That I am false? What mean you?
Fainall To let you know I see through all your little arts.⁠—Come, you both love him, and both have equally dissembled your aversion. Your mutual jealousies of one another have made you clash till you have both struck fire. I have seen the warm confession reddening on your cheeks, and sparkling from your eyes.
Mrs. Marwood You do me wrong.
Fainall I do not. ’Twas for my ease to oversee and wilfully neglect the gross advances made him by my wife, that by permitting her to be engaged, I might continue unsuspected in my pleasures, and take you oftener to my arms in full security. But could you think, because the nodding husband would not wake, that e’er the watchful lover slept?
Mrs. Marwood And wherewithal can you reproach me?
Fainall With infidelity, with loving another, with love of Mirabell.
Mrs. Marwood ’Tis false. I challenge you to show an instance that can confirm your groundless accusation. I hate him.
Fainall And wherefore do you hate him? He is insensible, and your resentment follows his neglect. An instance? The injuries you have done him are a proof: your interposing in his love. What cause had you to make discoveries of his pretended passion? To undeceive the credulous aunt, and be the officious obstacle of his match with Millamant?
Mrs. Marwood My obligations to my lady urged me: I had professed a friendship to her, and could not see her easy nature so abused by that dissembler.
Fainall What, was it conscience then? Professed a friendship! Oh, the pious friendships of the female sex!
Mrs. Marwood More tender, more sincere, and more enduring, than all the vain and empty vows of men, whether professing love to us or mutual faith to one another.
Fainall Ha, ha, ha! yyu are my wife’s friend too.
Mrs. Marwood Shame and ingratitude! Do you reproach me? You, you upbraid me? Have I been false to her, through strict fidelity to you, and sacrificed my friendship to keep my love inviolate? And have you the baseness to charge me with the guilt, unmindful of the merit? To you it should be meritorious that I have been vicious. And do you reflect that guilt upon me which should lie buried in your bosom?
Fainall You misinterpret my reproof. I meant but to remind you of the slight account you once could make of strictest ties when set in competition with your love to me.
Mrs. Marwood ’Tis false, you urged it with deliberate malice. ’Twas spoke in scorn, and I never will forgive it.
Fainall Your guilt, not your resentment, begets your rage. If yet you loved, you could forgive a jealousy: but you are stung to find you are discovered.
Mrs. Marwood It shall be all discovered. You too shall be discovered; be sure you shall. I can but be exposed. If I do it myself I shall prevent your baseness.
Fainall Why, what will you do?
Mrs. Marwood Disclose it to your wife; own what has past between us.
Fainall Frenzy!
Mrs. Marwood By all my wrongs I’ll do’t. I’ll publish to the world the injuries you have done me, both in my fame and fortune: with both I trusted you, you bankrupt in honour, as indigent of wealth.
Fainall Your fame I have preserved. Your fortune has been bestowed as the prodigality of your love would have it, in pleasures which we both have shared. Yet, had not you been false I had e’er this repaid it.⁠—’tis true⁠—had you permitted Mirabell with Millamant to have stolen their marriage, my lady had been incensed beyond all means of reconcilement: Millamant had forfeited the moiety of her fortune, which then would have descended to my wife. And wherefore did I marry but to make lawful prize of a rich widow’s wealth, and squander it on love and you?
Mrs. Marwood Deceit and frivolous pretence!
Fainall Death, am I not married? What’s pretence? Am I not imprisoned, fettered? Have I not a wife? Nay, a wife that was a widow, a young widow, a handsome widow, and would be again a widow, but that I have a heart of proof, and something of a constitution to bustle through the ways of wedlock and this world. Will you yet be reconciled to truth and me?
Mrs. Marwood Impossible. Truth and you are inconsistent.⁠—I hate you, and shall for ever.
Fainall For loving you?
Mrs. Marwood I loathe the name of love after such usage; and next to the guilt with which you would asperse me, I scorn you most. Farewell.
Fainall Nay, we must not part thus.
Mrs. Marwood Let me go.
Fainall Come, I’m sorry.
Mrs. Marwood I care not. Let me go. Break my hands, do⁠—I’d leave ’em to get loose.
Fainall I would not hurt you for the world. Have I no other hold to keep you here?
Mrs. Marwood Well, I have deserved it all.
Fainall You know I love you.
Mrs. Marwood Poor dissembling! Oh, that⁠—well, it is not yet⁠—
Fainall What? What is it not? What is it not yet? It is not yet too late⁠—
Mrs. Marwood No, it is not yet too late⁠—I have that comfort.
Fainall It is, to love another.
Mrs. Marwood But not to loathe, detest, abhor mankind, myself, and the whole treacherous world.
Fainall Nay, this is extravagance. Come, I ask your pardon. No tears⁠—I was to blame, I could not love you and be easy in my doubts. Pray forbear⁠—I believe you; I’m convinced I’ve done you wrong; and any way, every way will make amends: I’ll hate my wife yet more, damn her, I’ll part with her, rob her of all she’s worth, and we’ll retire somewhere, anywhere, to another world; I’ll marry thee⁠—be pacified.⁠—’Sdeath, they come: hide your face, your tears. You have a mask,26 wear it a moment. This way, this way: be persuaded.

Scene II

The same.

Mirabell and Mrs. Fainall.
Mrs. Fainall They are here yet.
Mirabell They are turning into the other walk.
Mrs. Fainall While I only hated my husband, I could bear to see him; but since I have despised him, he’s too offensive.
Mirabell Oh, you should hate with prudence.
Mrs. Fainall Yes, for I have loved with indiscretion.
Mirabell You should have just so much disgust for your husband as may be sufficient to make you relish your lover.
Mrs. Fainall You have been the cause that I have loved without bounds, and would you set limits to that aversion of which you have been the occasion? Why did you make me marry this man?
Mirabell Why do we daily commit disagreeable and dangerous actions? To save that idol, reputation. If the familiarities of our loves had produced that consequence of which you were apprehensive, where could you have fixed a father’s name with credit but on a husband? I knew Fainall to be a man lavish of his morals, an interested and professing friend, a false and a designing lover, yet one whose wit and outward fair behaviour have gained a reputation with the town, enough to make that woman stand excused who has suffered herself to be won by his addresses. A better man ought not to have been sacrificed to the occasion; a worse had not answered to the purpose. When you are weary of him you know your remedy.
Mrs. Fainall I ought to stand in some degree of credit with you, Mirabell.
Mirabell In justice to you, I have made you privy to my whole design, and put it in your power to ruin or advance my fortune.
Mrs. Fainall Whom have you instructed to represent your pretended uncle?
Mirabell Waitwell, my servant.
Mrs. Fainall He is an humble servant to Foible, my mother’s woman, and may win her to your interest.
Mirabell Care is taken for that⁠—she is won and worn by this time. They were married this morning.
Mrs. Fainall Who?
Mirabell Waitwell and Foible. I would not tempt my servant to betray me by trusting him too far. If your mother, in hopes to ruin me, should consent to marry my pretended uncle, he might, like Mosca in The Fox, stand upon terms;27 so I made him sure beforehand.
Mrs. Fainall So, if my poor mother is caught in a contract, you will discover the imposture betimes, and release her by producing a certificate of her gallant’s former marriage.
Mirabell Yes, upon condition that she consent to my marriage with her niece, and surrender the moiety of her fortune in her possession.
Mrs. Fainall She talked last night of endeavouring at a match between Millamant and your uncle.
Mirabell That was by Foible’s direction and my instruction, that she might seem to carry it more privately.
Mrs. Fainall Well, I have an opinion of your success, for I believe my lady will do anything to get an husband; and when she has this, which you have provided for her, I suppose she will submit to anything to get rid of him.
Mirabell Yes, I think the good lady would marry anything that resembled a man, though ’twere no more than what a butler could pinch out of a napkin.
Mrs. Fainall Female frailty! We must all come to it, if we live to be old, and feel the craving of a false appetite when the true is decayed.
Mirabell An old woman’s appetite is depraved like that of a girl⁠—’tis the greensickness of a second childhood, and, like the faint offer of a latter spring, serves but to usher in the fall, and withers in an affected bloom.
Mrs. Fainall Here’s your mistress.
Enter Mrs. Millamant, Witwoud and Mincing.
Mirabell Here she comes, i’faith, full sail, with her fan spread and streamers out, and a shoal of fools for tenders.⁠—Ha, no, I cry her mercy.
Mrs. Fainall I see but one poor empty sculler, and he tows her woman after him.
Mirabell To Mrs. Millamant. You seem to be unattended, madam. You used to have the beau monde28 throng after you, and a flock of gay fine perukes hovering round you.
Witwoud Like moths about a candle. I had like to have lost my comparison for want of breath.
Mrs. Millamant Oh, I have denied myself airs today. I have walked as fast through the crowd.
Witwoud As a favourite just disgraced, and with as few followers.
Mrs. Millamant Dear Mr. Witwoud, truce with your similitudes, for I am as sick of ’em⁠—
Witwoud As a physician of a good air. I cannot help it, madam, though ’tis against myself.
Mrs. Millamant Yet again! Mincing, stand between me and his wit.
Witwoud Do, Mrs. Mincing, like a screen before a great fire. I confess I do blaze today; I am too bright.
Mrs. Fainall But, dear Millamant, why were you so long?
Mrs. Millamant Long! Lord, have I not made violent haste? I have asked every living thing I met for you; I have enquired after you, as after a new fashion.
Witwoud Madam, truce with your similitudes.⁠—No, you met her husband, and did not ask him for her.
Mirabell By your leave, Witwoud, that were like enquiring after an old fashion to ask a husband for his wife.
Witwoud Hum, a hit, a hit, a palpable hit! I confess it.
Mrs. Fainall You were dressed before I came abroad.
Mrs. Millamant Aye, that’s true. Oh, but then I had⁠—Mincing, what had I? Why was I so long?
Mincing O mem, your la’ship stayed to peruse a packet of letters.
Mrs. Millamant Oh, aye, letters⁠—I had letters⁠—I am persecuted with letters⁠—I hate letters. Nobody knows how to write letters; and yet one has ’em, one does not know why. They serve one to pin up one’s hair.
Witwoud Is that the way? Pray, madam, do you pin up your hair with all your letters? I find I must keep copies.
Mrs. Millamant Only with those in verse, Mr. Witwoud. I never pin up my hair with prose⁠—I think I tried once, Mincing.
Mincing O mem, I shall never forget it.
Mrs. Millamant Aye, poor Mincing tift and tift29 all the morning.
Mincing Till I had the cramp in my fingers, I’ll vow, mem. And all to no purpose. But when your la’ship pins it up with poetry, it fits so pleasant the next day as anything, and is so pure and so crips.
Witwoud Indeed, so crips?
Mincing You’re such a critic, Mr. Witwoud.
Mrs. Millamant Mirabell, did you take exceptions last night? Oh, aye, and went away.⁠—Now I think on’t I’m angry⁠—no, now I think on’t I’m pleased⁠—for I believe I gave you some pain.
Mirabell Does that please you?
Mrs. Millamant Infinitely; I love to give pain.
Mirabell You would affect a cruelty which is not in your nature; your true vanity is in the power of pleasing.
Mrs. Millamant Oh, I ask your pardon for that. One’s cruelty is one’s power, and when one parts with one’s cruelty one parts with one’s power, and when one has parted with that, I fancy one’s old and ugly.
Mirabell Aye, aye; suffer your cruelty to ruin the object of your power, to destroy your lover⁠—and then how vain, how lost a thing you’ll be! Nay, ’tis true; you are no longer handsome when you’ve lost your lover: your beauty dies upon the instant. For beauty is the lover’s gift; ’tis he bestows your charms⁠—your glass is all a cheat. The ugly and the old, whom the looking-glass mortifies, yet after commendation can be flattered by it, and discover beauties in it: for that reflects our praises rather than your face.
Mrs. Millamant Oh, the vanity of these men!⁠—Fainall, d’ye hear him? If they did not commend us, we were not handsome! Now you must know they could not commend one if one was not handsome. Beauty the lover’s gift! Lord, what is a lover, that it can give? Why, one makes lovers as fast as one pleases, and they live as long as one pleases, and they die as soon as one pleases; and then, if one pleases, one makes more.
Witwoud Very pretty. Why, you make no more of making of lovers, madam, than of making so many card-matches.
Mrs. Millamant One no more owes one’s beauty to a lover than one’s wit to an echo. They can but reflect what we look and say; vain empty things if we are silent or unseen, and want a being.
Mirabell Yet, to those two vain empty things, you owe two the greatest pleasures of your life.
Mrs. Millamant How so?
Mirabell To your lover you owe the pleasure of hearing yourselves praised, and to an echo the pleasure of hearing yourselves talk.
Witwoud But I know a lady that loves talking so incessantly, she won’t give an echo fair play; she has that everlasting rotation of tongue that an echo must wait till she dies before it can catch her last words.
Mrs. Millamant Oh, fiction⁠—Fainall, let us leave these men.
Mirabell Aside to Mrs. Fainall. Draw off Witwoud.
Mrs. Fainall Immediately;⁠—I have a word or two for Mr. Witwoud.
Exeunt Mrs. Fainall and Witwoud.
Mirabell I would beg a little private audience too.⁠—You had the tyranny to deny me last night, though you knew I came to impart a secret to you that concerned my love.
Mrs. Millamant You saw I was engaged.
Mirabell Unkind! You had the leisure to entertain a herd of fools: things who visit you from their excessive idleness, bestowing on your easiness that time which is the incumbrance of their lives. How can you find delight in such society? It is impossible they should admire you; they are not capable; or, if they were, it should be to you as a mortification: for, sure, to please a fool is some degree of folly.
Mrs. Millamant I please myself: besides, sometimes to converse with fools is for my health.
Mirabell Your health! Is there a worse disease than the conversation of fools?
Mrs. Millamant Yes, the vapours; fools are physic for it, next to asafoetida.
Mirabell You are not in a course of fools?30
Mrs. Millamant Mirabell, if you persist in this offensive freedom you’ll displease me. I think I must resolve after all not to have you; we shan’t agree.
Mirabell Not in our physic, it may be.
Mrs. Millamant And yet our distemper in all likelihood will be the same; for we shall be sick of one another. I shan’t endure to be reprimanded nor instructed; ’tis so dull to act always by advice, and so tedious to be told of one’s faults⁠—I can’t bear it. Well, I won’t have you, Mirabell⁠—I’m resolved⁠—I think⁠—you may go⁠—ha, ha, ha! What would you give that you could help loving me?
Mirabell I would give something that you did not know I could not help it.
Mrs. Millamant Come, don’t look grave then. Well, what do you say to me?
Mirabell I say that a man may as soon make a friend by his wit, or a fortune by his honesty, as win a woman with plain-dealing and sincerity.
Mrs. Millamant Sententious Mirabell!⁠—Prithee don’t look with that violent and inflexible wise face, like Solomon at the dividing of the child in an old tapestry hanging!31
Mirabell You are merry, madam, but I would persuade you for a moment to be serious.
Mrs. Millamant What, with that face? No, if you keep your countenance, ’tis impossible I should hold mine. Well, after all, there is something very moving in a lovesick face. Ha, ha, ha! Well I won’t laugh; don’t be peevish. Heigho! Now I’ll be melancholy, as melancholy as a watch-light. Well, Mirabell, if ever you will win me, woo me now.⁠—Nay, if you are so tedious, fare you well⁠—I see they are walking away.
Mirabell Can you not find in the variety of your disposition one moment⁠—
Mrs. Millamant To hear you tell me Foible’s married, and your plot like to speed⁠—no.
Mirabell But how you came to know it?
Mrs. Millamant Without the help of the devil, you can’t imagine; unless she should tell me herself. Which of the two it may have been, I will leave you to consider; and when you have done thinking of that, think of me.
Mirabell I have something more.⁠—Gone!⁠—Think of you? To think of a whirlwind, though ’twere in a whirlwind, were a case of more steady contemplation, a very tranquillity of mind and mansion. A fellow that lives in a windmill has not a more whimsical dwelling than the heart of a man that is lodged in a woman. There is no point of the compass to which they cannot turn, and by which they are not turned, and by one as well as another; for motion, not method, is their occupation. To know this, and yet continue to be in love, is to be made wise from the dictates of reason, and yet persevere to play the fool by the force of instinct.⁠—Oh, here come my pair of turtles. What, billing so sweetly? Is not Valentine’s day over with you yet?
To him Waitwell and Foible.
Mirabell Sirrah, Waitwell, why, sure, you think you were married for your own recreation and not for my conveniency.
Waitwell Your pardon, sir. With submission, we have indeed been solacing in lawful delights; but still with an eye to business, sir. I have instructed her as well as I could. If she can take your directions as readily as my instructions, sir, your affairs are in a prosperous way.
Mirabell Give you joy, Mrs. Foible.
Foible Oh ’las, sir, I’m so ashamed.⁠—I’m afraid my lady has been in a thousand inquietudes for me. But I protest, sir, I made as much haste as I could.
Waitwell That she did indeed, sir. It was my fault that she did not make more.
Mirabell That I believe.
Foible But I told my lady as you instructed me, sir, that I had a prospect of seeing Sir Rowland, your uncle, and that I would put her ladyship’s picture in my pocket to show him, which I’ll be sure to say has made him so enamoured of her beauty, that he burns with impatience to lie at her ladyship’s feet and worship the original.
Mirabell Excellent Foible! Matrimony has made you eloquent in love.
Waitwell I think she has profited, sir. I think so.
Foible You have seen Madam Millamant, sir?
Mirabell Yes.
Foible I told her, sir, because I did not know that you might find an opportunity; she had so much company last night.
Mirabell Your diligence will merit more. In the meantime⁠—Gives money.
Foible O dear sir, your humble servant!
Waitwell Spouse⁠—
Mirabell Stand off, sir, not a penny. Go on and prosper, Foible. The lease shall be made good and the farm stocked, if we succeed.
Foible I don’t question your generosity, sir, and you need not doubt of success. If you have no more commands, sir, I’ll be gone; I’m sure my lady is at her toilet, and can’t dress till I come. Oh dear, I’m sure that Looking out. was Mrs. Marwood that went by in a mask; if she has seen me with you I’m sure she’ll tell my lady. I’ll make haste home and prevent her. Your servant, Sir.⁠—B’w’y,32 Waitwell.
Waitwell Sir Rowland, if you please. The jade’s so pert upon her preferment she forgets herself.
Mirabell Come, sir, will you endeavour to forget yourself⁠—and transform into Sir Rowland?
Waitwell Why, sir, it will be impossible I should remember myself. Married, knighted, and attended all in one day! ’Tis enough to make any man forget himself. The difficulty will be how to recover my acquaintance and familiarity with my former self, and fall from my transformation to a reformation into Waitwell. Nay, I shan’t be quite the same Waitwell neither⁠—for now I remember me, I’m married, and can’t be my own man again.

Aye, there’s my grief; that’s the sad change of life:
To lose my title, and yet keep my wife.



Scene I

A room in Lady Wishfort’s house.

Lady Wishfort at her toilet, Peg waiting.
Lady Wishfort Merciful! No news of Foible yet?
Peg No, madam.
Lady Wishfort I have no more patience.⁠—If I have not fretted myself till I am pale again, there’s no veracity in me. Fetch me the red⁠—the red, do you hear, sweetheart?⁠—An errant ash colour, as I’m a person. Look you how this wench stirs! Why dost thou not fetch me a little red? Didst thou not hear me, Mopus?33
Peg The red ratafia, does your ladyship mean, or the cherry brandy?
Lady Wishfort Ratafia, fool? No, fool. Not the ratafia, fool⁠—grant me patience!⁠—I mean the Spanish paper,34 idiot; complexion, darling. Paint, paint, paint, dost thou understand that, changeling, dangling thy hands like bobbins before thee? Why dost thou not stir, puppet? Thou wooden thing upon wires!
Peg Lord, madam, your ladyship is so impatient!⁠—I cannot come at the paint, madam: Mrs. Foible has locked it up, and carried the key with her.
Lady Wishfort A pox take you both.⁠—Fetch me the cherry brandy then.Exit Peg. I’m as pale and as faint, I look like Mrs. Qualmsick, the curate’s wife, that’s always breeding. Wench, come, come, wench, what art thou doing? Sipping? Tasting?⁠—Save thee, dost thou not know the bottle?
Re-enter Peg with a bottle and china cup.
Peg Madam, I was looking for a cup.
Lady Wishfort A cup, save thee, and what a cup hast thou brought! Dost thou take me for a fairy, to drink out of an acorn? Why didst thou not bring thy thimble? Hast thou ne’er a brass thimble clinking in thy pocket with a bit of nutmeg?35⁠—I warrant thee. Come, fill, fill!⁠—So⁠—again.⁠—Knocking at the door. See who that is.⁠—Set down the bottle first!⁠—here, here, under the table.⁠—What, wouldst thou go with the bottle in thy hand like a tapster? As I’m a person, this wench has lived in an inn upon the road, before she came to me, like Maritornes the Asturian in Don Quixote.36⁠—No Foible yet?
Peg No, madam; Mrs. Marwood.
Lady Wishfort Oh, Marwood: let her come in.⁠—Come in, good Marwood.
Enter Mrs. Marwood.
Mrs. Marwood I’m surprised to find your ladyship in deshabille at this time of day.
Lady Wishfort Foible’s a lost thing; has been abroad since morning, and never heard of since.
Mrs. Marwood I saw her but now, as I came masked through the park, in conference with Mirabell.
Lady Wishfort With Mirabell!⁠—You call my blood into my face with mentioning that traitor. She durst not have the confidence. I sent her to negotiate an affair, in which if I’m detected I’m undone. If that wheedling villain has wrought upon Foible to detect me, I’m ruined. O my dear friend, I’m a wretch of wretches if I’m detected.
Mrs. Marwood O madam, you cannot suspect Mrs. Foible’s integrity!
Lady Wishfort Oh, he carries poison in his tongue that would corrupt integrity itself! If she has given him an opportunity, she has as good as put her integrity into his hands. Ah, dear Marwood, what’s integrity to an opportunity?⁠—Hark! I hear her!⁠—dear friend, retire into my closet, that I may examine her with more freedom⁠—you’ll pardon me, dear friend, I can make bold with you⁠—there are books over the chimney⁠—Quarles and Prynne,37 and the Short View of the Stage,38 with Bunyan’s works to entertain you.⁠—To Peg.⁠—Go, you thing, and send her in.
Exeunt Mrs. Marwood and Peg.
Enter Foible.
Lady Wishfort O Foible, where hast thou been? What hast thou been doing?
Foible Madam, I have seen the party.
Lady Wishfort But what hast thou done?
Foible Nay, ’tis your ladyship has done, and are to do; I have only promised. But a man so enamoured⁠—so transported! Well, if worshipping of pictures be a sin⁠—poor Sir Rowland, I say.
Lady Wishfort The miniature has been counted like. But hast thou not betrayed me, Foible? Hast thou not detected me to that faithless Mirabell? What hast thou to do with him in the park? Answer me, has he got nothing out of thee?
Foible Aside. So, the devil has been beforehand with me; what shall I say?⁠—Aloud.⁠—Alas, madam, could I help it, if I met that confident thing? Was I in fault? If you had heard how he used me, and all upon your ladyship’s account, I’m sure you would not suspect my fidelity. Nay, if that had been the worst I could have borne: but he had a fling at your ladyship too, and then I could not hold; but, i’faith I gave him his own.
Lady Wishfort Me? What did the filthy fellow say?
Foible O madam, ’tis a shame to say what he said⁠—with his taunts and his fleers, tossing up his nose. Humph! (says he) what, you are a hatching some plot (says he), you are so early abroad, or catering (says he), ferreting for some disbanded officer, I warrant.⁠—Half pay is but thin subsistence (says he), well, what pension does your lady propose? Let me see, (says he), what, she must come down pretty deep now, she’s superannuated (says he) and⁠—
Lady Wishfort Ods my life, I’ll have him⁠—I’ll have him murdered. I’ll have him poisoned. Where does he eat?⁠—I’ll marry a drawer to have him poisoned in his wine. I’ll send for Robin from Locket’s39 immediately.
Foible Poison him? Poisoning’s too good for him. Starve him, madam, starve him; marry Sir Rowland, and get him disinherited. Oh, you would bless yourself to hear what he said!
Lady Wishfort A villain! Superannuated!
Foible Humph (says he), I hear you are laying designs against me too (says he) and Mrs. Millamant is to marry my uncle (he does not suspect a word of your ladyship); but (says he) I’ll fit you for that, I warrant you (says he) I’ll hamper you for that (says he); you and your old frippery too (says he); I’ll handle you⁠—
Lady Wishfort Audacious villain! Handle me? Would he durst?⁠—Frippery! Old frippery! Was there ever such a foul-mouthed fellow? I’ll be married tomorrow, I’ll be contracted tonight.
Foible The sooner the better, madam.
Lady Wishfort Will Sir Rowland be here, say’st thou? When, Foible?
Foible Incontinently, madam. No new sheriff’s wife expects the return of her husband after knighthood with that impatience in which Sir Rowland burns for the dear hour of kissing your ladyship’s hand after dinner.
Lady Wishfort Frippery! Superannuated frippery! I’ll frippery the villain; I’ll reduce him to frippery and rags, a tatterdemalion! I hope to see him hung with tatters, like a Long Lane penthouse,40 or a gibbet thief. A slander-mouthed railer! I warrant the spendthrift prodigal’s in debt as much as the million lottery,41 or the whole court upon a birthday.42 I’ll spoil his credit with his tailor. Yes, he shall have my niece with her fortune, he shall.
Foible He! I hope to see him lodge in Ludgate first, and angle into Blackfriars for brass farthings with an old mitten.43
Lady Wishfort Aye, dear Foible; thank thee for that, dear Foible. He has put me out of all patience. I shall never recompose my features to receive Sir Rowland with any economy of face. This wretch has fretted me that I am absolutely decayed. Look, Foible.
Foible Your ladyship has frowned a little too rashly, indeed, madam. There are some cracks discernible in the white varnish.
Lady Wishfort Let me see the glass.⁠—Cracks, say’st thou? Why, I am arrantly flayed⁠—I look like an old peeled wall. Thou must repair me, Foible, before Sir Rowland comes, or I shall never keep up to my picture.
Foible I warrant you, madam, a little art once made your picture like you, and now a little of the same art must make you like your picture. Your picture must sit for you, madam.
Lady Wishfort But art thou sure Sir Rowland will not fail to come? Or will a not fail when he does come? Will he be importunate, Foible, and push? For if he should not be importunate I shall never break decorums⁠—I shall die with confusion if I am forced to advance⁠—oh no, I can never advance⁠—I shall swoon if he should expect advances. No, I hope Sir Rowland is better bred than to put a lady to the necessity of breaking her forms. I won’t be too coy neither⁠—I won’t give him despair⁠—but a little disdain is not amiss; a little scorn is alluring.
Foible A little scorn becomes your ladyship.
Lady Wishfort Yes, but tenderness becomes me best⁠—a sort of a dyingness⁠—you see that picture has a sort of a⁠—ha, Foible! A swimmingness in the eyes⁠—yes, I’ll look so⁠—my niece affects it; but she wants features. Is Sir Rowland handsome? Let my toilet be removed⁠—I’ll dress above. I’ll receive Sir Rowland here. Is he handsome? Don’t answer me. I won’t know; I’ll be surprised. I’ll be taken by surprise.
Foible By storm, madam. Sir Rowland’s a brisk man.
Lady Wishfort Is he? Oh, then, he’ll importune, if he’s a brisk man. I shall save decorums if Sir Rowland importunes. I have a mortal terror at the apprehension of offending against decorums. Oh, I’m glad he’s a brisk man. Let my things be removed, good Foible.
Enter Mrs. Fainall.
Mrs. Fainall O Foible, I have been in a fright, lest I should come too late. That devil, Marwood, saw you in the park with Mirabell, and I’m afraid will discover it to my lady.
Foible Discover what, madam?
Mrs. Fainall Nay, nay, put not on that strange face. I am privy to the whole design, and know that Waitwell, to whom thou wert this morning married, is to personate Mirabell’s uncle, and, as such winning my lady, to involve her in those difficulties from which Mirabell only must release her, by his making his conditions to have my cousin and her fortune left to her own disposal.
Foible O dear madam, I beg your pardon. It was not my confidence in your ladyship that was deficient; but I thought the former good correspondence between your ladyship and Mr. Mirabell might have hindered his communicating this secret.
Mrs. Fainall Dear Foible, forget that.
Foible O dear madam, Mr. Mirabell is such a sweet winning gentleman⁠—but your ladyship is the pattern of generosity.⁠—Sweet lady, to be so good! Mr. Mirabell cannot choose but be grateful. I find your ladyship has his heart still. Now, madam, I can safely tell your ladyship our success: Mrs. Marwood had told my lady, but I warrant I managed myself. I turned it all for the better. I told my lady that Mr. Mirabell railed at her. I laid horrid things to his charge, I’ll vow; and my lady is so incensed that she’ll be contracted to Sir Rowland tonight, she says; I warrant I worked her up that he may have her for asking for, as they say of a Welsh maidenhead.
Mrs. Fainall O rare Foible!
Foible Madam, I beg your ladyship to acquaint Mr. Mirabell of his success. I would be seen as little as possible to speak to him⁠—besides, I believe Madam Marwood watches me. She has a month’s mind;44 but I know Mr. Mirabell can’t abide her.⁠—John!⁠—Calls. remove my lady’s toilet.⁠—Madam, your servant. My lady is so impatient, I fear she’ll come for me, if I stay.
Mrs. Fainall I’ll go with you up the backstairs, lest I should meet her.

Scene II

Lady Wishfort’s closet.

Mrs. Marwood alone.
Mrs. Marwood Indeed, Mrs. Engine, is it thus with you? Are you become a go-between of this importance? Yes, I shall watch you. Why this wench is the passe-partout,45 a very master-key to everybody’s strong box. My friend Fainall, have you carried it so swimmingly? I thought there was something in it; but it seems it’s over with you. Your loathing is not from a want of appetite then, but from a surfeit. Else you could never be so cool to fall from a principal to be an assistant, to procure for him! A pattern of generosity, that I confess. Well, Mr. Fainall, you have met with your match.⁠—O man, man! Woman, woman! The devil’s an ass: if I were a painter, I would draw him like an idiot, a driveller with a bib and bells. Man should have his head and horns, and woman the rest of him. Poor, simple fiend!⁠—“Madam Marwood has a month’s mind, but he can’t abide her.”⁠—’Twere better for him you had not been his confessor in that affair, without you could have kept his counsel closer. I shall not prove another pattern of generosity; he has not obliged me to that with those excesses of himself, and now I’ll have none of him. Here comes the good lady, panting ripe, with a heart full of hope, and a head full of care, like any chemist upon the day of projection.46
To her Lady Wishfort.
Lady Wishfort O dear Marwood, what shall I say for this rude forgetfulness? But my dear friend is all goodness.
Mrs. Marwood No apologies, dear madam. I have been very well entertained.
Lady Wishfort As I’m a person, I am in a very chaos to think I should so forget myself. But I have such an olio of affairs, really I know not what to do.⁠—Foible!⁠—Calls. I expect my nephew Sir Wilfull ev’ry moment too.⁠—Why, Foible!⁠—He means to travel for improvement.
Mrs. Marwood Methinks Sir Wilfull should rather think of marrying than travelling at his years. I hear he is turned of forty.
Lady Wishfort Oh, he’s in less danger of being spoiled by his travels. I am against my nephew’s marrying too young. It will be time enough when he comes back, and has acquired discretion to choose for himself.
Mrs. Marwood Methinks Mrs. Millamant and he would make a very fit match. He may travel afterwards. ’Tis a thing very usual with young gentlemen.
Lady Wishfort I promise you I have thought on’t⁠—and since ’tis your judgment, I’ll think on’t again. I assure you I will; I value your judgment extremely. On my word, I’ll propose it.
Enter Foible.
Lady Wishfort Come, come, Foible⁠—I had forgot my nephew will be here before dinner⁠—I must make haste.
Foible Mr. Witwoud and Mr. Petulant are come to dine with your ladyship.
Lady Wishfort Oh dear, I can’t appear till I am dressed. Dear Marwood, shall I be free with you again, and beg you to entertain ’em? I’ll make all imaginable haste. Dear friend, excuse me.

Scene III

A room in Lady Wishfort’s house.

Mrs. Marwood, Mrs. Millamant, and Mincing.
Mrs. Millamant Sure, never anything was so unbred as that odious man.⁠—Marwood, your servant.
Mrs. Marwood You have a colour; what’s the matter?
Mrs. Millamant That horrid fellow Petulant has provoked me into a flame: I have broke my fan⁠—Mincing, lend me yours; is not all the powder out of my hair?
Mrs. Marwood No. What has he done?
Mrs. Millamant Nay, he has done nothing; he has only talked. Nay, he has said nothing neither; but he has contradicted everything that has been said. For my part, I thought Witwoud and he would have quarrelled.
Mincing I vow, mem, I thought once they would have fit.
Mrs. Millamant Well, ’tis a lamentable thing, I swear, that one has not the liberty of choosing one’s acquaintance as one does one’s clothes.
Mrs. Marwood If we had that liberty, we should be as weary of one set of acquaintance, though never so good, as we are of one suit, though never so fine. A fool and a doily stuff would now and then find days of grace, and be worn for variety.
Mrs. Millamant I could consent to wear ’em, if they would wear alike; but fools never wear out. They are such drap de Berri47 things! Without one could give ’em to one’s chambermaid after a day or two!
Mrs. Marwood ’Twere better so indeed. Or what think you of the playhouse? A fine gay glossy fool should be given there, like a new masking habit, after the masquerade is over, and we have done with the disguise. For a fool’s visit is always a disguise, and never admitted by a woman of wit, but to blind her affair with a lover of sense. If you would but appear barefaced now, and own Mirabell, you might as easily put off Petulant and Witwoud as your hood and scarf. And indeed ’tis time, for the town has found it, the secret is grown too big for the pretence. ’Tis like Mrs. Primly’s great belly: she may lace it down before, but it burnishes on her hips.48 Indeed, Millamant, you can no more conceal it than my Lady Strammel can her face, that goodly face, which in defiance of her Rhenish-wine tea49 will not be comprehended in a mask.
Mrs. Millamant I’ll take my death, Marwood, you are more censorious than a decayed beauty, or a discarded toast.50 Mincing, tell the men they may come up. My aunt is not dressing here; their folly is less provoking than your malice. Exit Mincing. The town has found it! what has it found? That Mirabell loves me is no more a secret than it is a secret that you discovered it to my aunt, or than the reason why you discovered it is a secret.
Mrs. Marwood You are nettled.
Mrs. Millamant You’re mistaken. Ridiculous!
Mrs. Marwood Indeed, my dear, you’ll tear another fan, if you don’t mitigate those violent airs.
Mrs. Millamant O silly! ha! ha! ha! I could laugh immoderately. Poor Mirabell! His constancy to me has quite destroyed his complaisance for all the world beside. I swear I never enjoined it him to be so coy⁠—If I had the vanity to think he would obey me, I would command him to show more gallantry⁠—’tis hardly well-bred to be so particular on one hand and so insensible on the other. But I despair to prevail, and so let him follow his own way. Ha! ha! ha! Pardon me, dear creature, I must laugh; ha! ha! ha! Though I grant you ’tis a little barbarous; ha! ha! ha!
Mrs. Marwood What pity ’tis so much fine raillery, and delivered with so significant gesture, should be so unhappily directed to miscarry.
Mrs. Millamant Heh? Dear creature, I ask your pardon⁠—I swear I did not mind you.
Mrs. Marwood Mr. Mirabell and you both may think it a thing impossible, when I shall tell him by telling you⁠—
Mrs. Millamant Oh dear, what? For it is the same thing, if I hear it⁠—ha! ha! ha!
Mrs. Marwood That I detest him, hate him, madam.
Mrs. Millamant O madam, why, so do I⁠—and yet the creature loves me, ha! ha! ha! How can one forbear laughing to think of it.⁠—I am a sibyl if I am not amazed to think what he can see in me. I’ll take my death,51 I think you are handsomer⁠—and within a year or two as young. If you could but stay for me, I should overtake you⁠—but that cannot be.⁠—Well, that thought makes me melancholic.⁠—Now I’ll be sad.
Mrs. Marwood Your merry note may be changed sooner than you think.
Mrs. Millamant D’ye say so? Then I’m resolved I’ll have a song to keep up my spirits.
Re-enter Mincing.
Mincing The gentlemen stay but to comb, madam, and will wait on you.
Mrs. Millamant Desire Mrs.⁠—that is in the next room, to sing the song I would have learnt yesterday. You shall hear it, madam. Not that there’s any great matter in it⁠—but ’tis agreeable to my humour.


Love’s but the frailty of the mind
When ’tis not with ambition joined;
A sickly flame, which if not fed, expires,
And feeding, wastes in self-consuming fires.

’Tis not to wound a wanton boy
Or am’rous youth, that gives the joy;
But ’tis the glory to have pierced a swain,
For whom inferior beauties sighed in vain.

Then I alone the conquest prize,
When I insult a rival’s eyes;
If there’s delight in love, ’tis when I see
That heart, which others bleed for, bleed for me.

Enter Petulant and Witwoud.
Mrs. Millamant Is your animosity composed, gentlemen?
Witwoud Raillery, raillery, madam; we have no animosity. We hit off a little wit now and then, but no animosity. The falling out of wits is like the falling out of lovers:⁠—we agree in the main,52 like treble and bass.⁠—Ha, Petulant?
Petulant Aye, in the main. But when I have a humour to contradict⁠—
Witwoud Aye, when he has a humour to contradict, then I contradict too. What, I know my cue. Then we contradict one another like two battledores; for contradictions beget one another like Jews.
Petulant If he says black’s black⁠—if I have a humour to say ’tis blue⁠—let that pass⁠—all’s one for that. If I have a humour to prove it, it must be granted.
Witwoud Not positively must⁠—but it may⁠—it may.
Petulant Yes, it positively must, upon proof positive.
Witwoud Aye, upon proof positive it must; but upon proof presumptive it only may.⁠—That’s a logical distinction now, madam.
Mrs. Marwood I perceive your debates are of importance, and very learnedly handled.
Petulant Importance is one thing and learning’s another; but a debate’s a debate, that I assert.
Witwoud Petulant’s an enemy to learning; he relies altogether on his parts.
Petulant No, I’m no enemy to learning; it hurts not me.
Mrs. Marwood That’s a sign indeed it’s no enemy to you.
Petulant No, no, it’s no enemy to anybody but them that have it.
Mrs. Millamant Well, an illiterate man’s my aversion: I wonder at the impudence of any illiterate man to offer to make love.
Witwoud That I confess I wonder at, too.
Mrs. Millamant Ah, to marry an ignorant that can hardly read or write.
Petulant Why should a man be any further from being married, though he can’t read, than he is from being hanged? The ordinary’s paid for setting the psalm,53 and the parish priest for reading the ceremony. And for the rest which is to follow in both cases, a man may do it without book⁠—so all’s one for that.
Mrs. Millamant D’ye hear the creature?⁠—Lord, here’s company; I’ll begone.
Enter Sir Wilfull Witwoud in a riding dress, followed by Footman.
Witwoud In the name of Bartlemew and his fair,54 what have we here?
Mrs. Marwood ’Tis your brother, I fancy. Don’t you know him?
Witwoud Not I.⁠—Yes, I think it is he⁠—I’ve almost forgot him; I have not seen him since the Revolution.
Footman To Sir Wilful. Sir, my lady’s dressing. Here’s company, if you please to walk in, in the meantime.
Sir Wilful Dressing! What, it’s but morning here, I warrant, with you in London; we should count it towards afternoon in our parts down in Shropshire:⁠—why, then, belike my aunt han’t dined yet, ha, friend?
Footman Your aunt, sir?
Sir Wilful My aunt, sir! Yes my aunt, sir, and your lady, sir; your lady is my aunt, sir.⁠—Why, what dost thou not know me, friend? Why, then, send somebody hither that does. How long hast thou lived with thy lady, fellow, ha?
Footman A week, sir; longer than anybody in the house, except my lady’s woman.
Sir Wilful Why, then, belike thou dost not know thy lady, if thou seest her, ha, friend?
Footman Why, truly, sir, I cannot safely swear to her face in a morning, before she is dressed. ’Tis like I may give a shrewd guess at her by this time.
Sir Wilful Well, prithee try what thou canst do; if thou canst not guess, enquire her out, dost hear, fellow? And tell her her nephew, Sir Wilfull Witwoud, is in the house.
Footman I shall, sir.
Sir Wilful Hold ye, hear me, friend, a word with you in your ear: prithee who are these gallants?
Footman Really, sir, I can’t tell; here come so many here, ’tis hard to know ’em all.
Sir Wilful Oons, this fellow knows less than a starling: I don’t think a’ knows his own name.
Mrs. Marwood Mr. Witwoud, your brother is not behindhand in forgetfulness. I fancy he has forgot you too.
Witwoud I hope so. The devil take him that remembers first, I say.
Sir Wilful Save you, gentlemen and lady.
Mrs. Marwood For shame, Mr. Witwoud; why won’t you speak to him?⁠—And you, sir.
Witwoud Petulant, speak.
Petulant And you, sir.
Sir Wilful No offence, I hope? Salutes Mrs. Marwood.
Mrs. Marwood No, sure, sir.
Witwoud This is a vile dog, I see that already. No offence! Ha! ha! ha! To him, to him, Petulant, smoke him.55
Petulant It seems as if you had come a journey, sir; hem, hem. Surveying him round.
Sir Wilful Very likely, sir, that it may seem so.
Petulant No offence, I hope, sir?
Witwoud Smoke the boots, the boots, Petulant, the boots: ha! ha! ha!
Sir Wilful Maybe not, sir; thereafter as ’tis meant,56 sir.
Petulant Sir, I presume upon the information of your boots.
Sir Wilful Why, ’tis like you may, sir: if you are not satisfied with the information of my boots, sir, if you will step to the stable, you may enquire further of my horse, sir.
Petulant Your horse, sir! Your horse is an ass, sir!
Sir Wilful Do you speak by way of offence, sir?
Mrs. Marwood The gentleman’s merry, that’s all, sir. Aside. ’Slife, we shall have a quarrel betwixt an horse and an ass, before they find one another out.⁠—Aloud. You must not take anything amiss from your friends, sir. You are among your friends here, though it⁠—may be you don’t know it. If I am not mistaken, you are Sir Wilfull Witwoud?
Sir Wilful Right, lady; I am Sir Wilfull Witwoud, so I write myself; no offence to anybody, I hope; and nephew to the Lady Wishfort of this mansion.
Mrs. Marwood Don’t you know this gentleman, sir?
Sir Wilful Hum! What, sure ’tis not⁠—yea by’r lady but ’tis⁠—s’heart, I know not whether ’tis or no⁠—yea, but ’tis, by the Wrekin. Brother Anthony! What, Tony, i’faith! What, dost thou not know me? By’r lady, nor I thee, thou art so becravated and so beperiwigged.⁠—S’heart, why dost not speak? Art thou o’erjoyed?
Witwoud Odso, brother, is it you? Your servant, brother.
Sir Wilful Your servant! Why, yours, sir. Your servant again⁠—s’heart, and your friend and servant to that⁠—and a⁠—puff and a flap-dragon for your service, sir, and a hare’s foot and a hare’s scut57 for your service, sir, an you be so cold and so courtly!
Witwoud No offence, I hope, brother.
Sir Wilful S’heart, sir, but there is, and much offence!⁠—A pox, is this your inns o’ court breeding, not to know your friends and your relations, your elders, and your betters?
Witwoud Why, brother Wilfull of Salop,58 you may be as short as a Shrewsbury cake, if you please. But I tell you ’tis not modish to know relations in town.:you think you’re in the country, where great lubberly brothers slabber and kiss one another when they meet, like a call of sergeants.59⁠—’tis not the fashion here; ’tis not, indeed, dear brother.
Sir Wilful The fashion’s a fool and you’re a fop, dear brother. S’heart, I’ve suspected this⁠—by’r lady I conjectured you were a fop, since you began to change the style of your letters, and write in a scrap of paper gilt round the edges, no bigger than a subpoena. I might expect this when you left off “Honoured brother,” and “Hoping you are in good health,” and so forth, to begin with a “Rat me, knight, I’m so sick of a last night’s debauch.” Ods heart, and then tell a familiar tale of a cock and a bull, and a whore and a bottle, and so conclude. You could write news before you were out of your time,60 when you lived with honest Pimple Nose, the attorney of Furnival’s Inn.61⁠—you could intreat to be remembered then to your friends round the reckan.62 We could have gazettes then, and Dawks’s Letter,63 and the Weekly Bill,64 till of late days.
Petulant ’Slife, Witwoud, were you ever an attorney’s clerk? Of the family of the Furnivals? Ha! ha! ha!
Witwoud Aye, aye, but that was but for a while. Not long, not long; pshaw, I was not in my own power then. An orphan, and this fellow was my guardian; aye, aye, I was glad to consent to that man to come to London. He had the disposal of me then. If I had not agreed to that, I might have been bound ’prentice to a feltmaker in Shrewsbury: this fellow would have bound me to a maker of felts.
Sir Wilful S’heart, and better than to be bound to a maker of fops, where, I suppose, you have served your time, and now you may set up for yourself.
Mrs. Marwood You intend to travel, sir, as I’m informed?
Sir Wilful Belike I may, madam. I may chance to sail upon the salt seas, if my mind hold.
Petulant And the wind serve.
Sir Wilful Serve or not serve, I shan’t ask license of you, sir, nor the weathercock your companion. I direct my discourse to the lady, sir.⁠—’Tis like my aunt may have told you, madam? Yes, I have settled my concerns, I may say now, and am minded to see foreign parts. If an how that the peace holds, whereby, that is, taxes abate.65
Mrs. Marwood I thought you had designed for France at all adventures.
Sir Wilful I can’t tell that; ’tis like I may, and ’tis like I may not. I am somewhat dainty in making a resolution, because when I make it I keep it. I don’t stand shill I, shall I, then; if I say’t, I’ll do’t. But I have thoughts to tarry a small matter in town, to learn somewhat of your lingo first, before I cross the seas. I’d gladly have a spice of your French as they say, whereby to hold discourse in foreign countries.
Mrs. Marwood Here’s an academy in town for that use.
Sir Wilful There is? ’Tis like there may.66
Mrs. Marwood No doubt you will return very much improved.
Witwoud Yes, refined like a Dutch skipper from a whale-fishing.
Enter Lady Wishfort and Fainall.
Lady Wishfort Nephew, you are welcome.
Sir Wilful Aunt, your servant.
Fainall Sir Wilfull, your most faithful servant.
Sir Wilful Cousin Fainall, give me your hand.
Lady Wishfort Cousin Witwoud, your servant; Mr. Petulant, your servant⁠—nephew, you are welcome again. Will you drink anything after your journey, nephew, before you eat? Dinner’s almost ready.
Sir Wilful I’m very well, I thank you, aunt⁠—however, I thank you for your courteous offer. S’heart, I was afraid you would have been in the fashion too, and have remembered to have forgot your relations. Here’s your cousin Tony, belike, I mayn’t call him brother for fear of offence.
Lady Wishfort Oh, he’s a rallier, nephew⁠—my cousin’s a wit: and your great wits always rally their best friends to choose.67 When you have been abroad, nephew, you’ll understand raillery better.
Fainall and Mrs. Marwood talk apart.
Sir Wilful Why, then, let him hold his tongue in the meantime, and rail when that day comes.
Enter Mincing.
Mincing Mem, I come to acquaint your la’ship that dinner is impatient.
Sir Wilful Impatient? Why, then, belike it won’t stay till I pull off my boots. Sweetheart, can you help me to a pair of slippers? My man’s with his horses, I warrant.
Lady Wishfort Fie, fie, nephew, you would not pull off your boots here?⁠—Go down into the hall⁠—dinner shall stay for you.⁠—My nephew’s a little unbred: you’ll pardon him, madam.⁠—Gentlemen, will you walk?⁠—Marwood⁠—
Mrs. Marwood I’ll follow you, madam⁠—before Sir Wilfull is ready.
Exeunt all but Mrs. Marwood and Fainall.
Fainall Why, then, Foible’s a bawd, an errant, rank matchmaking bawd. And I, it seems, am a husband, a rank husband, and my wife a very errant, rank wife⁠—all in the way of the world. ’Sdeath, to be a cuckold by anticipation, a cuckold in embryo! Sure I was born with budding antlers like a young satyr, or a citizen’s child. ’Sdeath, to be outwitted⁠—to be out-jilted⁠—out-matrimonied!⁠—If I had kept my speed like a stag, ’twere somewhat⁠—but to crawl after, with my horns like a snail, and be outstripped by my wife⁠—’tis scurvy wedlock.
Mrs. Marwood Then shake it off: you have often wished for an opportunity to part⁠—and now you have it. But first prevent their plot⁠—the half of Millamant’s fortune is too considerable to be parted with to a foe, to Mirabell.
Fainall Damn him! that had been mine⁠—had you not made that fond discovery⁠—that had been forfeited, had they been married. My wife had added lustre to my horns by that increase of fortune: I could have worn ’em tipt with gold, though my forehead had been furnished like a deputy-lieutenant’s hall.68
Mrs. Marwood They may prove a cap of maintenance69 to you still, if you can away with your wife. And she’s no worse than when you had her:⁠—I dare swear she had given up her game before she was married.
Fainall Hum! That may be.
Mrs. Marwood You married her to keep you; and if you can contrive to have her keep you better than you expected, why should you not keep her longer than you intended?
Fainall The means, the means.
Mrs. Marwood Discover to my lady your wife’s conduct; threaten to part with her!⁠—my lady loves her, and will come to any composition to save her reputation. Take the opportunity of breaking it just upon the discovery of this imposture. My lady will be enraged beyond bounds, and sacrifice niece, and fortune and all at that conjuncture. And let me alone to keep her warm: if she should flag in her part, I will not fail to prompt her.
Fainall Faith, this has an appearance.
Mrs. Marwood I’m sorry I hinted to my lady to endeavour a match between Millamant and Sir Wilfull; that may be an obstacle.
Fainall Oh, for that matter, leave me to manage him; I’ll disable him for that, he will drink like a Dane. After dinner I’ll set his hand in.70
Mrs. Marwood Well, how do you stand affected towards your lady?71
Fainall Why, faith, I’m thinking of it.⁠—Let me see⁠—I am married already; so that’s over. My wife has played the jade with me; well, that’s over too. I never loved her, or if I had, why that would have been over too by this time⁠—jealous of her I cannot be, for I am certain; so there’s an end of jealousy. Weary of her I am and shall be⁠—no, there’s no end of that⁠—no, no, that were too much to hope. Thus far concerning my repose. Now for my reputation: as to my own, I married not for it; so that’s out of the question. And as to my part in my wife’s⁠—why, she had parted with hers before; so, bringing none to me, she can take none from me: ’tis against all rule of play that I should lose to one who has not wherewithal to stake.
Mrs. Marwood Besides you forget, marriage is honourable.
Fainall Hum! Faith, and that’s well thought on: marriage is honourable, as you say; and if so, wherefore should cuckoldom be a discredit, being derived from so honourable a root?
Mrs. Marwood Nay, I know not; if the root be honourable, why not the branches?
Fainall So, so; why this point’s clear⁠—well, how do we proceed?
Mrs. Marwood I will contrive a letter which shall be delivered to my lady at the time when that rascal who is to act Sir Rowland is with her. It shall come as from an unknown hand⁠—for the less I appear to know of the truth the better I can play the incendiary. Besides, I would not have Foible provoked if I could help it, because, you know, she knows some passages. Nay, I expect all will come out. But let the mine be sprung first, and then I care not if I am discovered.
Fainall If the worst come to the worst⁠—I’ll turn my wife to grass. I have already a deed of settlement of the best part of her estate, which I wheedled out of her, and that you shall partake at least.
Mrs. Marwood I hope you are convinced that I hate Mirabell now? You’ll be no more jealous?
Fainall Jealous! no⁠—by this kiss⁠—let husbands be jealous, but let the lover still believe; or if he doubt, let it be only to endear his pleasure, and prepare the joy that follows, when he proves his mistress true. But let husbands’ doubts convert to endless jealousy; or if they have belief, let it corrupt to superstition and blind credulity. I am single and will herd no more with ’em. True, I wear the badge, but I’ll disown the order. And since I take my leave of ’em, I care not if I leave ’em a common motto to their common crest.

All husbands must or pain or shame endure;
The wise too jealous are, fools too secure.


Act IV

Scene I

A room in Lady Wishfort’s house.

Lady Wishfort and Foible.
Lady Wishfort Is Sir Rowland coming, say’st thou, Foible? And are things in order?
Foible Yes, madam. I have put wax lights in the sconces, and placed the footmen in a row in the hall, in their best liveries, with the coachman and postillion to fill up the equipage.
Lady Wishfort Have you pulvilled the coachman and postillion, that they may not stink of the stable when Sir Rowland comes by?
Foible Yes, madam.
Lady Wishfort And are the dancers and the music ready, that he may be entertained in all points with correspondence to his passion?
Foible All is ready, madam.
Lady Wishfort And⁠—well⁠—and how do I look, Foible?
Foible Most killing well, madam.
Lady Wishfort Well, and how shall I receive him? In what figure shall I give his heart the first impression? There is a great deal in the first impression. Shall I sit?⁠—no, I won’t sit⁠—I’ll walk⁠—aye, I’ll walk from the door upon his entrance, and then turn full upon him⁠—no, that will be too sudden. I’ll lie⁠—aye, I’ll lie down⁠—I’ll receive him in my little dressing-room; there’s a couch⁠—yes, yes, I’ll give the first impression on a couch⁠—I won’t lie neither, but loll and lean upon one elbow, with one foot a little dangling off, jogging in a thoughtful way⁠—yes⁠—and then as soon as he appears, start, aye, start and be surprised, and rise to meet him in a pretty disorder⁠—yes⁠—oh, nothing is more alluring than a levee from a couch in some confusion. It shows the foot to advantage, and furnishes with blushes and re-composing airs beyond comparison. Hark! There’s a coach.
Foible ’Tis he, madam.
Lady Wishfort Oh dear⁠—has my nephew made his addresses to Millamant? I ordered him.
Foible Sir Wilfull is set in to drinking, madam, in the parlour.
Lady Wishfort Ods my life, I’ll send him to her. Call her down, Foible; bring her hither. I’ll send him as I go⁠—when they are together, then come to me, Foible, that I may not be too long alone with Sir Rowland.
Enter Mrs. Millamant and Mrs. Fainall.
Foible Madam, I stayed here to tell your ladyship that Mr. Mirabell has waited this half hour for an opportunity to talk with you; though my lady’s orders were to leave you and Sir Wilfull together. Shall I tell Mr. Mirabell that you are at leisure?
Mrs. Millamant No⁠—what would the dear man have? I am thoughtful and would amuse myself⁠—bid him come another time.

There never yet was woman made,
Nor shall, but to be cursed.

Repeating and walking about.

That’s hard!
Mrs. Fainall You are very fond of Sir John Suckling72 today, Millamant, and the poets.
Mrs. Millamant He? Aye, and filthy verses⁠—so I am.
Foible Sir Wilfull is coming, madam. Shall I send Mr. Mirabell away?
Mrs. Millamant Aye, if you please, Foible, send him away⁠—or send him hither⁠—just as you will, dear Foible.⁠—I think I’ll see him⁠—shall I? Aye, let the wretch come.
Exit Foible.

Thyrsis, a youth of the inspired train.73


Dear Fainall, entertain Sir Wilfull⁠—thou hast philosophy to undergo a fool; thou art married and hast patience⁠—I would confer with my own thoughts.
Mrs. Fainall I am obliged to you that you would make me your proxy in this affair; but I have business of my own.
Enter Sir Wilfull.
Mrs. Fainall O Sir Wilfull, you are come at the critical instant. There’s your mistress up to the ears in love and contemplation; pursue your point, now or never.
Sir Wilful Yes, my aunt will have it so⁠—I would gladly have been encouraged with a bottle or two, because I’m somewhat wary at first, before I am acquainted. This while Mrs. Millamant walks about repeating to herself. But I hope, after a time, I shall break my mind⁠—that is, upon further acquaintance⁠—so for the present, cousin, I’ll take my leave. If so be you’ll be so kind to make my excuse, I’ll return to my company⁠—
Mrs. Fainall Oh, fie, Sir Wilfull! What, you must not be daunted.
Sir Wilful Daunted? No, that’s not it; it is not so much for that⁠—for if so be that I set on’t I’ll do’t. But only for the present, ’tis sufficient till further acquaintance, that’s all⁠—your servant.
Mrs. Fainall Nay, I’ll swear you shall never lose so favourable an opportunity, if I can help it. I’ll leave you together and lock the door.
Sir Wilful Nay, nay, cousin⁠—I have forgot my gloves. What d’ye do?⁠—S’heart, a’has locked the door indeed, I think⁠—nay, cousin Fainall, open the door⁠—pshaw, what a vixen trick is this? Nay, now a has seen me too.⁠—Cousin, I made bold to pass through as it were⁠—I think this door’s enchanted.
Mrs. Millamant Repeating.

I prithee spare me, gentle boy,
Press me no more for that slight toy.74

Sir Wilful Anan? Cousin, your servant.
Mrs. Millamant Repeating.

That foolish trifle of a heart.

Sir Wilfull!

Sir Wilful Yes⁠—your servant. No offence, I hope, cousin?
Mrs. Millamant Repeating.

I swear it will not do its part,
Though thou dost thine, employ’st thy power and art.

Natural, easy Suckling!

Sir Wilful Anan? Suckling? No such suckling neither, cousin, nor stripling: I thank Heaven I’m no minor.
Mrs. Millamant Ah, rustic, ruder than Gothic!
Sir Wilful Well, well, I shall understand your lingo one of these days, cousin; in the meanwhile I must answer in plain English.
Mrs. Millamant Have you any business with me, Sir Wilfull?
Sir Wilful Not at present, cousin⁠—yes, I made bold to see, to come and know if that how you were disposed to fetch a walk this evening, if so be that I might not be troublesome, I would have sought a walk with you.
Mrs. Millamant A walk! What then?
Sir Wilful Nay, nothing⁠—only for the walk’s sake, that’s all.
Mrs. Millamant I nauseate walking: ’tis a country diversion; I loathe the country and everything that relates to it.
Sir Wilful Indeed! Ha! Look ye, look ye, you do? Nay, ’tis like you may⁠—here are choice of pastimes here in town, as plays and the like, that must be confessed indeed.
Mrs. Millamant Ah, l’étourdi! I hate the town too.
Sir Wilful Dear heart, that’s much⁠—ha! that you should hate ’em both! Ha! ’tis like you may! There are some can’t relish the town, and others can’t away with the country⁠—’tis like you may be one of those, cousin.
Mrs. Millamant Ha! ha! ha! Yes, ’tis like I may.⁠—You have nothing further to say to me?
Sir Wilful Not at present, cousin.⁠—’Tis like when I have an opportunity to be more private⁠—I may break my mind in some measure⁠—I conjecture you partly guess⁠—however, that’s as time shall try. But spare to speak and spare to speed, as they say.
Mrs. Millamant If it is of no great importance, Sir Wilfull, you will oblige me to leave me: I have just now a little business⁠—
Sir Wilful Enough, enough, cousin. Yes, yes, all a case.75⁠—when you’re disposed: now’s as well as another time; and another time as well as now. All’s one for that⁠—yes, yes; if your concerns call you, there’s no haste: it will keep cold as they say.⁠—Cousin, your servant⁠—I think this door’s locked.
Mrs. Millamant You may go this way, sir.
Sir Wilful Your servant; then with your leave I’ll return to my company.
Mrs. Millamant

Aye, aye; ha! ha! ha!

Like Phoebus sung the no less amorous boy.76

Enter Mirabell.
Mirabell “Like Daphne she, as lovely and as coy.” Do you lock yourself up from me, to make my search more curious? Or is this pretty artifice contrived, to signify that here the chase must end, and my pursuit be crowned, for you can fly no further?
Mrs. Millamant Vanity! No⁠—I’ll fly and be followed to the last moment; though I am upon the very verge of matrimony, I expect you should solicit me as much as if I were wavering at the grate of a monastery, with one foot over the threshold. I’ll be solicited to the very lastn nay, and afterwards.
Mirabell What, after the last?
Mrs. Millamant Oh, I should think I was poor and had nothing to bestow if I were reduced to an inglorious ease, and freed from the agreeable fatigues of solicitation.
Mirabell But do not you know that when favours are conferred upon instant and tedious solicitation, that they diminish in their value, and that both the giver loses the grace, and the receiver lessens his pleasure?
Mrs. Millamant It may be in things of common application,77 but never, sure, in love. Oh, I hate a lover that can dare to think he draws a moment’s air independent on the bounty of his mistress. There is not so impudent a thing in nature as the saucy look of an assured man confident of success: the pedantic arrogance of a very husband has not so pragmatical an air. Ah! I’ll never marry, unless I am first made sure of my will and pleasure.
Mirabell Would you have ’em both before marriage? Or will you be contented with the first now, and stay for the other till after grace?
Mrs. Millamant Ah, don’t be impertinent.⁠—My dear liberty, shall I leave thee? My faithful solitude, my darling contemplation, must I bid you then adieu? Aye-h, adieu⁠—my morning thoughts, agreeable wakings, indolent slumbers, all ye douceurs, ye sommeils du matin,78 adieu?⁠—I can’t do’t, ’tis more than impossible⁠—positively, Mirabell, I’ll lie abed in a morning as long as I please.
Mirabell Then I’ll get up in a morning as early as I please.
Mrs. Millamant Ah! Idle creature, get up when you will⁠—and d’ye hear, I won’t be called names after I’m married; positively I won’t be called names.
Mirabell Names!
Mrs. Millamant Aye, as wife, spouse, my dear, joy, jewel, love, sweetheart, and the rest of that nauseous cant, in which men and their wives are so fulsomely familiar⁠—I shall never bear that⁠—good Mirabell, don’t let us be familiar or fond, nor kiss before folks, like my Lady Fadler and Sir Francis; nor go to Hyde Park together the first Sunday in a new chariot, to provoke eyes and whispers, and then never be seen there together again, as if we were proud of one another the first week, and ashamed of one another ever after. Let us never visit together, nor go to a play together, but let us be very strange and well-bred. Let us be as strange as if we had been married a great while, and as well-bred as if we were not married at all.
Mirabell Have you any more conditions to offer? Hitherto your demands are pretty reasonable.
Mrs. Millamant Trifles!⁠—As liberty to pay and receive visits to and from whom I please; to write and receive letters, without interrogatories or wry faces on your part; to wear what I please, and choose conversation with regard only to my own taste; to have no obligation upon me to converse with wits that I don’t like, because they are your acquaintance, or to be intimate with fools, because they may be your relations. Come to dinner when I please, dine in my dressing-room when I’m out of humour, without giving a reason. To have my closet inviolate; to be sole empress of my tea-table, which you must never presume to approach without first asking leave. And lastly, wherever I am, you shall always knock at the door before you come in. These articles subscribed, if I continue to endure you a little longer, I may by degrees dwindle into a wife.
Mirabell Your bill of fare is something advanced in this latter account.⁠—Well, have I liberty to offer conditions⁠—that when you are dwindled into a wife, I may not be beyond measure enlarged into a husband?
Mrs. Millamant You have free leave: propose your utmost, speak and spare not.
Mirabell I thank you.⁠—Imprimis, then, I covenant that your acquaintance be general; that you admit no sworn confidant or intimate of your own sex; no she friend to screen her affairs under your countenance, and tempt you to make trial of a mutual secrecy. No decoy-duck to wheedle you a fop-scrambling to the play in a mask⁠—then bring you home in a pretended fright, when you think you shall be found out⁠—and rail at me for missing the play, and disappointing the frolic which you had to pick me up and prove my constancy.
Mrs. Millamant Detestable imprimis! I go to the play in a mask!
Mirabell Item, I article, that you continue to like your own face as long as I shall, and while it passes current with me, that you endeavour not to new coin it. To which end, together with all vizards for the day, I prohibit all masks for the night, made of oiled skins and I know not what⁠—hog’s bones, hare’s gall, pig water, and the marrow of a roasted cat.79 In short, I forbid all commerce with the gentlewomen in what-d’ye-call-it court. Item, I shut my doors against all bawds with baskets, and pennyworths of muslin, china, fans, atlases, etc.⁠—Item, when you shall be breeding⁠—
Mrs. Millamant Ah, name it not.
Mirabell Which may be presumed, with a blessing on our endeavours⁠—
Mrs. Millamant Odious endeavours!
Mirabell I denounce against all strait lacing, squeezing for a shape, till you mould my boy’s head like a sugar-loaf, and instead of a man-child, make me father to a crooked billet. Lastly, to the dominion of the tea-table I submit⁠—but with proviso, that you exceed not in your province, but restrain yourself to native and simple tea-table drinks, as tea, chocolate, and coffee. As likewise to genuine and authorised tea-table talk⁠—such as mending of fashions, spoiling reputations, railing at absent friends, and so forth⁠—but that on no account you encroach upon the men’s prerogative, and presume to drink healths, or toast fellows; for prevention of which, I banish all foreign forces, all auxiliaries to the tea-table, as orange-brandy, all aniseed, cinnamon, citron, and Barbados waters,80 together with ratafia and the most noble spirit of clary⁠—but for cowslip-wine, poppy-water, and all dormitives, those I allow.⁠—These provisos admitted, in other things I may prove a tractable and complying husband.
Mrs. Millamant Oh, horrid provisos! Filthy strong waters! I toast fellows, odious men! I hate your odious provisos.
Mirabell Then we’re agreed. Shall I kiss your hand upon the contract? And here comes one to be a witness to the sealing of the deed.
Enter Mrs. Fainall.
Mrs. Millamant Fainall, what shall I do? Shall I have him? I think I must have him.
Mrs. Fainall Aye, aye, take him, take him, what should you do?
Mrs. Millamant Well then⁠—I’ll take my death I’m in a horrid fright⁠—Fainall, I shall never say it⁠—well⁠—I think⁠—I’ll endure you.
Mrs. Fainall Fie, fie, have him, and tell him so in plain terms: for I am sure you have a mind to him.
Mrs. Millamant Are you? I think I have⁠—and the horrid man looks as if he thought so too⁠—well, you ridiculous thing you, I’ll have you⁠—I won’t be kissed, nor I won’t be thanked⁠—here, kiss my hand though.⁠—So, hold your tongue now, don’t say a word.
Mrs. Fainall Mirabell, there’s a necessity for your obedience: you have neither time to talk nor stay. My mother is coming; and in my conscience if she should see you, would fall into fits, and maybe not recover time enough to return to Sir Rowland, who, as Foible tells me, is in a fair way to succeed. Therefore spare your ecstasies for another occasion, and slip down the back stairs, where Foible waits to consult you.
Mrs. Millamant Aye, go, go. In the meantime I suppose you have said something to please me.
Mirabell I am all obedience.
Mrs. Fainall Yonder Sir Wilfull’s drunk, and so noisy that my mother has been forced to leave Sir Rowland to appease him; but he answers her only with singing and drinking⁠—what they may have done by this time I know not, but Petulant and he were upon quarrelling as I came by.
Mrs. Millamant Well, if Mirabell should not make a good husband, I am a lost thing: for I find I love him violently.
Mrs. Fainall So it seems; for you mind not what’s said to you.⁠—If you doubt him, you had best take up with Sir Wilfull.
Mrs. Millamant How can you name that superannuated lubber? foh!
Enter Witwoud.
Mrs. Fainall So, is the fray made up that you have left ’em?
Witwoud Left ’em? I could stay no longer⁠—I have laughed like ten Christ’nings. I am tipsy with laughing⁠—if I had stayed any longer I should have burst⁠—I must have been let out and pieced in the sides like an unsized camlet.81 Yes, yes, the fray is composed; my lady came in like a noli prosequi,82 and stopped the proceedings.
Mrs. Millamant What was the dispute?
Witwoud That’s the jest: there was no dispute. They could neither of ’em speak for rage; and so fell a sputtering at one another like two roasting apples.
Enter Petulant, drunk.
Witwoud Now, Petulant? All’s over, all’s well? Gad, my head begins to whim it about⁠—why dost thou not speak? Thou art both as drunk and as mute as a fish.
Petulant Look you, Mrs. Millamant⁠—if you can love me, dear Nymph⁠—say it⁠—and that’s the conclusion⁠—pass on, or pass off⁠—that’s all.
Witwoud Thou hast uttered volumes, folios, in less than decimo sexto, my dear Lacedemonian.83 Sirrah, Petulant, thou art an epitomizer of words.
Petulant Witwoud⁠—you are an annihilator of sense.
Witwoud Thou art a retailer of phrases, and dost deal in remnants of remnants, like a maker of pincushions⁠—thou art in truth (metaphorically speaking) a speaker of shorthand.
Petulant Thou art (without a figure) just one half of an ass, and Baldwin yonder,84 thy half-brother, is the rest.⁠—A Gemini of asses split would make just four of you.85
Witwoud Thou dost bite, my dear mustard-seed; kiss me for that.
Petulant Stand off⁠—I’ll kiss no more males⁠—I have kissed your twin yonder in a humour of reconciliation till he Hiccups. rises upon my stomach like a radish.
Mrs. Millamant Eh! filthy creature! what was the quarrel?
Petulant There was no quarrel⁠—there might have been a quarrel.
Witwoud If there had been words enow between ’em to have expressed provocation, they had gone together by the ears like a pair of castanets.
Petulant You were the quarrel.
Mrs. Millamant Me!
Petulant If I have a humour to quarrel, I can make less matters conclude premises.⁠—If you are not handsome, what then? If I have a humour to prove it? If I shall have my reward, say so; if not, fight for your face the next time yourself⁠—I’ll go sleep.
Witwoud Do, wrap thyself up like a woodlouse, and dream revenge.⁠—and, hear me, if thou canst learn to write by tomorrow morning, pen me a challenge.⁠—I’ll carry it for thee.
Petulant Carry your mistress’s monkey a spider!⁠—Go flea dogs and read romances. I’ll go to bed to my maid.
Mrs. Fainall He’s horridly drunk.⁠—How came you all in this pickle?
Witwoud A plot! a plot! to get rid of the knight⁠—your husband’s advice; but he sneaked off.

Scene II

The dining room in Lady Wishfort’s house.

Sir Wilfull drunk, Lady Wishfort, Witwoud, Mrs. Millamant, and Mrs. Fainall.
Lady Wishfort Out upon’t, out upon’t! At years of discretion, and comport yourself at this rantipole rate!
Sir Wilful No offence, aunt.
Lady Wishfort Offence! as I’m a person, I’m ashamed of you⁠—foh! How you stink of wine! D’ye think my niece will ever endure such a Borachio!86 You’re an absolute Borachio.
Sir Wilful Borachio?
Lady Wishfort At a time when you should commence an amour, and put your best foot foremost⁠—
Sir Wilful

S’heart, an you grutch me your liquor, make a bill⁠—give me more drink, and take my purse⁠—Sings.

Prithee fill me the glass,
Till it laugh in my face,
With ale that is potent and mellow;
He that whines for a lass
Is an ignorant ass,
For a bumper has not its fellow.

But if you would have me marry my cousin⁠—say the word, and I’ll do’t⁠—Wilfull will do’t, that’s the word⁠—Wilfull will do’t, that’s my crest⁠—my motto I have forgot.

Lady Wishfort My nephew’s a little overtaken, cousin⁠—but ’tis drinking your health.⁠—O’ my word, you are obliged to him.
Sir Wilful

In vino veritas, aunt.⁠—If I drunk your health today, cousin⁠—I am a Borachio. But if you have a mind to be married, say the word and send for the piper; Wilfull will do’t. If not, dust it away, and let’s have t’other round.⁠—Tony!⁠—Ods-heart, where’s Tony!⁠—Tony’s an honest fellow, but he spits after a bumper, and that’s a fault⁠—Sings.

We’ll drink and we’ll never ha’ done, boys,
Put the glass then around with the sun, boys,
Let Apollo’s example invite us;
For he’s drunk every night,
And that makes him so bright,
That he’s able next morning to light us.

The sun’s a good pimple, an honest soaker, he has a cellar at your antipodes. If I travel, aunt, I touch at your antipodes⁠—your antipodes are a good rascally sort of topsy-turvy fellows. If I had a bumper I’d stand upon my head and drink a health to ’em.⁠—A match or no match, cousin with the hard name?⁠—Aunt, Wilfull will do’t. If she has her maidenhead let her look to ’t; if she has not, let her keep her own counsel in the meantime, and cry out at the nine months’ end.

Mrs. Millamant Your pardon, madam, I can stay no longer⁠—Sir Wilfull grows very powerful. Eh! how he smells! I shall be overcome if I stay.⁠—Come, cousin.
Exeunt Mrs. Millamant and Mrs. Fainall.
Lady Wishfort Smells! He would poison a tallow-chandler and his family! Beastly creature, I know not what to do with him.⁠—Travel, quotha; aye, travel, travel, get thee gone, get thee but far enough, to the Saracens, or the Tartars, or the Turks!⁠—for thou art not fit to live in a Christian commonwealth, thou beastly pagan!
Sir Wilful

Turks, no; no Turks, aunt: your Turks are infidels, and believe not in the grape. Your Muhammadan, your Mussulman is a dry stinkard⁠—no offence, aunt. My map says that your Turk is not so honest a man as your Christian. I cannot find by the map that your Mufti is orthodox⁠—whereby it is a plain case that orthodox is a hard word, aunt, and Hiccups. Greek for claret.⁠—Sings.

To drink is a Christian diversion,
Unknown to the Turk or the Persian.
Let Muhammadan fools
Live by heathenish rules,
And be damned over teacups and coffee.
But let British lads sing,
Crown a health to the King,
And a fig for your Sultan and Sophy.

Ah, Tony!

Enter Foible, who whispers to Lady Wishfort.
Lady Wishfort Aside to Foible.⁠—Sir Rowland impatient? Good lack! what shall I do with this beastly tumbril?⁠—Aloud. Go lie down and sleep, you sot!⁠—or as I’m a person, I’ll have you bastinadoed with broomsticks.87⁠—Call up the wenches.
Sir Wilful Ahey! Wenches, where are the wenches?
Lady Wishfort Dear Cousin Witwoud, get him away, and you will bind me to you inviolably. I have an affair of moment that invades me with some precipitation⁠—you will oblige me to all futurity.
Witwoud Come, knight.⁠—Pox on him, I don’t know what to say to him.⁠—Will you go to a cock-match?
Sir Wilful With a wench, Tony? Is she a shakebag, sirrah? Let me bite your cheek for that.
Witwoud Horrible! He has a breath like a bagpipe!⁠—Aye, aye; come, will you march, my Salopian?88
Sir Wilful

Lead on, little Tony⁠—I’ll follow thee, my Anthony, my Tantony. Sirrah, thou shalt be my Tantony, and I’ll be thy pig. Sings.

And a fig for your Sultan and Sophy.

Exeunt Sir Wilfull and Witwoud.
Lady Wishfort This will never do. It will never make a match⁠—at least before he has been abroad.
Enter Waitwell disguised as Sir Rowland.
Lady Wishfort Dear Sir Rowland, I am confounded with confusion at the retrospection of my own rudeness!⁠—I have more pardons to ask than the pope distributes in the year of jubilee. But I hope where there is likely to be so near an alliance, we may unbend the severity of decorum, and dispense with a little ceremony.
Waitwell My impatience, madam, is the effect of my transport; and till I have the possession of your adorable person, I am tantalised on the rack, and do but hang, madam, on the tenter of expectation.
Lady Wishfort You have excess of gallantry, Sir Rowland, and press things to a conclusion with a most prevailing vehemence.⁠—But a day or two for decency of marriage⁠—
Waitwell For decency of funeral, madam! The delay will break my heart⁠—or if that should fail, I shall be poisoned. My nephew will get an inkling of my designs and poison me⁠—and I would willingly starve him before I die⁠—I would gladly go out of the world with that satisfaction. That would be some comfort to me, if I could but live so long as to be revenged on that unnatural viper!
Lady Wishfort Is he so unnatural, say you? Truly I would contribute much both to the saving of your life, and the accomplishment of your revenge.⁠—Not that I respect myself; though he has been a perfidious wretch to me.
Waitwell Perfidious to you!
Lady Wishfort O Sir Rowland, the hours that he has died away at my feet, the tears that he has shed, the oaths that he has sworn, the palpitations that he has felt, the trances and the tremblings, the ardours and the ecstasies, the kneelings and the risings, the heart-heavings and the hand-gripings, the pangs and the pathetic regards of his protesting eyes!⁠—Oh, no memory can register.
Waitwell What, my rival? Is the rebel my rival?⁠—a’dies.
Lady Wishfort No, don’t kill him at once, Sir Rowland, starve him gradually, inch by inch.
Waitwell I’ll do’t. In three weeks he shall be barefoot; in a month out at knees with begging an alms.⁠—He shall starve upward and upward, ’till he has nothing living but his head, and then go out in a stink like a candle’s end upon a save-all.
Lady Wishfort Well, Sir Rowland, you have the way⁠—you are no novice in the labyrinth of love⁠—you have the clue.⁠—But as I am a person, Sir Rowland, you must not attribute my yielding to any sinister appetite or indigestion of widowhood; nor impute my complacency to any lethargy of continence⁠—I hope you do not think me prone to any iteration of nuptials⁠—
Waitwell Far be it from me⁠—
Lady Wishfort If you do, I protest I must recede⁠—or think that I have made a prostitution of decorums, but in the vehemence of compassion, and to save the life of a person of so much importance⁠—
Waitwell I esteem it so.
Lady Wishfort Or else you wrong my condescension.
Waitwell I do not, I do not!
Lady Wishfort Indeed you do.
Waitwell I do not, fair shrine of virtue!
Lady Wishfort If you think the least scruple of causality was an ingredient⁠—
Waitwell Dear madam, no. You are all camphire and frankincense, all chastity and odour.
Lady Wishfort Or that⁠—
Enter Foible.
Foible Madam, the dancers are ready, and there’s one with a letter, who must deliver it into your own hands.
Lady Wishfort Sir Rowland, will you give me leave? Think favourably, judge candidly, and conclude you have found a person who would suffer racks in honour’s cause, dear Sir Rowland, and will wait on you incessantly.
Waitwell Fie, fie! What a slavery have I undergone! Spouse, hast thou any cordial? I want spirits.
Foible What a washy rogue art thou, to pant thus for a quarter of an hour’s lying and swearing to a fine lady!
Waitwell Oh, she is the antidote to desire. Spouse, thou wilt fare the worse for’t. I shall have no appetite to iteration of nuptials⁠—this eight-and-forty hours. By this hand I’d rather be a chairman in the dog-days⁠—than act Sir Rowland till this time tomorrow.
Re-enter Lady Wishfort, with a letter.
Lady Wishfort Call in the dancers.⁠—Sir Rowland, we’ll sit, if you please, and see the entertainment. A Dance. Now, with your permission, Sir Rowland, I will peruse my letter.⁠—I would open it in your presence, because I would not make you uneasy. If it should make you uneasy, I would burn it.⁠—Speak if it does⁠—but you may see, the superscription is like a woman’s hand.
Foible Aside to Waitwell. By Heaven! Mrs. Marwood’s, I know it.⁠—My heart aches⁠—get it from her!
Waitwell A woman’s hand! No madam, that’s no woman’s hand, I see that already. That’s somebody whose throat must be cut.
Lady Wishfort Nay, Sir Rowland, since you give me a proof of your passion by your jealousy, I promise you I’ll make a return by a frank communication.⁠—You shall see it⁠—we’ll open it together⁠—look you here.⁠—Reads.⁠—“Madam, though unknown to you”⁠—Look you there, ’tis from nobody that I know.⁠—“I have that honour for your character, that I think myself obliged to let you know you are abused. He who pretends to be Sir Rowland is a cheat and a rascal.”⁠—O Heavens! what’s this?
Foible Aside. Unfortunate! All’s ruined!
Waitwell How, how, let me see, let me see!⁠—Reads. “A rascal, and disguised and suborned for that imposture”⁠—O villainy! O villainy!⁠—“by the contrivance of⁠—”
Lady Wishfort I shall faint, I shall die. Oh!
Foible Aside to Waitwell. Say ’tis your nephew’s hand. Quickly, his plot, swear, swear it!
Waitwell Here’s a villain! Madam, don’t you perceive it? Don’t you see it?
Lady Wishfort Too well, too well. I have seen too much.
Waitwell I told you at first I knew the hand.⁠—A woman’s hand? The rascal writes a sort of a large hand; your Roman hand⁠—I saw there was a throat to be cut presently. If he were my son, as he is my nephew, I’d pistol him!
Foible O treachery!⁠—But are you sure, Sir Rowland, it is his writing?
Waitwell Sure? Am I here? Do I live? Do I love this pearl of India? I have twenty letters in my pocket from him in the same character.
Lady Wishfort How!
Foible Oh, what luck it is, Sir Rowland, that you were present at this juncture!⁠—This was the business that brought Mr. Mirabell disguised to Madam Millamant this afternoon. I thought something was contriving, when he stole by me and would have hid his face.
Lady Wishfort How, how!⁠—I heard the villain was in the house indeed; and now I remember, my niece went away abruptly when Sir Wilfull was to have made his addresses.
Foible Then, then, madam, Mr. Mirabell waited for her in her chamber! but I would not tell your ladyship to discompose you when you were to receive Sir Rowland.
Waitwell Enough, his date is short.
Foible No, good Sir Rowland, don’t incur the law.
Waitwell Law! I care not for law. I can but die, and ’tis in a good cause.⁠—My lady shall be satisfied of my truth and innocence, though it cost me my life.
Lady Wishfort No, dear Sir Rowland, don’t fight: if you should be killed I must never show my face; or hanged⁠—oh, consider my reputation, Sir Rowland!⁠—No, you shan’t fight⁠—I’ll go in and examine my niece; I’ll make her confess. I conjure you, Sir Rowland, by all your love not to fight.
Waitwell I am charmed, madam; I obey. But some proof you must let me give you; I’ll go for a black box, which contains the writings of my whole estate, and deliver that into your hands.
Lady Wishfort Aye, dear Sir Rowland, that will be some comfort; bring the black box.
Waitwell And may I presume to bring a contract to be signed this night? May I hope so far?
Lady Wishfort Bring what you will; but come alive, pray come alive. Oh, this is a happy discovery!
Waitwell Dead or alive I’ll come⁠—and married we will be in spite of treachery; aye, and get an heir that shall defeat the last remaining glimpse of hope in my abandoned nephew. Come, my buxom widow:

Ere long you shall substantial proof receive,
That I’m an arrant knight⁠—

Foible Aside. Or arrant knave.

Act V

Scene I

A room in Lady Wishfort’s house.

Lady Wishfort and Foible.
Lady Wishfort Out of my house, out of my house, thou viper, thou serpent that I have fostered! thou bosom traitress that I raised from nothing!⁠—Begone! begone! begone!⁠—go! go!⁠—that I took from washing of old gauze and weaving of dead hair, with a bleak blue nose, over a chafing-dish of starved embers, and dining behind a traver’s rag, in a shop no bigger than a birdcage.⁠—Go, go! starve again, do, do!
Foible Dear madam, I’ll beg pardon on my knees.
Lady Wishfort Away! out! out!⁠—Go set up for yourself again!⁠—Do, drive a trade, do, with your threepennyworth of small ware, flaunting upon a packthread, under a brandy-seller’s bulk, or against a dead wall by a ballad-monger.89 Go, hang out an old Frisoneer gorget,90 with a yard of yellow colberteen again, do; an old gnawed mask, two rows of pins, and a child’s fiddle; a glass necklace with the beads broken, and a quilted nightcap with one ear. Go, go, drive a trade!⁠—These were your commodities, you treacherous trull! this was the merchandise you dealt in, when I took you into my house, placed you next myself, and made you governant of my whole family! You have forgot this, have you, now you have feathered your nest?
Foible No, no, dear madam. Do but hear me, have but a moment’s patience, I’ll confess all. Mr. Mirabell seduced me; I am not the first that he has wheedled with his dissembling tongue. Your ladyship’s own wisdom has been deluded by him; then how should I, a poor ignorant, defend myself? O madam, if you knew but what he promised me, and how he assured me your ladyship should come to no damage, or else the wealth of the Indies should not have bribed me to conspire against so good, so sweet, so kind a lady as you have been to me.
Lady Wishfort No damage! What, to betray me, to marry me to a cast servingman;91 to make me a receptacle, an hospital for a decayed pimp! No damage! O thou frontless impudence, more than a big-bellied actress!
Foible Pray do but hear me, madam; he could not marry your ladyship, madam.⁠—No indeed, his marriage was to have been void in law; for he was married to me first, to secure your ladyship. He could not have bedded your ladyship, for if he had consummated with your ladyship, he must have run the risk of the law, and been put upon his clergy.92⁠—Yes indeed, I enquired of the law in that case before I would meddle or make.93
Lady Wishfort What, then I have been your property, have I? I have been convenient to you, it seems!⁠—While you were catering for Mirabell; I have been broker for you? What, have you made a passive bawd of me?⁠—This exceeds all precedent. I am brought to fine uses, to become a botcher of secondhand marriages between Abigails and Andrews!94⁠—I’ll couple you!⁠—Yes, I’ll baste you together, you and your Philander.95 I’ll Duke’s-place you,96 as I’m a person. Your turtle is in custody already: you shall coo in the same cage, if there be constable or warrant in the parish.
Foible Oh, that ever I was born! Oh, that I was ever married!⁠—A bride!⁠—aye, I shall be a Bridewell-bride.97⁠—Oh!
Enter Mrs. Fainall.
Mrs. Fainall Poor Foible, what’s the matter?
Foible O madam, my lady’s gone for a constable. I shall be had to a justice, and put to Bridewell to beat hemp. Poor Waitwell’s gone to prison already.
Mrs. Fainall Have a good heart, Foible; Mirabell’s gone to give security for him. This is all Marwood’s and my husband’s doing.
Foible Yes, yes; I know it, madam: she was in my lady’s closet, and overheard all that you said to me before dinner. She sent the letter to my lady, and that missing effect, Mr. Fainall laid this plot to arrest Waitwell, when he pretended to go for the papers; and in the meantime Mrs. Marwood declared all to my lady.
Mrs. Fainall Was there no mention made of me in the letter? My mother does not suspect my being in the confederacy? I fancy Marwood has not told her, though she has told my husband.
Foible Yes, madam; but my lady did not see that part. We stifled the letter before she read so far.⁠—Has that mischievous devil told Mr. Fainall of your ladyship then?
Mrs. Fainall Aye, all’s out⁠—my affair with Mirabell⁠—everything discovered. This is the last day of our living together, that’s my comfort.
Foible Indeed, madam, and so ’tis a comfort, if you knew all⁠—he has been even with your ladyship; which I could have told you long enough since, but I love to keep peace and quietness by my good will. I had rather bring friends together than set ’em at distance. But Mrs. Marwood and he are nearer related than ever their parents thought for.
Mrs. Fainall Say’st thou so, Foible? Canst thou prove this?
Foible I can take my oath of it, madam; so can Mrs. Mincing. We have had many a fair word from Madam Marwood to conceal something that passed in our chamber one evening when you were at Hyde Park, and we were thought to have gone a-walking. But we went up unawares; though we were sworn to secrecy too. Madam Marwood took a book and swore us upon it, but it was but a book of poems. So long as it was not a bible oath, we may break it with a safe conscience.
Mrs. Fainall This discovery is the most opportune thing I could wish., Mincing!
Enter Mincing.
Mincing My lady would speak with Mrs. Foible, mem. Mr. Mirabell is with her; he has set your spouse at liberty, Mrs. Foible, and would have you hide yourself in my lady’s closet till my old lady’s anger is abated. Oh, my old lady is in a perilous passion at something Mr. Fainall has said; he swears, and my old lady cries. There’s a fearful hurricane, I vow. He says, mem, how that he’ll have my lady’s fortune made over to him, or he’ll be divorced.
Mrs. Fainall Does your lady or Mirabell know that?
Mincing Yes mem; they have sent me to see if Sir Wilfull be sober, and to bring him to them. My lady is resolved to have him, I think, rather than lose such a vast sum as six thousand pound.⁠—Oh, come, Mrs. Foible, I hear my old lady.
Mrs. Fainall Foible, you must tell Mincing that she must prepare to vouch when I call her.
Foible Yes, yes, madam.
Mincing Oh, yes mem, I’ll vouch anything for your ladyship’s service, be what it will.

Scene II

Another room in Lady Wishfort’s house.

Mrs. Fainall, Lady Wishfort, and Mrs. Marwood.
Lady Wishfort O my dear friend, how can I enumerate the benefits that I have received from your goodness! To you I owe the timely discovery of the false vows of Mirabell; to you I owe the detection of the impostor Sir Rowland. And now you are become an intercessor with my son-in-law, to save the honour of my house and compound for the frailties of my daughter. Well, friend, you are enough to reconcile me to the bad world, or else I would retire to deserts and solitudes, and feed harmless sheep by groves and purling streams. Dear Marwood, let us leave the world, and retire by ourselves and be shepherdesses.
Mrs. Marwood Let us first dispatch the affair in hand, madam. We shall have leisure to think of retirement afterwards. Here is one who is concerned in the treaty.
Lady Wishfort O daughter, daughter! is it possible thou shouldst be my child, bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh, and as I may say, another me, and yet transgress the most minute particle of severe virtue? Is it possible you should lean aside to iniquity, who have been cast in the direct mould of virtue? I have not only been a mould but a pattern for you, and a model for you, after you were brought into the world.
Mrs. Fainall I don’t understand your ladyship.
Lady Wishfort Not understand! Why, have you not been naught? Have you not been sophisticated? Not understand! Here I am ruined to compound for your caprices and your cuckoldoms. I must pawn my plate and my jewels, and ruin my niece, and all little enough⁠—
Mrs. Fainall I am wronged and abused, and so are you. ’Tis a false accusation, as false as hell, as false as your friend there; aye, or your friend’s friend, my false husband.
Mrs. Marwood My friend, Mrs. Fainall! Your husband my friend! what do you mean?
Mrs. Fainall I know what I mean, madam, and so do you; and so shall the world at a time convenient.
Mrs. Marwood I am sorry to see you so passionate, madam. More temper would look more like innocence. But I have done. I am sorry my zeal to serve your ladyship and family should admit of misconstruction, or make me liable to affronts. You will pardon me, madam, if I meddle no more with an affair in which I am not personally concerned.
Lady Wishfort O dear friend, I am so ashamed that you should meet with such returns!⁠—To Mrs. Fainall. You ought to ask pardon on your knees, ungrateful creature! she deserves more from you than all your life can accomplish.⁠—To Mrs. Marwood. Oh, don’t leave me destitute in this perplexity!⁠—no, stick to me, my good genius.
Mrs. Fainall I tell you, madam, you’re abused.⁠—Stick to you? Aye, like a leech, to suck your best blood⁠—she’ll drop off when she’s full. Madam, you shan’t pawn a bodkin, nor part with a brass counter,98 in composition for me. I defy ’em all. Let ’em prove their aspersions: I know my own innocence, and dare stand a trial.
Lady Wishfort Why, if she should be innocent, if she should be wronged after all, ha?⁠—I don’t know what to think⁠—and I promise you, her education has been unexceptionable⁠—I may say it, for I chiefly made it my own care to initiate her very infancy in the rudiments of virtue, and to impress upon her tender years a young odium and aversion to the very sight of men; aye, friend, she would ha’ shrieked if she had but seen a man till she was in her teens. As I’m a person, ’tis true⁠—she was never suffered to play with a male child, though but in coats. Nay, her very babies were of the feminine gender. Oh, she never looked a man in the face but her own father or the chaplain, and him we made a shift to put upon her for a woman, by the help of his long garments, and his sleek face, till she was going in her fifteen.
Mrs. Marwood ’Twas much she should be deceived so long.
Lady Wishfort I warrant you, or she would never have borne to have been catechised by him, and have heard his long lectures against singing and dancing and such debaucheries, and going to filthy plays, and profane music meetings, where the lewd trebles squeak nothing but bawdy, and the basses roar blasphemy. Oh, she would have swooned at the sight or name of an obscene playbook!⁠—and can I think after all this that my daughter can be naught? What, a whore? And thought it excommunication to set her foot within the door of a playhouse. O dear friend, I can’t believe it. No, no; as she says, let him prove it, let him prove it.
Mrs. Marwood Prove it, madam! What, and have your name prostituted in a public court! Yours and your daughter’s reputation worried at the bar by a pack of bawling lawyers! To be ushered in with an Oh yes of scandal; and have your case opened by an old fumbling leacher in a quoif like a man-midwife;99 to bring your daughter’s infamy to light; to be a theme for legal punsters and quibblers by the statute; and become a jest, against a rule of court, where there is no precedent for a jest in any record, not even in Doomsday Book.100 To discompose the gravity of the bench, and provoke naughty interrogatories in more naughty law Latin; while the good judge, tickled with the proceeding, simpers under a grey beard, and fidges off and on his cushion as if he had swallowed cantharides,101 or sat upon cowage!⁠—
Lady Wishfort Oh, ’tis very hard!
Mrs. Marwood And then to have my young revellers of the Temple102 take notes, like prentices at a conventicle; and after talk it over again in commons, or before drawers in an eating-house.
Lady Wishfort Worse and worse!
Mrs. Marwood Nay, this is nothing; if it would end here ’twere well. But it must after this be consigned by the shorthand writers to the public press; and from thence be transferred to the hands, nay, into the throats and lungs, of hawkers, with voices more licentious than the loud flounder-man’s. And this you must hear till you are stunned; nay, you must hear nothing else for some days.
Lady Wishfort Oh ’tis insupportable. No, no, dear friend, make it up, make it up; aye, aye, I’ll compound. I’ll give up all, myself and my all, my niece and her all⁠—anything, everything, for composition.
Mrs. Marwood Nay, madam, I advise nothing, I only lay before you, as a friend, the inconveniences which perhaps you have overseen. Here comes Mr. Fainall; if he will be satisfied to huddle up all in silence, I shall be glad. You must think I would rather congratulate than condole with you.
Enter Fainall.
Lady Wishfort Aye, aye, I do not doubt it, dear Marwood. No, no, I do not doubt it.
Fainall Well, madam, I have suffered myself to be overcome by the importunity of this lady, your friend; and am content you shall enjoy your own proper estate during life, on condition you oblige yourself never to marry, under such penalty as I think convenient.
Lady Wishfort Never to marry!
Fainall No more Sir Rowlands; the next imposture may not be so timely detected.
Mrs. Marwood That condition, I dare answer, my lady will consent to, without difficulty; she has already but too much experienced the perfidiousness of men.⁠—Besides, madam, when we retire to our pastoral solitude, we shall bid adieu to all other thoughts.
Lady Wishfort Aye, that’s true; but in case of necessity, as of health, or some such emergency⁠—
Fainall Oh, if you are prescribed marriage, you shall be considered; I will only reserve to myself the power to choose for you. If your physic be wholesome, it matters not who is your apothecary. Next, my wife shall settle on me the remainder of her fortune, not made over already; and for her maintenance depend entirely on my discretion.
Lady Wishfort This is most inhumanly savage: exceeding the barbarity of a Muscovite husband.103
Fainall I learned it from his Czarish majesty’s retinue,104 in a winter evening’s conference over brandy and pepper, amongst other secrets of matrimony and policy, as they are at present practised in the northern hemisphere. But this must be agreed unto, and that positively. Lastly, I will be endowed, in right of my wife, with that six thousand pound, which is the moiety of Mrs. Millamant’s fortune in your possession, and which she has forfeited (as will appear by the last will and testament of your deceased husband, Sir Jonathan Wishfort) by her disobedience in contracting herself against your consent or knowledge, and by refusing the offered match with Sir Wilfull Witwoud, which you, like a careful aunt, had provided for her.
Lady Wishfort My nephew was non compos, and could not make his addresses.
Fainall I come to make demands⁠—I’ll hear no objections.
Lady Wishfort You will grant me time to consider?
Fainall Yes, while the instrument is drawing,105 to which you must set your hand till more sufficient deeds can be perfected: which I will take care shall be done with all possible speed. In the meanwhile I will go for the said instrument, and till my return you may balance this matter in your own discretion.
Lady Wishfort This insolence is beyond all precedent, all parallel. Must I be subject to this merciless villain?
Mrs. Marwood ’Tis severe indeed, madam, that you should smart for your daughter’s wantonness.
Lady Wishfort ’Twas against my consent that she married this barbarian, but she would have him, though her year was not out.⁠—Ah! her first husband, my son Languish, would not have carried it thus. Well, that was my choice, this is hers; she is matched now with a witness⁠—I shall be mad!⁠—Dear friend; is there no comfort for me? Must I live to be confiscated at this rebel-rate?⁠—Here come two more of my Egyptian plagues too.
Enter Mrs. Millamant and Sir Wilfull Witwoud.
Sir Wilful Aunt, your servant.
Lady Wishfort Out, caterpillar, call not me aunt; I know thee not.
Sir Wilful I confess I have been a little in disguise, as they say.⁠—S’heart! and I’m sorry for’t. What would you have? I hope I committed no offence, aunt⁠—and if I did I am willing to make satisfaction; and what can a man say fairer? If I have broke anything I’ll pay for’t, an it cost a pound. And so let that content for what’s past, and make no more words. For what’s to come, to pleasure you I’m willing to marry my cousin. So, pray, let’s all be friends, she and I are agreed upon the matter before a witness.
Lady Wishfort How’s this, dear niece? Have I any comfort? Can this be true?
Mrs. Millamant I am content to be a sacrifice to your repose, madam, and to convince you that I had no hand in the plot, as you were misinformed. I have laid my commands on Mirabell to come in person, and be a witness that I give my hand to this flower of knighthood; and for the contract that passed between Mirabell and me, I have obliged him to make a resignation of it in your ladyship’s presence. He is without and waits your leave for admittance.
Lady Wishfort Well, I’ll swear I am something revived at this testimony of your obedience; but I cannot admit that traitor⁠—I fear I cannot fortify myself to support his appearance. He is as terrible to me as a gorgon: if I see him I swear I shall turn to stone, petrify incessantly.
Mrs. Millamant If you disoblige him he may resent your refusal, and insist upon the contract still. Then ’tis the last time he will be offensive to you.
Lady Wishfort Are you sure it will be the last time?⁠—If I were sure of that⁠—shall I never see him again?
Mrs. Millamant Sir Wilfull, you and he are to travel together, are you not?
Sir Wilful S’heart, the gentleman’s a civil gentleman, aunt, let him come in; why, we are sworn brothers and fellow-travellers.⁠—We are to be Pylades and Orestes, he and I.⁠—He is to be my interpreter in foreign parts. He has been overseas once already; and with proviso that I marry my cousin, will cross ’em once again, only to bear me company.⁠—S’heart, I’ll call him in⁠—an I set on’t once, he shall come in; and see who’ll hinder him. Goes to the door and hems.
Mrs. Marwood This is precious fooling, if it would pass; but I’ll know the bottom of it.
Lady Wishfort O dear Marwood, you are not going?
Mrs. Marwood Not far, madam; I’ll return immediately.
Enter Mirabell.
Sir Wilful Look up, man, I’ll stand by you; ’sbud, an she do frown, she can’t kill you. Besides⁠—hark’ee, she dare not frown desperately, because her face is none of her own. S’heart, an she should, her forehead would wrinkle like the coat of a cream cheese; but mum for that, fellow-traveller.
Mirabell If a deep sense of the many injuries I have offered to so good a lady, with a sincere remorse and a hearty contrition, can but obtain the least glance of compassion. I am too happy.⁠—Ah, madam, there was a time⁠—but let it be forgotten⁠—I confess I have deservedly forfeited the high place I once held, of sighing at your feet; nay, kill me not by turning from me in disdain⁠—I come not to plead for favour. Nay, not for pardon: I am a suppliant only for pity⁠—I am going where I never shall behold you more⁠—
Sir Wilful How, fellow-traveller! You shall go by yourself then.
Mirabell Let me be pitied first, and afterwards forgotten. I ask no more.
Sir Wilful By’r Lady,106 a very reasonable request, and will cost you nothing, aunt! Come, come, forgive and forget, aunt. Why you must an you are a Christian.
Mirabell Consider, madam; in reality you could not receive much prejudice: it was an innocent device, though I confess it had a face of guiltiness⁠—it was at most an artifice which love contrived; and errors which love produces have ever been accounted venial. At least think it is punishment enough that I have lost what in my heart I hold most dear, that to your cruel indignation I have offered up this beauty, and with her my peace and quiet; nay, all my hopes of future comfort.
Sir Wilful An he does not move me, would I may never be o’ the quorum.107⁠—an it were not as good a deed as to drink, to give her to him again, I would I might never take shipping!⁠—Aunt, if you don’t forgive quickly, I shall melt, I can tell you that. My contract went no farther than a little mouth-glue, and that’s hardly dry⁠—one doleful sigh more from my fellow-traveller and ’tis dissolved.
Lady Wishfort Well, nephew, upon your account⁠—Ah, he has a false insinuating tongue!⁠—Well, sir, I will stifle my just resentment at my nephew’s request.⁠—I will endeavour what I can to forget, but on proviso that you resign the contract with my niece immediately.
Mirabell It is in writing and with papers of concern; but I have sent my servant for it, and will deliver it to you, with all acknowledgments for your transcendent goodness.
Lady Wishfort Aside. Oh, he has witchcraft in his eyes and tongue!⁠—When I did not see him I could have bribed a villain to his assassination; but his appearance rakes the embers which have so long lain smothered in my breast.

Scene III

The same.

Lady Wishfort, Mrs. Millamant, Sir Wilfull, Mirabell, Fainall, and Mrs. Marwood.
Fainall Your date of deliberation, madam, is expired. Here is the instrument; are you prepared to sign?
Lady Wishfort If I were prepared, I am not impowered. My niece exerts a lawful claim, having matched herself by my direction to Sir Wilfull.
Fainall That sham is too gross to pass on me⁠—though ’tis imposed on you, madam.
Mrs. Millamant Sir, I have given my consent.
Mirabell And, sir, I have resigned my pretensions.
Sir Wilful And, sir, I assert my right; and will maintain it in defiance of you, sir, and of your instrument. S’heart, an you talk of an instrument sir, I have an old fox108 by my thigh shall hack your instrument of ram vellum to shreds, sir. It shall not be sufficient for a mittimus109 or a tailor’s measure; therefore withdraw your instrument, sir, or, by’r Lady, I shall draw mine.
Lady Wishfort Hold, nephew, hold!
Mrs. Millamant Good Sir Wilfull, respite your valour.
Fainall Indeed? Are you provided of your guard, with your single beef-eater there? But I’m prepared for you, and insist upon my first proposal. You shall submit your own estate to my management, and absolutely make over my wife’s to my sole use, as pursuant to the purport and tenor of this other covenant. I suppose, madam, your consent is not requisite in this case; nor, Mr. Mirabell, your resignation; nor, Sir Wilfull, your right. You may draw your fox if you please, sir, and make a bear-garden flourish110 somewhere else; for here it will not avail. This, my Lady Wishfort, must be subscribed, or your darling daughter’s turned adrift, like a leaky hulk to sink or swim, as she and the current of this lewd town can agree.
Lady Wishfort Is there no means, no remedy, to stop my ruin? Ungrateful wretch! Dost thou not owe thy being, thy subsistance, to my daughter’s fortune?
Fainall I’ll answer you when I have the rest of it in my possession.
Mirabell But that you would not accept of a remedy from my hands⁠—I own I have not deserved you should owe any obligation to me; or else, perhaps, I could devise⁠—
Lady Wishfort Oh, what? what? To save me and my child from ruin, from want, I’ll forgive all that’s past; nay, I’ll consent to anything to come, to be delivered from this tyranny.
Mirabell Aye, madam; but that is too late, my reward is intercepted. You have disposed of her who only could have made me a compensation for all my services. But be it as it may, I am resolved I’ll serve you; you shall not be wronged in this savage manner.
Lady Wishfort How! dear Mr. Mirabell, can you be so generous at last! But it is not possible. Harkee, I’ll break my nephew’s match; you shall have my niece yet, and all her fortune, if you can but save me from this imminent danger.
Mirabell Will you? I take you at your word. I ask no more. I must have leave for two criminals to appear.
Lady Wishfort Aye, aye, anybody, anybody!
Mirabell Foible is one, and a penitent.
Enter Mrs. Fainall, Foible, and Mincing.
Mrs. Marwood Oh, my shame! Mirabell and Lady Wishfort go to Mrs. Fainall and Foible. These corrupt things are brought hither to expose me. To Fainall.
Fainall If it must all come out, why let ’em know it, ’tis but the way of the world. That shall not urge me to relinquish or abate one tittle of my terms; no, I will insist the more.
Foible Yes, indeed, madam; I’ll take my bible-oath of it.
Mincing And so will I, mem.
Lady Wishfort O Marwood, Marwood, art thou false? My friend deceive me! Hast thou been a wicked accomplice with that profligate man?
Mrs. Marwood Have you so much ingratitude and injustice to give credit, against your friend, to the aspersions of two such mercenary trulls?
Mincing Mercenary, mem? I scorn your words. ’Tis true we found you and Mr. Fainall in the blue garret; by the same token, you swore us to secrecy upon Messalinas’s poems.111 Mercenary! No, if we would have been mercenary, we should have held our tongues; you would have bribed us sufficiently.
Fainall Go, you are an insignificant thing!⁠—Well, what are you the better for this? Is this Mr. Mirabell’s expedient? I’ll be put off no longer.⁠—You, thing, that was a wife, shall smart for this! I will not leave thee wherewithal to hide thy shame; your body shall be naked as your reputation.
Mrs. Fainall I despise you and defy your malice!⁠—you have aspersed me wrongfully⁠—I have proved your falsehood⁠—go, you and your treacherous⁠—I will not name it, but starve together⁠—perish!
Fainall Not while you are worth a groat, indeed, my dear.⁠—Madam, I’ll be fooled no longer.
Lady Wishfort Ah, Mr. Mirabell, this is small comfort, the detection of this affair.
Mirabell Oh, in good time⁠—your leave for the other offender and penitent to appear, madam.
Enter Waitwell with a box of writings.
Lady Wishfort O Sir Rowland!⁠—Well, rascal?
Waitwell What your ladyship pleases. I have brought the black box at last, madam.
Mirabell Give it me.⁠—Madam, you remember your promise.
Lady Wishfort Aye, dear sir.
Mirabell Where are the gentlemen?
Waitwell At hand, sir, rubbing their eyes⁠—just risen from sleep.
Fainall ’Sdeath, what’s this to me? I’ll not wait your private concerns.
Enter Petulant and Witwoud.
Petulant How now? What’s the matter? Whose hand’s out?
Witwoud Heyday! What, are you all got together, like players at the end of the last act?
Mirabell You may remember, gentlemen, I once requested your hands as witnesses to a certain parchment.
Witwoud Aye, I do, my hand I remember⁠—Petulant set his mark.
Mirabell You wrong him; his name is fairly written, as shall appear.⁠—You do not remember, gentlemen, anything of what that parchment contained⁠—Undoing the box.
Witwoud No.
Petulant Not I; I writ, I read nothing.
Mirabell Very well, now you shall know.⁠—Madam, your promise.
Lady Wishfort Aye, aye, sir, upon my honour.
Mirabell Mr. Fainall, it is now time that you should know that your lady, while she was at her own disposal, and before you had by your insinuations wheedled her out of a pretended settlement of the greatest part of her fortune⁠—
Fainall Sir! Pretended?
Mirabell Yes, sir. I say that this lady, while a widow, having, it seems, received some cautions respecting your inconstancy and tyranny of temper, which from her own partial opinion and fondness of you she could never have suspected⁠—she did, I say, by the wholesome advice of friends, and of sages learned in the laws of this land, deliver this same as her act and deed to me in trust, and to the uses within mentioned. You may read if you please⁠—Holding out the parchment. though perhaps what is written on the back may serve your occasions.
Fainall Very likely, sir. What’s here?⁠—Damnation! Reads. “A deed of conveyance of the whole estate real of Arabella Languish, widow, in trust to Edward Mirabell.”⁠—Confusion!
Mirabell Even so, sir; ’tis the way of the world, sir, of the widows of the world. I suppose this deed may bear an elder date than what you have obtained from your lady.
Fainall Perfidious fiend! Then thus I’ll be revenged. Offers to run at Mrs. Fainall.
Sir Wilful Hold, sir; now you may make your bear-garden flourish somewhere else, sir.
Fainall Mirabell, you shall hear of this, sir; be sure you shall.⁠—Let me pass, oaf!
Mrs. Fainall Madam, you seem to stifle your resentment. You had better give it vent.
Mrs. Marwood Yes, it shall have vent⁠—and to your confusion; or I’ll perish in the attempt.
Lady Wishfort O daughter, daughter! ’Tis plain thou hast inherited thy mother’s prudence.
Mrs. Fainall Thank Mr. Mirabell, a cautious friend, to whose advice all is owing.
Lady Wishfort Well, Mr. Mirabell, you have kept your promise⁠—and I must perform mine.⁠—First, I pardon for your sake Sir Rowland there and Foible. The next thing is to break the matter to my nephew⁠—and how to do that⁠—
Mirabell For that, madam, give yourself no trouble; let me have your consent. Sir Wilfull is my friend: he has had compassion upon lovers, and generously engaged a volunteer in this action, for our service, and now designs to prosecute his travels.
Sir Wilful S’heart, aunt, I have no mind to marry. My cousin’s a fine lady, and the gentleman loves her and she loves him, and they deserve one another; my resolution is to see foreign parts⁠—I have set on’t⁠—and when I’m set on’t I must do’t. And if these two gentlemen would travel too, I think they may be spared.
Petulant For my part, I say little⁠—I think things are best off or on.
Witwoud I’gad, I understand nothing of the matter: I’m in a maze yet, like a dog in a dancing school.
Lady Wishfort Well, sir, take her, and with her all the joy I can give you.
Mrs. Millamant Why does not the man take me? Would you have me give myself to you over again?
Mirabell Aye, and over and over again; Kisses her hand. I would have you as often as possibly I can. Well, Heaven grant I love you not too well, that’s all my fear.
Sir Wilful S’heart, you’ll have time enough to toy after you’re married, or, if you will toy now, let us have a dance in the meantime; that we who are not lovers may have some other employment besides looking on.
Mirabell With all my heart, dear Sir Wilfull. What shall we do for music?
Foible Oh, sir, some that were provided for Sir Rowland’s entertainment are yet within call. A dance.
Lady Wishfort As I am a person, I can hold out no longer: I have wasted my spirits so today already that I am ready to sink under the fatigue; and I cannot but have some fears upon me yet, that my son Fainall will pursue some desperate course.
Mirabell Madam, disquiet not yourself on that account; to my knowledge his circumstances are such he must of force comply. For my part I will contribute all that in me lies to a reunion. In the meantime, madam⁠—To Mrs. Fainall. let me before these witnesses restore to you this deed of trust: it may be a means, well-managed, to make you live easily together.

From hence let those be warned, who mean to wed,
Lest mutual falsehood stain the bridal-bed:
For each deceiver to his cost may find
That marriage frauds too oft are paid in kind.112

Exeunt omnes.


After our Epilogue this crowd dismisses,
I’m thinking how this play’ll be pulled to pieces.
But pray consider, e’er you doom its fall,
How hard a thing ’twould be to please you all.
There are some critics so with spleen diseased,
They scarcely come inclining to be pleased:
And sure he must have more than mortal skill
Who pleases anyone against his will.
Then, all bad poets we are sure are foes,
And how their number’s swelled the town well knows
In shoals, I’ve marked ’em judging in the pit;
Though they’re on no pretence for judgment fit,
But that they have been damned for want of wit.
Since when, they, by their own offences taught,
Set up for spies on plays, and finding fault.
Others there are whose malice we’d prevent:
Such, who watch plays, with scurrilous intent
To mark out who by characters are meant:
And though no perfect likeness they can trace,
Yet each pretends to know the copied face.
These, with false glosses, feed their own ill-nature,
And turn to libel what was meant a satire.
May such malicious fops this fortune find,
To think themselves alone the fools designed:
If any are so arrogantly vain,
To think they singly can support a scene,
And furnish fool enough to entertain.
For well the learned and the judicious know,
That satire scorns to stoop so meanly low,
As any one abstracted fop to show.
For, as when painters form a matchless face,
They from each fair one catch some different grace,
And shining features in one portrait blend,
To which no single beauty must pretend:
So poets oft do in one piece expose
Whole belles assemblées of coquettes and beaux.


  1. Audire est operae⁠ ⁠… [laborent].” It is worth your while, ye that do not wish well to adulterers, to hear how they are hampered on all sides. —⁠Lib. i. Satires i. 2, 37

  2. [Haec] metuat⁠ ⁠… deprensa.” The woman fears for her dowry, if she should be caught. —⁠Lib. i. Satires i. 2, 131

  3. “In the vain joys⁠ ⁠… sight.” A reference is here intended to the various shows which were common in London at this time.

  4. “Though senseless⁠ ⁠… quaff.” That is, the well-dressed barbarians know Congreve’s name and power, such is his compelling art, although they are insensible to mirth except when they laugh and feel wise only when they have drunk to a surfeit.

  5. “Arabella.” A generic name for the ladies who inspire the lyrical name of Congreve.

  6. “William glorious in the strife.” The allusion is to Congreve’s “To the King, on the Taking of Namour.”

  7. “In her own nest⁠ ⁠… changeling-kind.” An allusion to the fact that the cuckoo lays her eggs in the nest of another bird.

  8. “The squire⁠ ⁠… undone.” “Buttered still,” that is, always heaped with loathsome flattery.

  9. “declares for a friend and ratafia.” Ratafia was a liqueur flavoured with fruits. The term “friend” as here used indicates a man friend with whom one’s relations were not entirely unquestionable.

  10. “continued in the state of nature.” Gone on in a natural course.

  11. “the last canonical hour.” Canonical hours were hours prescribed by the canons when prayers might be said.

  12. “Pancras.” The Church of St. Pancras in the Fields.

  13. “Duke’s-place.” St. James’s Church, Duke’s-place, Aldgate, became notorious for the irregular marriages, under the name of Fleet marriages, that were to be purchased there.

  14. “Dame Partlet.” Partlet or Pertelote, the name of the hen in Chaucer’s “Nonne Preestes Tale.”

  15. “Rosamond’s Pond.” A famous meeting place of lovers, situated in the southwestern corner of St. James’s Park.

  16. “the monster in The Tempest.” Caliban.

  17. “commonplace of comparisons.” A collection of figures or quotations for the purposes of argument or conversation.

  18. “cinnamon-water.” A drink composed of sugar, water, and spirit flavoured with cinnamon.

  19. “he would slip you out of this chocolate-house.” He would slip out of this chocolate-house. This is an instance of the ethical dative.

  20. “thou wo’t tell me.” The form wo’t is a contraction of woulds’t. Compare also sha’t, above.

  21. “worse than a quaker hates a parrot.” Because the parrot is so talkative.

  22. “than a fishmonger hates a hard frost.” The work of the fish pedlar was made very disagreeable by cold weather.

  23. “the Mall.” A broad promenade in St. James’s Park, now the street known as Pall Mall.

  24. “transcendently.” An affectation in the fashionable speech of the day.

  25. “Penthesilea.” Queen of the Amazons.

  26. “you have a mask.” Masks were commonly worn in the eighteenth century.

  27. “like Mosca in The Fox⁠ ⁠… terms.” “To stand upon terms” is to dally over the terms of an agreement. Mosca in Ben Jonson’s comedy Volpone deceives the suitors of Volpone by making them believe that his master is about to die and make them his heirs.

  28. “the beau monde.” The world of fashion.

  29. “tift and tift.” A tift is a fit of perverse fretting, a humour.

  30. “You are not⁠ ⁠… fools.” From the general trend of the conversation it would seem that course is here used in the sense of a course of treatment in which fools are the chief medicinal agent.

  31. “like Solomon⁠ ⁠… hanging.” Such Biblical subjects often formed the basis for designs in tapestry.

  32. “B’w’y.” A contraction of “God be with you.”

  33. “Mopus.” A dull person.

  34. “Spanish paper.” Used for the complexion.

  35. “with a bit of nutmeg.” Nutmeg was much eaten in eighteenth-century England.

  36. “like Maritornes⁠ ⁠… Quixote.” Maritornes is a chambermaid with whom Don Quixote persists in being in love.

  37. “Quarles and Prynne.” Francis Quarles was a writer of sacred poems, author of Divine Emblems, one of the most popular works of the age. William Prynne was a lawyer and pamphleteer, author of Hisiriomastix, a savage attack upon the stage in the time of Charles I.

  38. “The Short View of the Stage.” The full title is A Short View of the Profaneness and Immorality of the English Stage. This righteous attack on the abuses of the stage by Jeremy Collier caused a flutter among the playwrights and in time brought about a modicum of reform. Congreve was especially censured.

  39. “Robin from Locket’s.” One of the drawers or waiters at Locket’s ordinary in Charing Cross.

  40. “like a Long-lane penthouse.” Long-lane from West Smithfield to Barbican was occupied by the sellers of old clothes. A penthouse was here a species of continuous shed or arcade, covering the walk.

  41. “the million lottery.” A lottery the prizes of which amounted to a million pounds in the advertisements.

  42. “the whole court upon a birthday.” Because of the presents that custom demanded.

  43. “Ludgate⁠ ⁠… Blackfriars⁠ ⁠… old mitten.” Ludgate was one of the better debtors’ prisons. It abutted on the precinct of Blackfriars. To angle with a mitten refers to the custom of imprisoned debtors who begged alms of passersby through a grating. Here doubtless a string was let down from an upper window with a mitten in which the benevolent passerby might put his farthing, subsequently to be drawn up.

  44. “has a month’s mind.” To have an inclination to a thing.

  45. “passe-partout.” Master-key.

  46. “any chemist upon the day of projection.” The culmination of an experiment in alchemy, when the metals were supposed to be transmuted into gold was called a projection.

  47. “drap de Berri.” Probably drap or étoffe de bêret, cloth of Berri, described as Russian, doubtless here a coarse cloth.

  48. “ ’Tis like⁠ ⁠… on her hips.” Lacing under these conditions would cause the hips to increase in size.

  49. “Rhenish wine tea.” Taken to reduce flesh.

  50. “a discarded toast.” A lady who has ceased to be the reigning belle and subject of the toasts of her friends and suitors.

  51. “I’ll take my death.” I hope to die if what I say is not true.

  52. “in the main.” Main is here mean, the middle or tenor part, with which the other two harmonize. There is also a play on the more obvious meaning of the word.

  53. “The ordinary’s paid for setting the psalm.” The ordinary was the chaplain of Newgate prison, whose duty it was to prepare condemned criminals for death.

  54. “In the name of Bartlemew and his fair.” The fair of St. Bartlemew or St. Bartholomew was held in Smithfield every August. It was the great cloth fair of England and is here invoked by Witwoud because of the strange appearance of his brother.

  55. “smoke him.” Torment, mock, tease him.

  56. “thereafter, as ’tis meant.” Take as it (i.e. offence) is meant.

  57. “a hare’s scut.” A hare’s short tail, equivalent to a fig for your service.

  58. “Salop.” Shropshire, an inland county of England bordering on Wales.

  59. “like a call of sergeant.” Sergeant appears here to have its earlier meaning, a servant.

  60. “out of your time.” While you were still indentured to an attorney.

  61. “Furnival’s Inn.” In Holborn, formerly one of the inns of Chancery, attached to Lincoln’s Inn.

  62. “reckan.” Reckan (in the old editions rekin, absurdly modernized Wrekin) is the crane or iron bar from which hung the pots in the fireplace.

  63. “Dawks’s Letter.” In 1696 Ichabod Dawks started his News-Letter. It was printed on good paper in imitation of writing with a space for the gentleman who sent it to his friends to write by hand matters of private business.

  64. “Weekly Bill.” Several newspapers contained the word Weekly in their titles as The Weekly News, The Weekly Packet.

  65. “If an how⁠ ⁠… abate.” If peace holds whereby taxes will be reduced. Sir Wilful speaks with provincial indirectness.

  66. “ ’Tis like there may.” Very likely there is.

  67. “rally their best friends to choose.” That is, make as much fun of them as they like.

  68. “like a deputy-lieutenant’s hall.” That is, with all sorts of arms. The horns of the cuckold were often spoken of as armament.

  69. “cap of maintenance.” A cap or hat which was a sign of high office, carried before a sovereign or person of high authority in a procession.

  70. “I’ll set his hand in.” See him well started.

  71. “how⁠ ⁠… lady?” Just what are your feelings toward your lady?

  72. “Sir John Suckling.” A famous lyric and dramatic poet of the early seventeenth century.

  73. “Thyrsis, a youth⁠ ⁠… train.” A line from a poem of Edmund Waller.

  74. “I prithee⁠ ⁠… slight toy.” These and some of the following lines are Suckling’s.

  75. “all a case.” It is all the same.

  76. “Like Phoebus⁠ ⁠… boy.” A further line from the same poem by Waller.

  77. “in things of common application.” In the affairs of everyday life.

  78. “douceurs, ye sommeils du matin.” Sweetnesses, ye morning naps.

  79. “hogs’ bones, hares’ gall⁠ ⁠… cat.” A playful exaggeration of some of the popular nostrums of the day.

  80. “Barbados waters.” A cordial flavoured with orange-peel.

  81. “an unsized camlet.” Camlet was a light stuff of wool and linen, formerly from the East. Unsized, that is, unstiffened, not sized.

  82. noli prosequi.” To be unwilling to prosecute. An acknowledgment by the plaintiff that he will not press a suit further.

  83. “my dear Lacedemonian.” Applied to Petulant on account of his power as an “epitomizer of words” as Witwoud says.

  84. “and Baldwin yonder.” The name of the fox in the beast-epic Reynard the Fox, also applied to the ass by Chaucer.

  85. “A Gemini⁠ ⁠… you.” Gemini, the name for the twin stars Castor and Pollux was often used of pairs of things.

  86. “Borachio.” A villain, follower of Don John, in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Borachio is the Spanish term for a leather wine bottle, hence used for a drunkard.

  87. “bastinadoed with broomsticks.” That is, beaten on the soles of the feet.

  88. “Salopian.” An inhabitant of Salop or Shropshire.

  89. “a ballad-monger.” A seller of ballads. In eighteenth-century London these were sold upon the streets by itinerant pedlars.

  90. “Frisoneer gorget.” A piece of apparel for the neck, a kerchief, made of Frisoneer, perhaps the same word as Frison or frieze, a woollen stuff originally made in Friesland. The word Frisoneer does not apparently occur elsewhere.

  91. “a cast servingman.” A servingman that has been discharged.

  92. “and been put upon his clergy.” Forced to plead the benefit of the clergy, or privilege of exemption from capital punishment because of an ability to read and write.

  93. “meddle or make.” Have anything to do with the affair.

  94. “Abigails and Andrews.” Abigail was a common name for a lady’s maid; Andrew for a valet.

  95. “Philander.” A lover in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso ruined by the lustful Gabrina. Here merely a lover with an uncomplimentary allusion to Foible.

  96. “I’ll Duke’s-place you.” Marry you in a hurry as they do at Duke’s-place, Aldgate, where St. James’s Church was situated, a place notorious for irregular marriages.

  97. “a Bridewell-bride.” A loose woman committed to a prison for vagrants and social criminals. The prison was supposed to stand over the well of St. Bride.

  98. “a brass counter.” A small piece of metal used as a token and in accounting.

  99. “in a quoif like a man-midwife.” The legal costume of the day included a hood.

  100. “Doomsday Book.” A survey of England taken in 1086.

  101. “cantharides.” A medicament used for blistering.

  102. “the Temple.” One of the Inns of Court, where students at law were educated.

  103. “exceeding the barbarity of a Muscovite husband.” The Russian was often used in the eighteenth century as the symbol of roughness and cruelty.

  104. “from his Czarish majesty’s retinue.” An allusion to the visit of the Czar, Peter the First, three years before.

  105. “while the instrument is drawing.” While the agreement is being drawn up.

  106. “By’r Lady.” By Our Lady.

  107. “o’ the quorum.” Certain justices of the peace whose presence was essential to constitute a bench.

  108. “an old fox.” A colloquial name for a sword.

  109. “a mittimus.” A command in writing to a jailer to keep the person in custody in close confinement; here the vellum upon which such an order might be written.

  110. “bear-garden flourish.” A flourish suitable for a bear-garden. Bear-baiting formed one of the lowest types of amusement in seventeenth-century London. These places were the scenes of many brawls.

  111. “Messalina’s poems.” Messalina was the wife of the emperor Claudian. Her name is constantly associated with incontinence.

  112. “paid in kind.” In order to realize the full sense of this play upon words one must bear in mind that the idea of children was seldom separated from the word kind.


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The Way of the World
was published in 1700 by
William Congreve.

This ebook was produced for
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The Love Letter,
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