The Critic, by Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Act I.

SCENE I. — A Room in Dangle’s House. Mr. and MRS. DANGLE discovered at breakfast, and reading newspapers.

Dangle. [Reading.] Brutus to Lord North. — Letter the second on the State of the Army — Psha! To the first L dash D of the A dash Y. — Genuine extract of a Letter from St. Kitt’s. — Coxheath Intelligence. — It is now confidently asserted that Sir Charles Hardy — Psha! nothing but about the fleet and the nation! — and I hate all politics but theatrical politics. — Where’s the Morning Chronicle?

Mrs. Dangle. Yes, that’s your Gazette.

Dangle. So, here we have it. — [Reads.] Theatrical intelligence extraordinary. — We hear there is a new tragedy in rehearsal at Drury Lane Theatre, called the Spanish Armada, said to be written by Mr. Puff, a gentleman well-known in the theatrical world. If we may allow ourselves to give credit to the report of the performers, who, truth to say, are in general but indifferent judges, this piece abounds with the most striking and received beauties of modern composition. — So! I am very glad my friend Puff’s tragedy is in such forwardness. — Mrs. Dangle, my dear, you will be very glad to hear that Puff’s tragedy —

Mrs. Dangle. Lord, Mr. Dangle, why will you plague me about such nonsense? — Now the plays are begun I shall have no peace. — Isn’t it sufficient to make yourself ridiculous by your passion for the theatre, without continually teasing me to join you? Why can’t you ride your hobby-horse without desiring to place me on a pillion behind you, Mr. Dangle?

Dangle. Nay, my dear, I was only going to read —

Mrs. Dangle. No, no; you will never read anything that’s worth listening to. You hate to hear about your country; there are letters every day with Roman signatures, demonstrating the certainty of an invasion, and proving that the nation is utterly undone. But you never will read anything to entertain one.

Dangle. What has a woman to do with politics, Mrs. Dangle?

Mrs. Dangle. And what have you to do with the theatre, Mr. Dangle? Why should you affect the character of a critic? I have no patience with you! — haven’t you made yourself the jest of all your acquaintance by your interference in matters where you have no business? Are you not called a theatrical Quidnunc, and a mock Maecenas to second-hand authors?

Dangle. True; my power with the managers is pretty notorious. But is it no credit to have applications from all quarters for my interest — from lords to recommend fiddlers, from ladies to get boxes, from authors to get answers, and from actors to get engagements?

Mrs. Dangle. Yes, truly; you have contrived to get a share in all the plague and trouble of theatrical property, without the profit, or even the credit of the abuse that attends it.

Dangle. I am sure, Mrs. Dangle, you are no loser by it, however; you have all the advantages of it. Mightn’t you, last winter, have had the reading of the new pantomime a fortnight previous to its performance? And doesn’t Mr. Fosbrook let you take places for a play before it is advertised, and set you down for a box for every new piece through the season? And didn’t my friend, Mr. Smatter, dedicate his last farce to you at my particular request, Mrs. Dangle?

Mrs. Dangle. Yes; but wasn’t the farce damned, Mr. Dangle? And to be sure it is extremely pleasant to have one’s house made the motley rendezvous of all the lackeys of literature; the very high ‘Change of trading authors and jobbing critics! — Yes, my drawing-room is an absolute register-office for candidate actors, and poets without character. — Then to be continually alarmed with misses and ma’ams piping hysteric changes on Juliets and Dorindas, Pollys and Ophelias; and the very furniture trembling at the probationary starts and unprovoked rants of would-be Richards and Hamlets! — And what is worse than all, now that the manager has monopolized the Opera House, haven’t we the signors and signoras calling here, sliding their smooth semibreves, and gargling glib divisions in their outlandish throats — with foreign emissaries and French spies, for aught I know, disguised like fiddlers and figure dancers?

Dangle. Mercy! Mrs. Dangle!

Mrs. Dangle. And to employ yourself so idly at such an alarming crisis as this too — when, if you had the least spirit, you would have been at the head of one of the Westminster associations — or trailing a volunteer pike in the Artillery Ground! But you — o’ my conscience, I believe, if the French were landed to-morrow, your first inquiry would be, whether they had brought a theatrical troop with them.

Dangle. Mrs. Dangle, it does not signify — I say the stage is the mirror of Nature, and the actors are the Abstract and brief Chronicles of the Time: and pray what can a man of sense study better? — Besides, you will not easily persuade me that there is no credit or importance in being at the head of a band of critics, who take upon them to decide for the whole town, whose opinion and patronage all writers solicit, and whose recommendation no manager dares refuse.

Mrs. Dangle. Ridiculous! — Both managers and authors of the least merit laugh at your pretensions. — The public is their critic — without whose fair approbation they know no play can rest on the stage, and with whose applause they welcome such attacks as yours, and laugh at the malice of them, where they can’t at the wit.

Dangle. Very well, madam — very well!

Enter Servant.

Servant. Mr. Sneer, sir, to wait on you.

Dangle. Oh, show Mr. Sneer up. — [Exit Servant.] — Plague on’t, now we must appear loving and affectionate, or Sneer will hitch us into a story.

Mrs. Dangle. With all my heart; you can’t be more ridiculous than you are.

Dangle. You are enough to provoke —

Enter Sneer.

Ha! my dear Sneer, I am vastly glad to see you. — My dear, here’s Mr. Sneer.

Mrs. Dangle. Good-morning to you, sir.

Dangle. Mrs. Dangle and I have been diverting ourselves with the papers. Pray, Sneer, won’t you go to Drury Lane Theatre the first night of Puff’s tragedy?

Sneer. Yes; but I suppose one shan’t be able to get in, for on the first night of a new piece they always fill the house with orders to support it. But here, Dangle, I have brought you two pieces, one of which you must exert yourself to make the managers accept, I can tell you that; for’tis written by a person of consequence.

Dangle. So! now my plagues are beginning.

Sneer. Ay, I am glad of it, for now you’ll be happy. Why, my dear Dangle, it is a pleasure to see how you enjoy your volunteer fatigue, and your solicited solicitations.

Dangle. It’s a great trouble — yet, egad, it’s pleasant too. — Why, sometimes of a morning I have a dozen people call on me at breakfast-time, whose faces I never saw before, nor ever desire to see again.

Sneer. That must be very pleasant indeed!

Dangle. And not a week but I receive fifty letters, and not a line in them about any business of my own.

Sneer. An amusing correspondence!

Dangle. [Reading.] Bursts into tears and exit. — What, is this a tragedy?

Sneer. No, that’s a genteel comedy, not a translation — only taken from the French: it is written in a style which they have lately tried to run down; the true sentimental, and nothing ridiculous in it from the beginning to the end.

Mrs. Dangle. Well, if they had kept to that, I should not have been such an enemy to the stage; there was some edification to be got from those pieces, Mr. Sneer!

Sneer. I am quite of your opinion, Mrs. Dangle: the theatre, in proper hands, might certainly be made the school of morality; but now, I am sorry to say it, people seem to go there principally for their entertainment!

Mrs. Dangle. It would have been more to the credit of the managers to have kept it in the other line.

Sneer. Undoubtedly, madam; and hereafter perhaps to have had it recorded, that in the midst of a luxurious and dissipated age, they preserved two houses in the capital, where the conversation was always moral at least, if not entertaining!

Dangle. Now, egad, I think the worst alteration is in the nicety of the audience! — No double-entendre, no smart innuendo admitted; even Vanbrugh and Congreve obliged to undergo a bungling reformation!

Sneer. Yes, and our prudery in this respect is just on a par with the artificial bashfulness of a courtesan, who increases the blush upon her cheek in an exact proportion to the diminution of her modesty.

Dangle. Sneer can’t even give the public a good word! But what have we here? — This seems a very odd —

Sneer. Oh, that’s a comedy on a very new plan; replete with wit and mirth, yet of a most serious moral! You see it is called The Reformed House-breaker; where, by the mere force of humour, house-breaking is put in so ridiculous a light, that if the piece has its proper run, I have no doubt but that bolts and bars will be entirely useless by the end of the season.

Dangle. Egad, this is new indeed!

Sneer. Yes; it is written by a particular friend of mine, who has discovered that the follies and foibles of society are subjects unworthy the notice of the comic muse, who should be taught to stoop only to the greater vices and blacker crimes of humanity — gibbeting capital offences in five acts, and pillorying petty larcenies in two. — In short, his idea is to dramatize the penal laws, and make the stage a court of ease to the Old Bailey.

Dangle. It is truly moral.

Re-enter Servant.

Servant. Sir Fretful Plagiary, sir.

Dangle. Beg him to walk up. — [Exit Servant.] Now, Mrs. Dangle, Sir Fretful Plagiary is an author to your own taste.

Mrs. Dangle. I confess he is a favourite of mine, because everybody else abuses him.

Sneer. Very much to the credit of your charity, madam, if not of your judgment.

Dangle. But, egad, he allows no merit to any author but himself, that’s the truth on’t — though he’s my friend.

Sneer. Never. — He is as envious as an old maid verging on the desperation of six and thirty; and then the insidious humility with which he seduces you to give a free opinion on any of his works, can be exceeded only by the petulant arrogance with which he is sure to reject your observations.

Dangle. Very true, egad — though he’s my friend.

Sneer. Then his affected contempt of all newspaper strictures; though, at the same time, he is the sorest man alive, and shrinks like scorched parchment from the fiery ordeal of true criticism: yet he is so covetous of popularity, that he had rather be abused than not mentioned at all.

Dangle. There’s no denying it — though he is my friend.

Sneer. You have read the tragedy he has just finished, haven’t you?

Dangle. Oh, yes; he sent it to me yesterday.

Sneer. Well, and you think it execrable, don’t you?

Dangle. Why, between ourselves, egad, I must own — though he is my friend — that it is one of the most — He’s here —

[Aside.] — finished and most admirable perform —

Sir Fret. [Without.] Mr. Sneer with him did you say?

Enter Sir Fretful Plagiary.

Dangle. Ah, my dear friend! — Egad, we were just speaking of your tragedy. — Admirable, Sir Fretful, admirable!

Sneer. You never did anything beyond it, Sir Fretful — never in your life.

Sir Fret. You make me extremely happy; for without a compliment, my dear Sneer, there isn’t a man in the world whose judgment I value as I do yours and Mr. Dangle’s.

Mrs. Dangle. They are only laughing at you, Sir Fretful; for it was but just now that —

Dangle. Mrs. Dangle! — Ah, Sir Fretful, you know Mrs. Dangle. — My friend Sneer was rallying just now:— he knows how she admires you, and —

Sir Fret. O Lord, I am sure Mr. Sneer has more taste and sincerity than to — [Aside.] A damned double-faced fellow!

Dangle. Yes, yes — Sneer will jest — but a better humoured —

Sir Fret. Oh, I know —

Dangle. He has a ready turn for ridicule — his wit costs him nothing.

Sir Fret. No, egad — or I should wonder how he came by it.

[Aside.]

Mrs. Dangle. Because his jest is always at the expense of his friend. [Aside.]

Dangle. But, Sir Fretful, have you sent your play to the managers yet? — or can I be of any service to you?

Sir Fret. No, no, I thank you: I believe the piece had sufficient recommendation with it. — I thank you though. — I sent it to the manager of Covent Garden Theatre this morning.

Sneer. I should have thought now, that it might have been cast (as the actors call it) better at Drury Lane.

Sir Fret. O Lud! no — never send a play there while I live — hark’ee!

[Whispers Sneer.]

Sneer. Writes himself! — I know he does.

Sir Fret. I say nothing — I take away from no man’s merit — am hurt at no man’s good fortune — I say nothing. — But this I will say — through all my knowledge of life, I have observed — that there is not a passion so strongly rooted in the human heart as envy.

Sneer. I believe you have reason for what you say, indeed.

Sir Fret. Besides — I can tell you it is not always so safe to leave a play in the hands of those who write themselves.

Sneer. What, they may steal from them, hey, my dear Plagiary?

Sir Fret. Steal! — to be sure they may; and, egad, serve your best thoughts as gypsies do stolen children, disfigure them to make ’em pass for their own.

Sneer. But your present work is a sacrifice to Melpomene, and he, you know, never —

Sir Fret. That’s no security: a dexterous plagiarist may do anything. Why, sir, for aught I know, he might take out some of the best things in my tragedy, and put them into his own comedy.

Sneer. That might be done, I dare be sworn.

Sir Fret. And then, if such a person gives you the least hint or assistance, he is devilish apt to take the merit of the whole —

Dangle. If it succeeds.

Sir Fret. Ay, but with regard to this piece, I think I can hit that gentleman, for I can safely swear he never read it.

Sneer. I’ll tell you how you may hurt him more.

Sir Fret. How?

Sneer. Swear he wrote it.

Sir Fret. Plague on’t now, Sneer, I shall take it ill! — I believe you want to take away my character as an author.

Sneer. Then I am sure you ought to be very much obliged to me.

Sir Fret. Hey! — sir! —

Dangle. Oh, you know, he never means what he says.

Sir Fret. Sincerely then — do you like the piece?

Sneer. Wonderfully!

Sir Fret. But come, now, there must be something that you think might be mended, hey? — Mr. Dangle, has nothing struck you?

Dangle. Why, faith, it is but an ungracious thing for the most part, to —

Sir Fret. With most authors it is just so, indeed; they are in general strangely tenacious! But, for my part, I am never so well pleased as when a judicious critic points out any defect to me; for what is the purpose of showing a work to a friend, if you don’t mean to profit by his opinion?

Sneer. Very true. — Why, then, though I seriously admire the piece upon the whole, yet there is one small objection; which, if you’ll give me leave, I’ll mention.

Sir Fret. Sir, you can’t oblige me more.

Sneer. I think it wants incident.

Sir Fret. Good God! you surprise me! — wants incident!

Sneer. Yes; I own I think the incidents are too few.

Sir Fret. Good God! Believe me, Mr. Sneer, there is no person for whose judgment I have a more implicit deference. But I protest to you, Mr. Sneer, I am only apprehensive that the incidents are too crowded. — My dear Dangle, how does it strike you?

Dangle. Really I can’t agree with my friend Sneer. I think the plot quite sufficient; and the four first acts by many degrees the best I ever read or saw in my life. If, I might venture to suggest anything, it is that the interest rather falls off in the fifth.

Sir Fret. Rises, I believe you mean, sir.

Dangle. No, I don’t, upon my word.

Sir Fret. Yes, yes, you do, upon my soul! — it certainly don’t fall off, I assure you. — No, no; it don’t fall off.

Dangle. Now, Mrs. Dangle, didn’t you say it struck you in the same light?

Mrs. Dangle. No, indeed, I did not. — I did not see a fault in any part of the play, from the beginning to the end.

Sir Fret. Upon my soul, the women are the best judges after all!

Mrs. Dangle. Or, if I made any objection, I am sure it was to nothing in the piece; but that I was afraid it was on the whole, a little too long.

Sir Fret. Pray, madam, do you speak as to duration of time; or do you mean that the story is tediously spun out?

Mrs. Dangle. O Lud! no. — I speak only with reference to the usual length of acting plays.

Sir Fret. Then I am very happy — very happy indeed — because the play is a short play, a remarkably short play. I should not venture to differ with a lady on a point of taste; but on these occasions, the watch, you know, is the critic.

Mrs. Dangle. Then, I suppose, it must have been Mr. Dangle’s drawling manner of reading it to me.

Sir Fret. Oh, if Mr. Dangle read it, that’s quite another affair! — But I assure you, Mrs. Dangle, the first evening you can spare me three hours and a half, I’ll undertake to read you the whole, from beginning to end, with the prologue and epilogue, and allow time for the music between the acts.

Mrs. Dangle. I hope to see it on the stage next.

Dangle. Well, Sir Fretful, I wish you may be able to get rid as easily of the newspaper criticisms as you do of ours.

Sir Fret. The newspapers! Sir, they are the most villainous — licentious — abominable — infernal. — Not that I ever read them — no — I make it a rule never to look into a newspaper.

Dangle. You are quite right; for it certainly must hurt an author of delicate feelings to see the liberties they take.

Sir Fret. No, quite the contrary! their abuse is, in fact, the best panegyric — I like it of all things. An author’s reputation is only in danger from their support.

Sneer. Why, that’s true — and that attack, now, on you the other day —

Sir Fret. What? where?

Dangle. Ay, you mean in a paper of Thursday: it was completely ill-natured, to be sure.

Sir Fret. Oh so much the better. — Ha! Ha! Ha! I wouldn’t have it otherwise.

Dangle. Certainly it is only to be laughed at; for —

Sir Fret. You don’t happen to recollect what the fellow said, do you?

Sneer. Pray, Dangle — Sir Fretful seems a little anxious —

Sir Fret. O Lud, no! — anxious! — not I— not the least. — I— but one may as well hear, you know.

Dangle. Sneer, do you recollect? — [Aside to Sneer.] Make out something.

Sneer. [Aside to Dangle.] I will. — [Aloud.] Yes, yes, I remember perfectly.

Sir Fret. Well, and pray now — not that it signifies — what might the gentleman say?

Sneer. Why, he roundly asserts that you have not the slightest invention or original genius whatever; though you are the greatest traducer of all other authors living.

Sir Fret. Ha! ha! ha! — very good!

Sneer. That as to comedy, you have not one idea of your own, he believes, even in your commonplace-book — where stray jokes and pilfered witticisms are kept with as much method as the ledger of the lost and stolen office.

Sir Fret. Ha! ha! ha! — very pleasant!

Sneer. Nay, that you are so unlucky as not to have the skill even to steal with taste:— but that you glean from the refuse of obscure volumes, where more judicious plagiarists have been before you; so that the body of your work is a composition of dregs and sentiments — like a bad tavern’s worst wine.

Sir Fret. Ha! ha!

Sneer. In your more serious efforts, he says, your bombast would be less intolerable, if the thoughts were ever suited to the expression; but the homeliness of the sentiment stares through the fantastic encumbrance of its fine language, like a clown in one of the new uniforms!

Sir Fret. Ha! ha!

Sneer. That your occasional tropes and flowers suit the general coarseness of your style, as tambour sprigs would a ground of linsey-woolsey; while your imitations of Shakspeare resemble the mimicry of Falstaff’s page, and are about as near the standard as the original.

Sir Fret. Ha!

Sneer. In short, that even the finest passages you steal are of no service to you; for the poverty of your own language prevents their assimilating; so that they lie on the surface like lumps of marl on a barren moor, encumbering what it is not in their power to fertilize!

Sir Fret. [After great agitation.] Now, another person would be vexed at this!

Sneer. Oh! but I wouldn’t have told you — only to divert you.

Sir Fret. I know it — I am diverted. — Ha! ha! ha! — not the least invention! — Ha! ha! ha! — very good! — very good!

Sneer. Yes — no genius! ha! ha! ha!

Dangle. A severe rogue! ha! ha! ha! But you are quite right, Sir Fretful, never to read such nonsense.

Sir Fret. To be sure — for if there is anything to one’s praise, it is a foolish vanity to be gratified at it; and, if it is abuse — why one is always sure to hear of it from one damned good-natured friend or other!

Enter Servant.

Servant. Sir, there is an Italian gentleman, with a French interpreter, and three young ladies, and a dozen musicians, who say they are sent by Lady Rondeau and Mrs. Fugue.

Dangle. Gadso! they come by appointment! — Dear Mrs. Dangle, do let them know I’ll see them directly.

Mrs. Dangle. You know, Mr. Dangle, I shan’t understand a word they say.

Dangle. But you hear there’s an interpreter.

Mrs. Dangle. Well, I’ll try to endure their complaisance till you come.

[Exit.]

Servant. And Mr. Puff, sir, has sent word that the last rehearsal is to be this morning, and that he’ll call on you presently.

Dangle. That’s true — I shall certainly be at home. — [Exit Servant.] — now, Sir Fretful, if you have a mind to have justice done you in the way of answer, egad, Mr. Puff’s your man.

Sir Fret. Psha! sir, why should I wish to have it answered, when I tell you I am pleased at it?

Dangle. True, I had forgot that. But I hope you are not fretted at what Mr. Sneer —

Sir Fret. Zounds! no, Mr. Dangle; don’t I tell you these things never fret me in the least?

Dangle. Nay, I only thought —

Sir Fret. And let me tell you, Mr. Dangle, ’tis damned affronting in you to suppose that I am hurt when I tell you I am not.

Sneer. But why so warm, Sir Fretful?

Sir Fret. Gad’s life! Mr. Sneer, you are as absurd as Dangle: how often must I repeat it to you, that nothing can vex me but your supposing it possible for me to mind the damned nonsense you have been repeating to me! — let me tell you, if you continue to believe this, you must mean to insult me, gentlemen — and, then, your disrespect will affect me no more than the newspaper criticisms — and I shall treat it with exactly the same calm indifference and philosophic contempt — and so your servant.

[Exit.]

Sneer. Ha! ha! ha! poor Sir Fretful! Now will he go and vent his philosophy in anonymous abuse of all modern critics and authors. — But, Dangle, you must get your friend Puff to take me to the rehearsal of his tragedy.

Dangle. I’ll answer for’t, he’ll thank you for desiring it. But come and help me to judge of this musical family: they are recommended by people of consequence, I assure you.

Sneer. I am at your disposal the whole morning! — but I thought you had been a decided critic in music as well as in literature.

Dangle. So I am — but I have a bad ear. I’faith, Sneer, though, I am afraid we were a little too severe on Sir Fretful — though he is my friend.

Sneer. Why, ’tis certain, that unnecessarily to mortify the vanity of any writer is a cruelty which mere dulness never can deserve; but where a base and personal malignity usurps the place of literary emulation, the aggressor deserves neither quarter nor pity.

Dangle. That’s true, egad! — though he’s my friend!

SCENE II. — A drawing-room in Dangle’S House.

Mrs. Dangle, Signor Pasticcio Ritornello, Signore Pasticcio Ritornello, Interpreter, and Musicians discovered.

Interp. Je dis, madame, j’ai l’honneur to introduce et de vous demander votre protection pour le Signor Pasticcio Ritornello et pour sa charmante famille.

Signor Past. Ah! vosignoria, not vi preghiamo di favoritevi colla vostra protezione. 1 Signora Past. Vosignoria fatevi questi grazie. 2 Signora Past. Si, signora.

Interp. Madame — me interpret. — C’est à dire — in English — qu’ils vous prient de leur faire l’honneur —

Mrs. Dangle. I say again, gentlemen, I don’t understand a word you say.

Signor Past. Questo signore spiegheró —

Interp. Oui — me interpret. — Nous avons les lettres de recommendation pour Monsieur Dangle de —

Mrs. Dangle. Upon my word, sir, I don’t understand you.

Signor Past. La Contessa Rondeau è nostra padrona. 3 Signora Past. Si, padre, et Miladi Fugue.

Interp. O! — me interpret. — Madame, ils disent — in English — Qu’ils ont l’honneur d’être protégés de ces dames. — You understand?

Mrs. Dangle. No, sir, — no understand!

Enter Dangle and Sneer.

Interp. Ah, voici, Monsieur Dangle!

All Italians. Ah! Signor Dangle!

Mrs. Dangle. Mr. Dangle, here are two very civil gentlemen trying to make themselves understood, and I don’t know which is the interpreter.

Dangle. Eh, bien!

[The Interpreter and Signor Pasticcio here speak at the same time.]

Interp. Monsieur Dangle, le grand bruit de vos talens pour la critique, et de votre intérêt avec messieurs les directeurs à tous les théâtres —

Signor Past. Vosignoria siete si famoso par la vostra conoscenza, e vostra interessa colla le direttore da —

Dangle. Egad, I think the interpreter is the hardest to be understood of the two!

Sneer. Why, I thought, Dangle, you had been an admirable linguist!

Dangle. So I am, if they would not talk so damned fast.

Sneer. Well, I’ll explain that — the less time we lose in bearing them the better — for that, I suppose, is what they are brought here for.

[Speaks to Signor Pasticcio — they sing trios, &c., Dangle beating out of time.
Enter
Servant and whispers Dangle.
]

Dangle. Show him up. — [Exit Servant.] Bravo! admirable! bravissimo! admirablissimo! — Ah! Sneer! where will you find voices such as these in England?

Sneer. Not easily.

Dangle. But Puff is coming. — Signor and little signoras obligatissimo! — Sposa Signora Danglena — Mrs. Dangle, shall I beg you to offer them some refreshments, and take their address in the next room.

[Exit Mrs. Dangle with Signor Pasticcio, Signore Pasticcio, Musicians, and Interpreter, ceremoniously.]

Re-enter Servant.

Servant. Mr. Puff, sir. [Exit.]

Enter Puff.

Dangle. My dear Puff!

Puff. My dear Dangle, how is it with you?

Dangle. Mr. Sneer, give me leave to introduce Mr. Puff to you.

Puff. Mr. Sneer is this? — Sir, he is a gentleman whom I have long panted for the honour of knowing — a gentleman whose critical talents and transcendent judgment —

Sneer. Dear Sir —

Dangle. Nay, don’t be modest, Sneer; my friend Puff only talks to you in the style of his profession.

Sneer. His profession.

Puff. Yes, sir; I make no secret of the trade I follow: among friends and brother authors, Dangle knows I love to be frank on the subject, and to advertise myself viva voce. — I am, sir, a practitioner in panegyric, or, to speak more plainly, a professor of the art of puffing, at your service — or anybody else’s.

Sneer. Sir, you are very obliging! — I believe, Mr. Puff, I have often admired your talents in the daily prints.

Puff. Yes, sir, I flatter myself I do as much business in that way as any six of the fraternity in town. — Devilish hard work all the summer, friend Dangle, — never worked harder! But, hark’ee, — the winter managers were a little sore, I believe.

Dangle. No; I believe they took it all in good part.

Puff. Ay! then that must have been affectation in them: for, egad, there were some of the attacks which there was no laughing at!

Sneer. Ay, the humorous ones. — But I should think, Mr. Puff, that authors would in general be able to do this sort of work for themselves.

Puff. Why, yes — but in a clumsy way. Besides, we look on that as an encroachment, and so take the opposite side. I dare say, now, you conceive half the very civil paragraphs and advertisements you see to be written by the parties concerned, or their friends? No such thing: nine out of ten manufactured by me in the way of business.

Sneer. Indeed!

Puff. Even the auctioneers now — the auctioneers, I say — though the rogues have lately got some credit for their language — not an article of the merit theirs: take them out of their pulpits, and they are as dull as catalogues! — No, sir; ’twas I first enriched their style — ’twas I first taught them to crowd their advertisements with panegyrical superlatives, each epithet rising above the other, like the bidders in their own auction rooms! From me they learned to inlay their phraseology with variegated chips of exotic metaphor: by me too their inventive faculties were called forth:— yes, sir, by me they were instructed to clothe ideal walls with gratuitous fruits — to insinuate obsequious rivulets into visionary groves — to teach courteous shrubs to nod their approbation of the grateful soil; or on emergencies to raise upstart oaks, where there never had been an acorn; to create a delightful vicinage without the assistance of a neighbour; or fix the temple of Hygeia in the fens of Lincolnshire!

Dangle. I am sure you have done them infinite service; for now, when a gentleman is ruined, he parts with his house with some credit.

Sneer. Service! if they had any gratitude, they would erect a statue to him; they would figure him as a presiding Mercury, the god of traffic and fiction, with a hammer in his hand instead of a caduceus. — But pray, Mr. Puff, what first put you on exercising your talents in this way?

Puff. Egad, sir, sheer necessity! — the proper parent of an art so nearly allied to invention. You must know, Mr. Sneer, that from the first time I tried my hand at an advertisement, my success was such, that for some time after I led a most extraordinary life indeed!

Sneer. How, pray?

Puff. Sir, I supported myself two years entirely by my misfortunes.

Sneer. By your misfortunes!

Puff. Yes, sir, assisted by long sickness, and other occasional disorders: and a very comfortable living I had of it.

Sneer. From sickness and misfortunes! You practised as a doctor and an attorney at once?

Puff. No, egad; both maladies and miseries were my own.

Sneer. Hey! what the plague!

Dangle. ’Tis true, i’faith.

Puff. Hark’ee! — By advertisements — . Oh, I understand you.

Puff. And, in truth, I deserved what I got! for, I suppose never man went through such a series of calamities in the same space of time. Sir, I was five times made a bankrupt, and reduced from a state of affluence, by a train of unavoidable misfortunes: then, sir, though a very industrious tradesman, I was twice burned out, and lost my little all both times: I lived upon those fires a month. I soon after was confined by a most excruciating disorder, and lost the use of my limbs: that told very well; for I had the case strongly attested, and went about to collect the subscriptions myself.

Dangle. Egad, I believe that was when you first called on me.

Puff. In November last? — O no; I was at that time a close prisoner in the Marshalsea, for a debt benevolently contracted to serve a friend. I was afterwards twice tapped for a dropsy, which declined into a very profitable consumption. I was then reduced to — O no — then, I became a widow with six helpless children, after having had eleven husbands pressed, and being left every time eight months gone with child, and without money to get me into an hospital!

Sneer. And you bore all with patience, I make no doubt?

Puff. Why yes; though I made some occasional attempts at felo de se, but as I did not find those rash actions answer, I left off killing myself very soon. Well, sir, at last, what with bankruptcies, fires, gout, dropsies, imprisonments, and other valuable calamities, having got together a pretty handsome sum, I determined to quit a business which had always gone rather against my conscience, and in a more liberal way still to indulge my talents for fiction and embellishment, through my favourite channels of diurnal communication — and so, sir, you have my history.

Sneer. Most obligingly communicative indeed! and your confession, if published, might certainly serve the cause of true charity, by rescuing the most useful channels of appeal to benevolence from the cant of imposition. But, surely, Mr. Puff, there is no great mystery in your present profession?

Puff. Mystery, sir! I will take upon me to say the matter was never scientifically treated nor reduced to rule before.

Sneer. Reduced to rule!

Puff. O Lud, sir, you are very ignorant, I am afraid! — Yes, sir,. puffing is of various sorts; the principal are, the puff direct, the puff preliminary, the puff collateral, the puff collusive, and the puff oblique, or puff by implication. These all assume, as circumstances require, the various forms of Letter to the Editor, Occasional Anecdote, Impartial Critique, Observation from Correspondent, or Advertisement from the Party.

Sneer. The puff direct, I can conceive —

Puff. O yes, that’s simple enough! For instance, — a new comedy or farce is to be produced at one of the theatres (though by-the-by they don’t bring out half what they ought to do) — the author, suppose Mr. Smatter, or Mr. Dapper, or any particular friend of mine — very, well; the day before it is to be performed, I write an account of the manner in which it was received; I have the plot from the author, and only add — “characters strongly drawn — highly coloured — hand of a master — fund of genuine humour — mine of invention — neat dialogue — Attic salt.” Then for the performance — “Mr. Dodd was astonishingly great in the character of Sir Harry. That universal and judicious actor, Mr. Palmer, perhaps never appeared to more advantage than in the colonel; — but it is not in the power of language to do justice to Mr. King: indeed he more than merited those repeated bursts of applause which he drew from a most brilliant and judicious audience. As to the scenery — the miraculous powers of Mr. De Loutherbourg’s pencil are universally acknowledged. In short, we are at a loss which to admire most, the unrivalled genius of the author, the great attention and liberality of the managers, the wonderful abilities of the painter, or the incredible exertions of all the performers.”

Sneer. That’s pretty well indeed, sir.

Puff. Oh, cool! — quite cool! — to what I sometimes do.

Sneer. And do you think there are any who are influenced by this?

Puff. O Lud, yes, sir! the number of those who undergo the fatigue of judging for themselves is very small indeed.

Sneer. Well, sir, the puff preliminary.

Puff. O, that, sir, does well in the form of a caution. In a matter of gallantry now — Sir Flimsy Gossamer wishes to be well with Lady Fanny Fete — he applies to me — I open trenches for him with a paragraph in the Morning Post. — “It is recommended to the beautiful and accomplished Lady F four stars F dash E to be on her guard against that dangerous character, Sir F dash G; who, however pleasing and insinuating his manners may be, is certainly not remarkable for the constancy of his attachments!” — in italics. Here, you see, Sir Flimsy Gossamer is introduced to the particular notice of Lady Fanny, who perhaps never thought of him before — she finds herself publicly cautioned to avoid him, which naturally makes her desirous of seeing him; the observation of their acquaintance causes a pretty kind of mutual embarrassment; this produces a sort of sympathy of interest, which if Sir Flimsy is unable to improve effectually, he at least gains the credit of having their names mentioned together, by a particular set, and in a particular way — which nine times out of ten is the full accomplishment of modern gallantry.

Dangle. Egad, Sneer, you will be quite an adept in the business.

Puff. Now, Sir, the puff collateral is much used as an appendage to advertisements, and may take the form of anecdote, —

“Yesterday, as the celebrated George Bonmot was sauntering down St. James’s Street, he met the lively Lady Mary Myrtle coming out of the park:— ‘Good God, Lady Mary, I’m surprised to meet you in a white jacket, — for I expected never to have seen you, but in a full-trimmed uniform and a light horseman’s cap!’ — ‘Heavens, George, where could you have learned that?’ — ‘Why,’ replied the wit, ‘ I just saw a print of you, in a new publication called the Camp Magazine; which, by-the-by, is a ‘devilish clever thing, and is sold at No. 3, on the right hand of the way, two doors from the printing-office, the corner of Ivy Lane, Paternoster Row, price only one shilling.’”

Sneer. Very ingenious indeed!

Puff. But the puff collusive is the newest of any; for it acts in the disguise of determined hostility. It is much used by bold booksellers and enterprising poets. — “An indignant correspondent observes, that the new poem called Beelsebub’s Cotillon, or Proserpine’s Fête Champêtre, is one of the most unjustifiable performances he ever read. The severity with which certain characters are handled is quite shocking: and as there are many descriptions in it too warmly coloured for female delicacy, the shameful avidity with which this piece is bought by all people of fashion is a reproach on the taste of the times, and a disgrace to the delicacy of the age.” Here you see the two strongest inducements are held forth; first, that nobody ought to read it; and secondly, that everybody buys it: on the strength of which the publisher boldly prints the tenth edition, before he had sold ten of the first; and then establishes it by threatening himself with the pillory, or absolutely indicting himself for scan. mag.

Dangle. Ha! ha! ha! — ‘gad, I know it is so.

Puff. As to the puff oblique, or puff by implication, it is too various and extensive to be illustrated by an instance: it attracts in titles and resumes in patents; it lurks in the limitation of a subscription, and invites in the assurance of crowd and incommodation at public places; it delights to draw forth concealed merit, with a most disinterested assiduity; and sometimes wears a countenance of smiling censure and tender reproach. It has a wonderful memory for parliamentary debates, and will often give the whole speech of a favoured member with the most flattering accuracy. But, above all, it is a great dealer in reports and suppositions. It has the earliest intelligence of intended preferments that will reflect honour on the patrons; and embryo promotions of modest gentlemen, who know nothing of the matter themselves. It can hint a ribbon for implied services in the air of a common report; and with the carelessness of a casual paragraph, suggest officers into commands, to which they have no pretension but their wishes. This, sir, is the last principal class of the art of puffing — an art which I hope you will now agree with me is of the highest dignity, yielding a tablature of benevolence and public spirit; befriending equally trade, gallantry, criticism, and politics: the applause of genius — the register of charity — the triumph of heroism — the self-defence of contractors — the fame of orators — and the gazette of ministers.

Sneer. Sir, I am completely a convert both to the importance and ingenuity of your profession; and now, sir, there is but one thing which can possibly increase my respect for you, and that is, your permitting me to be present this morning at the rehearsal of your new trage —

Puff. Hush, for heaven’s sake! — My tragedy! — Egad, Dangle, I take this very ill: you know how apprehensive I am of being known to be the author.

Dangle. I’faith I would not have told — but it’s in the papers, and your name at length in the Morning Chronicle.

Puff. Ah! those damned editors never can keep a secret I— Well, Mr. Sneer, no doubt you will do me great honour — I shall be infinitely happy — highly flattered — Dang. I believe it must be near the time — shall we go together?

Puff. No; it will, not be yet this hour, for they are always late at that theatre: besides, I must meet you there, for I have some little matters here to send to the papers, and a few paragraphs to scribble before I go. — [Looking at memorandums.] Here is A conscientious Baker, on the subject of the Army Bread; and a Detester of visible Brick-work, in favour of the new invented Stucco; both in the style of Junius, and promised for to-morrow. The Thames navigation too is at a stand. Misomud or Anti-shoal must go to work again directly. — Here too are some political memorandums — I see; ay —

To take Paul Jones and get the Indiamen out of the Shannon — reinforce Byron — compel the Dutch to — so! — I must do that in the evening papers, or reserve it for the Morning Herald; for I know that I have undertaken to-morrow, besides, to establish the unanimity of the fleet in the Public Advertiser, and to shoot Charles Fox in the Morning Post. — So, egad, I ha’n’t a moment to lose.

Dangle. Well, we’ll meet in the Green Room.

[Exeunt severally.]

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30