The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LXIII

The Continuation and Conclusion of Mr. Melopoyn’s Story

‘I made shift, notwithstanding, to maintain myself till the beginning of next winter, when I renewed my addresses to my friend Mr. Supple, and was most graciously received. “I have been thinking of your affair, Mr. Melopoyn,” said he, “and am determined to show how far I have your interest at heart, by introducing you to a young nobleman of my acquaintance, who is remarkable for his fine taste in dramatic writings, and is besides a man of such influence that, if once he should approve of your play, his patronage will support it against all the efforts of envy and ignorance; for, I do assure you, that merit alone will not bring success. I have already spoken of your performance to Lord Rattle, and if you will call at my house in a day or two, you shall have a letter of introduction to his lordship.” I was sensibly touched with this mark of Mr. Supple’s friendship; and looking upon my affair as already done, went home and imparted my good fortune to my landlord, who, to render my appearance more acceptable to my patron, procured a suit of new clothes for me on his own credit.

“Not to trouble you with idle particulars, I carried my tragedy to his lordship’s lodgings, and sent it up along with Mr. Supple’s letter by one of his servants, who desired me, by his lord’s order, to return in a week. I did so, and was admitted to his lordship, who received me very courteously, told me he had perused my play, which he thought, on the whole, was the best coup d’essai he had ever seen; but that he had marked some places in the margin, which he imagined might be altered for the better. I was transported with this reception, and promised (with many acknowledgments of his lordship’s generosity) to be governed solely by his advice and direction.”

“Well, then,” said he, “write another fair copy with the alterations I have proposed, and bring it to me as soon as possible; for I am resolved to have it brought on the stage this winter.” You may be sure I set about this task with alacrity; and although I found his lordship’s remarks much more numerous and of less importance than I expected, I thought it was not my interest to dispute upon trifles with my patron; therefore new modelled it according to his desire in less than a month.

“When I waited upon him with the manuscript, I found one of the actors at breakfast with his lordship, who immediately introduced him to my acquaintance, and desired him to read a scene of my play. This task he performed very much to my satisfaction, with regard to emphasis and pronunciation; but he signified his disgust at several words in every page, which I presuming to defend, Lord Rattle told me, with a peremptory look, I must not pretend to dispute with him, who had been a player these twenty years, and understood the economy of the stage better than any man living. I was forced to submit; and his lordship proposed the same actor should read the whole play in the evening, before some gentlemen of his acquaintance, whom he would convene to his lodgings for that purpose.

“I was present at the reading; and I protest to you, my dear friend, I never underwent such a severe trial in the whole course of my life at that juncture; for although the player might be a very honest man and a good performer, he was excessively illiterate and assuming, and made a thousand frivolous objections, which I was not permitted to answer. However, the piece was very much applauded on the whole; the gentlemen present, who, I understood, were men of fortune, promised to countenance and support it as much as they could; and Lord Rattle, assuring me that he would act the part of a careful nurse to it, desired me to carry it home, and alter it immediately according to their remarks. I was fain to acquiesce in his determination, and fulfilled his injunctions with all the expedition in my power; but, before I could present the new copy, my good friend Mr. Supple had disposed of his property and patent to one Mr. Brayer; so that fresh interest was to be made with the new manager. This task Lord Rattle undertook, having some acquaintance with him, and recommended my performance so strongly that it was received.

“I looked upon myself now as upon the eve of reaping the fruits of all my labour. I waited a few days in expectation of its being put in rehearsal, and wondering at the delay, applied to my worthy patron, who excused Mr. Brayer on account of the multiplicity of business in which he was involved, and bade me beware of teasing the patentee. I treasured up this caution, and exerted my particular three weeks longer; at the end of which his lordship gave me to understand that Mr. Brayer had read my play, and owned it had indubitable merit; but, as he had long been pre-engaged to another author, he could not possibly represent it that season; though, if I would reserve it for the next, and in the interim make such alterations as he had proposed by observations on the margin, I might depend upon his compliance.

“Thunderstruck at this disappointment, I could not, for some minutes, utter one syllable. At length, however, I complained bitterly of the manager’s insincerity in amusing me so long, when he knew from the beginning that he could not gratify my desire. But his lordship reprimanded me for my freedom, said Mr. Brayer was a man of honour, and imputed his behaviour with respect to me nothing else but forgetfulness. And indeed I have had some reason, since that time, to be convinced of his bad memory; for, in spite of appearances, I will not allow myself to interpret his conduct in any other way. Lord Rattle observing me very much affected with my disappointment, offered his interest to bring on my play at the other house, which I eagerly accepting, he forthwith wrote a letter of recommendation to Mr. Bellower, actor and prime minister to Mr. Vandal, proprietor of that theatre, and desired me to deliver it with my tragedy, without loss of time. Accordingly, I hastened to his house, where after having waited a whole hour in the lobby, I was admitted to his presence, and my performance received with great state. He told me he was extremely busy at present, but he would peruse it as soon as possible, and bade me to call again in a week. I took my leave, not a little astonished at the pert and supercilious behaviour of this stage player, who had not treated me with good manners; and began to think the dignity of a poet greatly impaired since the days of Euripides and Sophocles; but all this was nothing in comparison of what I have since observed.

“Well, Mr. Random, I went back at the appointed time, and was told that Mr. Bellower was engaged, and could not see me, I repeated my visit a few days after, and having waited a considerable time was favoured with an audience, during which, he said, he had not as yet read my play. Nettled at this usage, I could contain myself no longer, but, telling him, I imagined he would have paid more deference to Lord Rattle’s recommendation, demanded my manuscript with some expression of resentment. “Ay,” said he in a theatrical tone, “with all my heart.” Then pulling out the drawer of the bureau at which he sat, he took out a bundle, and threw it upon a table that was near him, pronouncing the word, “There!” with great disdain. I took it up, and perceiving with some surprise, that it was a comedy, told him it did not belong to me; upon which he offered another which I also disclaimed. A third was produced, and rejected for the same reason. At length he pulled out a whole bundle, and spread them before me, saying, “There are seven — take which you please — or take them all.” I singled out my own, and went away, struck dumb with admiration at what I had seen — not so much on account of his insolence, as of the number of new plays which from this circumstance I concluded were yearly offered to the stage. You may be sure, I did not fail to carry my complaint to my patron, who did not receive it with all the indignation I expected; but taxed me with precipitation, and told me I must lay my account with bearing with the humours of the players, if I intended to write for the stage. “There is now no other remedy,” he said, “but to keep it till the next season for Mr. Brayer, and alter it at your leisure, in the summer, according to his directions.” I was now reduced to a terrible alternative, either to quit all hopes of my tragedy, from which I had all along promised myself a large share of fortune and reputation, or to encounter eight long months of adversity in preparing for and expecting its appearance. This last penance, painful as it was, seemed most eligible to my reflection at that time, and therefore I resolved to undergo it.

“Why should I tire you with particulars of my consequence? I wrestled with extreme poverty until the time of my probation was expired; and went to my Lord Rattle in order to remind him of my affair, when I understood, to my great concern, that his lordship was just on the point of going abroad, and which was still more unfortunate for me, Mr. Brayer had gone into the country; so that my generous patron had it not in his power to introduce me personally, as he intended: however, he wrote a very strong letter to the manager in my favour, and put him in mind of the promise he had made in behalf of my play.

“As soon as I was certified of Brayer’s return, I went to his house with this letter, but was told he was gone out. I called again next day early in the morning, received the same answer, and was desired to leave my name and business: I did so, and returned the day after, when the servant still affirmed that his master was gone abroad; though I perceived him, as I retired, observing me through a window. Incensed at this discovery, I went to a coffee-house hard by, and, inclosing his lordship’s letter in one from myself, demanded a categorical answer. I sent it to his house by a porter, who returned in a few minutes, and told me Mr. Brayer would be glad to see me at that instant. I obeyed the summons, and was received with such profusion of compliments and apologies, that my resentment immediately subsided, and I was even in pain for the concern which this holiest man showed at the mistake of his servant, who, it seems, had been ordered to deny him to everybody but me. He expressed the utmost veneration for his good and noble friend, Lord Rattle, whom he should always be proud to serve; promised to peruse the play with all dispatch, and give me a meeting upon it: and, as a testimony of his esteem, made me a present of a general order for the season, by which I should be admitted to any part of the theatre. This was a very agreeable compliment to ma, whose greatest pleasure consisted in seeing dramatic performances, and you need not doubt that I often availed myself of my privilege. As I had an opportunity of being behind the scenes when I pleased, I frequently conversed with Mr. Brayer about my play, and asked when he meant to put it into rehearsal; but he had always so much business upon his hands, that it remained with him unopened a considerable while; and I became very uneasy about the season, that wasted apace, when I saw in the papers another new play advertised, which had been written, offered, accepted, and rehearsed, in the compass of three months. You may easily guess how much I was confounded at this event! I own to you that, in the first transports of my anger, I suspected Mr. Brayer of having acted towards me in the most pitiful perfidious manner; and was actually glad at his disappointment in the success of his favourite piece, which, by the strength of art, lingered till the third night, and then died in a deplorable manner. But now that passion has no share in my reflection, I am willing to ascribe his behaviour to his want of memory or want of judgment, which, you know, are natural defects, that are more worthy of compassion than reproach.

“About this time I happened to be in company with a gentlewoman, who, having heard of my tragedy, told me, she was well acquainted with the wife of a gentleman who was very well known to a lady, who had great interest with a person who was intimate with Earl Sheerwit: and that, if I pleased, she would use her influence in my behalf. As this nobleman had the character of a Maecenas in the nation, and could stamp a value upon any work by his sole countenance and approbation, I accepted her offer with eagerness, in full confidence of seeing my reputation established, and my wishes fulfilled in a very short time, provided that I should have the good fortune to please his lordship’s taste. I withdrew the manuscript from the hands of Mr. Brayer, and committed it to the care of this gentlewoman, who laboured so effectually in my interest, that in less than a month it was conveyed to the earl, and in a few weeks after, I had the satisfaction to hear that he had read and approved it very much. Transported with this piece of intelligence, I flattered myself with the hopes of his interesting himself in its favour, but, hearing no more of this matter in three whole months, I began (God forgive me!) to suspect the veracity of the person who brought me the good tidings; for I thought it impossible that a man of his rank and character, who knew the difficulty of writing a good tragedy, and understood the dignity of the work, should read and applaud an essay of this kind, without feeling an inclination to befriend the author, whom his countenance alone could raise above dependence. But it was not long before I found my friend very much wronged by my opinion.

“You must know, that the civilities I had received from Lord Rattle, and the desire he manifested to promote the success of my play, encouraged me to write an account of my bad fortune to his lordship, who condescended so far as to desire, by letter, a young squire of a great estate, with whom he was intimate, to espouse my cause, and, in particular, make me acquainted with one Mr. Marmozet, a celebrated player, who had lately appeared on the stage with astonishing eclat, and bore such sway in the house where he acted, that the managers durst not refuse anything he recommended. The young gentleman, whom Lord Rattle had employed for this purpose, being diffident of his own interest with Mr. Marmozet, had recourse to a nobleman of his acquaintance, who, at his solicitation, was so good as to introduce me to him; and the conversation turning upon my performance, I was not a little surprised, as well as pleased, to hear that Earl Sheerwit had spoken very much in its praise, and even sent Mr. Marmozet the copy, with a message, expressing a desire that he would act in it next season. Nor was this favourite actor backward in commending the piece, which he mentioned with such expressions of regard, that I do not choose to repeat: assuring me that he would appear in it, provided he should be engaged to play at all during the ensuing season. In the meantime, he desired I would give him leave to peruse it in the country, whither he intended to remove next day, that he might have leisure to consider and point out such alterations as might, perhaps, be necessary for its representation; and took my direction, that he might communicate by letter the observations he should make. Trusting to these assurances, and the interest which had been made in my behalf, I hugged myself in the expectation of seeing it not only acted, but acted to the greatest advantage, and this I thought could not fail of recompensing me in ample manner for the anxiety and affliction I had undergone; but six weeks being elapsed, I did not know how to reconcile Mr. Marmozet’s silence with his promise of writing to me in ten days after he set out for the country; however, I was at last favoured with a letter, importing that he had made some remarks on my tragedy, which he would freely impart at meeting, and advised me to put it, without loss of time, into the hands of that manager, who had the best company; as he himself was quite uncertain whether or not he should be engaged that winter. I was a good deal alarmed at this last part of his letter, and advised about it with a friend, who told me, it was a plain indication of Mr. Marmozet’s desire to get rid of his promise; that his pretended uncertainty about acting next winter was no other than a scandalous evasion; for, to his certain knowledge, he was already engaged, or at least in terms, with Mr. Vandal; and that his design was to disappoint me, in favour of a new comedy, which he had purchased of the author, and intended to bring upon the stage for his own advantage.

“In short, my dear sir, this person, who, I must own, is if a sanguine complexion, handled the moral character of Mr. Marmozet with such severity, that I began to suspect him of some particular prejudice, and put myself upon my guard against his insinuations. I ought to crave pardon for this tedious narration of trivial circumstances, which, however interesting they may be to me, must certainly be very dry and insipid to the ear of one unconcerned in the affair. But I understand the meaning of your looks, and will proceed.

“Well, sir, Mr. Marmozet, upon his return to town, treated me with uncommon complaisance, and invited me to his lodgings, where he proposed to communicate his remarks, which, I confess, were more unfavourable than I expected; but I answered his objections, and, as I thought, brought him over to my opinion; for, on the whole, he signified the highest approbation of the performance. In the course of our dispute, I was not a little surprised to find this poor gentleman’s memory so treacherous, as to let him forget what he had said to me, before he went out of town, in regard to Earl Sheerwit’s opinion of my play, which he now professed himself ignorant of; and I was extremely mortified at hearing from his own mouth, that his interest with Mr. Vandal was so very low as to be insufficient of itself to bring a new piece upon the stage. I then begged his advice, and he counselled me to apply to Earl Sheerwit, for a message in my favour to the manager, who would not presume to refuse anything recommended by so great man; and he was so kind as to promise to second this message with all his power. I had immediate recourse to the worthy gentlewoman my friend, already mentioned, who opened the channels of her conveyance with such expedition, that in a few days I had a promise of the message, provided I could assure myself of Mr. Vandal’s being unengaged to any other writer; for his lordship did not choose to condescend so far, until he should understand that there was a probability (at least) of succeeding; at the same time that blessed me with this piece of news, I was startled at another, by the same channel of communication; which was, that Mr. Marmozet, before he advised me to this application, had informed the earl that he had read my play, and found it altogether unfit for the stage. Though I could not doubt the certainty of this intelligence, I believed there was some inapprehension in the case; and, without taking any notice of it, told Mr. Marmozet the answer I had been favoured with; and he promised to ask Mr. Vandal the question proposed. I waited upon him in a day or two, when he gave me to understand, that Mr. Vandal having professed himself free of all engagements, he had put my play into his hands, and represented it as a piece strongly recommended by Earl Sheerwit, who (he assured him) would honour him with a message in its favour; and he desired me to call for an answer at Mr. Vandal’s house in three days. I followed his directions, and found the manager, who being made acquainted with my business, owned that Mr. Marmozet had given him a manuscript play, but denied that he had mentioned Earl Sheerwit’s name. When I informed him of the circumstances of the affair, he said, he had no engagement with any author; that he would read my tragedy forthwith; and did not believe he should venture to reject it in contradiction to his lordship’s opinion, for which he had the utmost veneration, but put it into rehearsal without loss of time. I was so much intoxicated with this encouragement, that I overlooked the mysterious conduct of Mr. Marmozet, and attended the manager at the time appointed, when, to my infinite confusion, he pronounced my play improper for the stage, and rejected it accordingly. As soon as I could recollect myself from the disorder into which this unexpected refusal had thrown me, I expressed a desire of hearing his objections, which were so groundless, indistinct, and unintelligible, that I persuaded myself he had not at all perused the piece, but had been prompted by somebody whose lessons he had not rightly retained. However, I have been since informed that the poor man’s head, which was not naturally very clear, had been disordered with superstition, and that he laboured under the tyranny of a wife, and the terrors of hellfire at the same time.

“Precipitated in this manner from the highest pinnacle of hope to the abyss of despondence, I was ready to sink under the burden of my affliction, and, in the bitterness of my anguish, could not help entertaining some doubts of Mr. Marmozet’s integrity, when I recollected and compared the circumstances of his conduct towards me. I was encouraged in this suspicion by being told that my Lord Sheerwit had spoken of his character with great contempt: and, in particular, resented his insolence in opposing his own taste to that of his lordship, concerning my tragedy. While I hesitated between different opinions of the matter, that friend, who (as I told you before) was a little hot-headed, favoured me with a visit, and, having heard a circumstantial account of the whole affair, could not contain his indignation, but affirmed without ceremony that Mr. Marmozet was the sole occasion of my disappointment; that he acted from first to last with the most perfidious dissimulation, cajoling me with insinuating civilities, while he underhand employed all his art and influence to prejudice the ignorant manager against my performance; that nothing could equal his hypocrisy but his avarice, which engrossed the faculties of his soul so much, that he scrupled not to be guilty of the meanest practices to gratify that sordid appetite; that, in consequence of this disposition, he had prostituted his honour in betraying my inexperience, and in undermining the interest of another author of established reputation, who had also offered a tragedy to the stage, which he thought would interfere with the success of the comedy he had bought, and determined to bring on at all events.

“I was shocked at the description of such a monster, which I could not believe existed in the world, bad as it is, and argued against the asseverations of my friend, by demonstrating the bad policy of such behaviour, which could not fail of entailing infamy upon the author; and the small temptation that a man of Mr. Marmozet’s figure and success could have to consult his interest in such a grovelling manner, which must create contempt and abhorrence of him in his patrons, and effectually deprive him of the countenance and protection he now enjoys in such an eminent degree. He pretended to laugh at my simplicity, and asked, if I knew for which of his virtues he was so much caressed by the people of fashion. “It is not,” said he, “for the qualities of his heart, that this little parasite is invited to the tables of dukes and lords, who hire extraordinary cooks for his entertainment. His avarice they see not, his ingratitude they feel not, his hypocrisy accommodates itself to their humours, and is of consequence pleasing; but he is chiefly courted for his buffoonery, and will be admitted into the choicest parties of quality for his talent of mimicking Punch and his wife Joan, when a poet of the most excellent genius is not able to attract the least regard.” God forbid, Mr. Random, that I should credit assertions that degrade the dignity of our superiors so much, and represent the poor man as the most abject of all beings! No, I looked upon them as the hyperboles of passion; and though that comedy of which he spoke did actually appear, I dare not doubt the innocence of Mr. Marmozet, who, I am told, is as much as ever in favour with the earl; a circumstance that, surely, could not be, unless he had vindicated his character to the satisfaction of his lordship. Pray forgive this long digression, and give me the hearing a little longer; for, thank heaven! I am now near the goal.

“Baffled in all my attempts, I despaired of seeing my play acted; and bethought myself of choosing some employment that might afford a sure, though mean subsistence; but my landlord, to whom I was by this time considerably indebted, and who had laid his account with having his money paid all in a heap from the profits of my third night, could not brook his disappointment, therefore made another effort in my behalf, and, by dint of interest, procured a message from a lady of fashion to Mr. Brayer, who had always professed a great veneration for her, desiring that he would set up my play forthwith, and assuring him that she and all her friends would support it in the performance. To strengthen my interest, she engaged his best actors in my cause; and, in short, exerted herself so much, that it was again received, and my hopes began to revive. But Mr. Brayer, honest man, was so much engrossed by business of vast consequence, though to appearance he had nothing at all to do, that he could not find time to read it until the season was pretty far advanced; and read it he must, for notwithstanding his having perused it before, his memory did not retain one circumstance of the matter.

“At length he favoured it with his attention, and having proposed certain alterations, sent his duty to the lady who patronised it, and promised, on his honour, to bring it on next winter, provided these alterations should be made, and the copy delivered to him before the end of April. With an aching heart, I submitted to these conditions, and performed them accordingly: but fortune owed me another unforeseen mortification; Mr. Marmozet, during the summer, became joint patentee with Mr. Brayer, so that when I claimed performance of articles, I was told he could do nothing without the consent of his partner, who was pre-engaged to another author.

“My condition was rendered desperate by the death of my good friend and landlord, whose executors obtained a judgment against my effects, which they seized, turned me out into the streets naked, friendless, and forlorn: there I was arrested at the suit of my tailor, and thrown into the prison, where I have made shift to live these five weeks on the bounty of my fellow prisoners, who, I hope, are not the worse for the instruction and good offices by which I manifest my gratitude; but in spite of all their charitable endeavours, my life was scarce tolerable, until your uncommon benevolence enabled me to enjoy it with comfort.”

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