SCENE I. — Lady Sneerwell’s House
Lady Sneerwell at her dressing table with LAPPET; Miss Verjuice drinking chocolate
Lady Sneerwell. The Paragraphs you say were all inserted:
Verjuice. They were Madam — and as I copied them myself in a feigned Hand there can be no suspicion whence they came.
Lady Sneerwell. Did you circulate the Report of Lady Brittle’s Intrigue with Captain Boastall?
Verjuice. Madam by this Time Lady Brittle is the Talk of half the Town — and I doubt not in a week the Men will toast her as a Demirep.
Lady Sneerwell. What have you done as to the insinuation as to a certain Baronet’s Lady and a certain Cook.
Verjuice. That is in as fine a Train as your Ladyship could wish. I told the story yesterday to my own maid with directions to communicate it directly to my Hairdresser. He I am informed has a Brother who courts a Milliners’ Prentice in Pallmall whose mistress has a first cousin whose sister is Feme [Femme] de Chambre to Mrs. Clackit — so that in the common course of Things it must reach Mrs. Clackit’s Ears within four-and-twenty hours and then you know the Business is as good as done.
Lady Sneerwell. Why truly Mrs. Clackit has a very pretty Talent — a great deal of industry — yet — yes — been tolerably successful in her way — To my knowledge she has been the cause of breaking off six matches[,] of three sons being disinherited and four Daughters being turned out of Doors. Of three several Elopements, as many close confinements — nine separate maintenances and two Divorces. — nay I have more than once traced her causing a Tete-a-Tete in the Town and Country Magazine — when the Parties perhaps had never seen each other’s Faces before in the course of their Lives.
Verjuice. She certainly has Talents.
Lady Sneerwell. But her manner is gross.
Verjuice. ’Tis very true. She generally designs well[,] has a free tongue and a bold invention — but her colouring is too dark and her outline often extravagant — She wants that delicacy of Tint — and mellowness of sneer — which distinguish your Ladyship’s Scandal.
Lady Sneerwell. Ah you are Partial Verjuice.
Verjuice. Not in the least — everybody allows that Lady Sneerwell can do more with a word or a Look than many can with the most laboured Detail even when they happen to have a little truth on their side to support it.
Lady Sneerwell. Yes my dear Verjuice. I am no Hypocrite to deny the satisfaction I reap from the Success of my Efforts. Wounded myself, in the early part of my Life by the envenomed Tongue of Slander I confess I have since known no Pleasure equal to the reducing others to the Level of my own injured Reputation.
Verjuice. Nothing can be more natural — But my dear Lady Sneerwell There is one affair in which you have lately employed me, wherein, I confess I am at a Loss to guess your motives.
Lady Sneerwell. I conceive you mean with respect to my neighbour, Sir Peter Teazle, and his Family — Lappet. — And has my conduct in this matter really appeared to you so mysterious?
Verjuice. Entirely so.
Lady Sneerwell. [Verjuice.?] An old Batchelor as Sir Peter was[,] having taken a young wife from out of the Country — as Lady Teazle is — are certainly fair subjects for a little mischievous raillery — but here are two young men — to whom Sir Peter has acted as a kind of Guardian since their Father’s death, the eldest possessing the most amiable Character and universally well spoken of[,] the youngest the most dissipated and extravagant young Fellow in the Kingdom, without Friends or caracter — the former one an avowed admirer of yours and apparently your Favourite[,] the latter attached to Maria Sir Peter’s ward — and confessedly beloved by her. Now on the face of these circumstances it is utterly unaccountable to me why you a young Widow with no great jointure — should not close with the passion of a man of such character and expectations as Mr. Surface — and more so why you should be so uncommonly earnest to destroy the mutual Attachment subsisting between his Brother Charles and Maria.
Lady Sneerwell. Then at once to unravel this mistery — I must inform you that Love has no share whatever in the intercourse between Mr. Surface and me.
Lady Sneerwell. His real attachment is to Maria or her Fortune — but finding in his Brother a favoured Rival, He has been obliged to mask his Pretensions — and profit by my Assistance.
Verjuice. Yet still I am more puzzled why you should interest yourself in his success.
Lady Sneerwell. Heavens! how dull you are! cannot you surmise the weakness which I hitherto, thro’ shame have concealed even from you — must I confess that Charles — that Libertine, that extravagant, that Bankrupt in Fortune and Reputation — that He it is for whom I am thus anxious and malicious and to gain whom I would sacrifice — everything —
Verjuice. Now indeed — your conduct appears consistent and I no longer wonder at your enmity to Maria, but how came you and Surface so confidential?
Lady Sneerwell. For our mutual interest — but I have found out him a long time since[,] altho’ He has contrived to deceive everybody beside — I know him to be artful selfish and malicious — while with Sir Peter, and indeed with all his acquaintance, He passes for a youthful Miracle of Prudence — good sense and Benevolence.
Verjuice. Yes yes — I know Sir Peter vows He has not his equal in England; and, above all, He praises him as a MAN OF SENTIMENT.
Lady Sneerwell. True and with the assistance of his sentiments and hypocrisy he has brought Sir Peter entirely in his interests with respect to Maria and is now I believe attempting to flatter Lady Teazle into the same good opinion towards him — while poor Charles has no Friend in the House — though I fear he has a powerful one in Maria’s Heart, against whom we must direct our schemes.
Servant. Mr. Surface.
Lady Sneerwell. Shew him up. He generally calls about this Time. I don’t wonder at People’s giving him to me for a Lover.
Surface. My dear Lady Sneerwell, how do you do to-day — your most obedient.
Lady Sneerwell. Miss Verjuice has just been arraigning me on our mutual attachment now; but I have informed her of our real views and the Purposes for which our Geniuses at present co-operate. You know how useful she has been to us — and believe me the confidence is not ill-placed.
Surface. Madam, it is impossible for me to suspect that a Lady of Miss Verjuice’s sensibility and discernment —
Lady Sneerwell. Well — well — no compliments now — but tell me when you saw your mistress or what is more material to me your Brother.
Surface. I have not seen either since I saw you — but I can inform you that they are at present at Variance — some of your stories have taken good effect on Maria.
Lady Sneerwell. Ah! my dear Verjuice the merit of this belongs to you. But do your Brother’s Distresses encrease?
Surface. Every hour. I am told He had another execution in his house yesterday — in short his Dissipation and extravagance exceed anything I have ever heard of.
Lady Sneerwell. Poor Charles!
Surface. True Madam — notwithstanding his Vices one can’t help feeling for him — ah poor Charles! I’m sure I wish it was in my Power to be of any essential Service to him — for the man who does not share in the Distresses of a Brother — even though merited by his own misconduct — deserves —
Lady Sneerwell. O Lud you are going to be moral, and forget that you are among Friends.
Surface. Egad, that’s true — I’ll keep that sentiment till I see Sir Peter. However it is certainly a charity to rescue Maria from such a Libertine who — if He is to be reclaim’d, can be so only by a Person of your Ladyship’s superior accomplishments and understanding.
Verjuice. ‘Twould be a Hazardous experiment.
Surface. But — Madam — let me caution you to place no more confidence in our Friend Snake the Libeller — I have lately detected him in frequent conference with old Rowland [Rowley] who was formerly my Father’s Steward and has never been a friend of mine.
Lady Sneerwell. I’m not disappointed in Snake, I never suspected the fellow to have virtue enough to be faithful even to his own Villany.
Maria my dear — how do you do — what’s the matter?
Maria. O here is that disagreeable lover of mine, Sir Benjamin Backbite, has just call’d at my guardian’s with his odious Uncle Crabtree — so I slipt out and ran hither to avoid them.
Lady Sneerwell. Is that all?
Verjuice. Lady Sneerwell — I’ll go and write the Letter I mention’d to you.
Surface. If my Brother Charles had been of the Party, madam, perhaps you would not have been so much alarmed.
Lady Sneerwell. Nay now — you are severe for I dare swear the Truth of the matter is Maria heard YOU were here — but my dear — what has Sir Benjamin done that you should avoid him so —
Maria. Oh He has done nothing — but his conversation is a perpetual Libel on all his Acquaintance.
Surface. Aye and the worst of it is there is no advantage in not knowing Them, for He’ll abuse a stranger just as soon as his best Friend — and Crabtree is as bad.
Lady Sneerwell. Nay but we should make allowance[ — ]Sir Benjamin is a wit and a poet.
Maria. For my Part — I own madam — wit loses its respect with me, when I see it in company with malice. — What do you think, Mr. Surface?
Surface. Certainly, Madam, to smile at the jest which plants a Thorn on another’s Breast is to become a principal in the mischief.
Lady Sneerwell. Pshaw — there’s no possibility of being witty without a little [ill] nature — the malice of a good thing is the Barb that makes it stick. — What’s your opinion, Mr. Surface?
Surface. Certainly madam — that conversation where the Spirit of Raillery is suppressed will ever appear tedious and insipid —
Maria. Well I’ll not debate how far Scandal may be allowable — but in a man I am sure it is always contemtable. — We have Pride, envy, Rivalship, and a Thousand motives to depreciate each other — but the male-slanderer must have the cowardice of a woman before He can traduce one.
Lady Sneerwell. I wish my Cousin Verjuice hadn’t left us — she should embrace you.
Surface. Ah! she’s an old maid and is privileged of course.
Madam Mrs. Candour is below and if your Ladyship’s at leisure will leave her carriage.
Lady Sneerwell. Beg her to walk in. Now, Maria[,] however here is a Character to your Taste, for tho’ Mrs. Candour is a little talkative everybody allows her to be the best-natured and best sort of woman.
Maria. Yes with a very gross affectation of good Nature and Benevolence — she does more mischief than the Direct malice of old Crabtree.
Surface. Efaith ’tis very true Lady Sneerwell — Whenever I hear the current running again the characters of my Friends, I never think them in such Danger as when Candour undertakes their Defence.
Lady Sneerwell. Hush here she is —
Enter Mrs. Candour
Mrs. Candour. My dear Lady Sneerwell how have you been this Century. I have never seen you tho’ I have heard of you very often. — Mr. Surface — the World says scandalous things of you — but indeed it is no matter what the world says, for I think one hears nothing else but scandal.
Surface. Just so, indeed, Ma’am.
Mrs. Candour. Ah Maria Child — what[!] is the whole affair off between you and Charles? His extravagance; I presume — The Town talks of nothing else —
Maria. I am very sorry, Ma’am, the Town has so little to do.
Mrs. Candour. True, true, Child; but there’s no stopping people’s Tongues. I own I was hurt to hear it — as I indeed was to learn from the same quarter that your guardian, Sir Peter[,] and Lady Teazle have not agreed lately so well as could be wish’d.
Maria. ’Tis strangely impertinent for people to busy themselves so.
Mrs. Candour. Very true, Child; but what’s to be done? People will talk — there’s no preventing it. — why it was but yesterday I was told that Miss Gadabout had eloped with Sir Filagree Flirt. But, Lord! there is no minding what one hears; tho’ to be sure I had this from very good authority.
Maria. Such reports are highly scandalous.
Mrs. Candour. So they are Child — shameful! shameful! but the world is so censorious no character escapes. Lord, now! who would have suspected your friend, Miss Prim, of an indiscretion Yet such is the ill-nature of people, that they say her unkle stopped her last week just as she was stepping into a Postchaise with her Dancing-master.
Maria. I’ll answer for’t there are no grounds for the Report.
Mrs. Candour. Oh, no foundation in the world I dare swear[;] no more probably than for the story circulated last month, of Mrs. Festino’s affair with Colonel Cassino — tho’ to be sure that matter was never rightly clear’d up.
Surface. The license of invention some people take is monstrous indeed.
Maria. ’Tis so but in my opinion, those who report such things are equally culpable.
Mrs. Candour. To be sure they are[;] Tale Bearers are as bad as the Tale makers — ’tis an old observation and a very true one — but what’s to be done as I said before — how will you prevent People from talking — to-day, Mrs. Clackitt assured me, Mr. and Mrs. Honeymoon were at last become mere man and wife — like [the rest of their] acquaintance — she likewise hinted that a certain widow in the next street had got rid of her Dropsy and recovered her shape in a most surprising manner — at the same [time] Miss Tattle, who was by affirm’d, that Lord Boffalo had discover’d his Lady at a house of no extraordinary Fame — and that Sir Harry Bouquet and Tom Saunter were to measure swords on a similar Provocation. but — Lord! do you think I would report these Things — No, no[!] Tale Bearers as I said before are just as bad as the talemakers.
Surface. Ah! Mrs. Candour, if everybody had your Forbearance and good nature —
Mrs. Candour. I confess Mr. Surface I cannot bear to hear People traduced behind their Backs[;] and when ugly circumstances come out against our acquaintances I own I always love to think the best — by the bye I hope ’tis not true that your Brother is absolutely ruin’d —
Surface. I am afraid his circumstances are very bad indeed, Ma’am —
Mrs. Candour. Ah! I heard so — but you must tell him to keep up his Spirits — everybody almost is in the same way — Lord Spindle, Sir Thomas Splint, Captain Quinze, and Mr. Nickit — all up, I hear, within this week; so, if Charles is undone, He’ll find half his Acquaintance ruin’d too, and that, you know, is a consolation —
Surface. Doubtless, Ma’am — a very great one.
Servant. Mr. Crabtree and Sir Benjamin Backbite.
Lady Sneerwell. Soh! Maria, you see your lover pursues you — Positively you shan’t escape.
Enter Crabtree and Sir Benjamin Backbite
Crabtree. Lady Sneerwell, I kiss your hand. Mrs. Candour I don’t believe you are acquainted with my Nephew Sir Benjamin Backbite — Egad, Ma’am, He has a pretty wit — and is a pretty Poet too isn’t He Lady Sneerwell?
Sir Benjamin. O fie, Uncle!
Crabtree. Nay egad it’s true — I back him at a Rebus or a Charade against the best Rhymer in the Kingdom — has your Ladyship heard the Epigram he wrote last week on Lady Frizzle’s Feather catching Fire — Do Benjamin repeat it — or the Charade you made last Night extempore at Mrs. Drowzie’s conversazione — Come now your first is the Name of a Fish, your second a great naval commander — and
Sir Benjamin. Dear Uncle — now — prithee —
Crabtree. Efaith, Ma’am — ‘twould surprise you to hear how ready he is at all these Things.
Lady Sneerwell. I wonder Sir Benjamin you never publish anything.
Sir Benjamin. To say truth, Ma’am, ’tis very vulgar to Print and as my little Productions are mostly Satires and Lampoons I find they circulate more by giving copies in confidence to the Friends of the Parties — however I have some love-Elegies, which, when favoured with this lady’s smile I mean to give to the Public. [Pointing to Maria.]
Crabtree. ‘Fore Heaven, ma’am, they’ll immortalize you — you’ll be handed down to Posterity, like Petrarch’s Laura, or Waller’s Sacharissa.
Sir Benjamin. Yes Madam I think you will like them — when you shall see in a beautiful Quarto Page how a neat rivulet of Text shall meander thro’ a meadow of margin — ‘fore Gad, they will be the most elegant Things of their kind —
Crabtree. But Ladies, have you heard the news?
Mrs. Candour. What, Sir, do you mean the Report of —
Crabtree. No ma’am that’s not it. — Miss Nicely is going to be married to her own Footman.
Mrs. Candour. Impossible!
Crabtree. Ask Sir Benjamin.
Sir Benjamin. ’Tis very true, Ma’am — everything is fixed and the wedding Livery bespoke.
Crabtree. Yes and they say there were pressing reasons for’t.
Mrs. Candour. It cannot be — and I wonder any one should believe such a story of so prudent a Lady as Miss Nicely.
Sir Benjamin. O Lud! ma’am, that’s the very reason ’twas believed at once. She has always been so cautious and so reserved, that everybody was sure there was some reason for it at bottom.
Lady Sneerwell. Yes a Tale of Scandal is as fatal to the Reputation of a prudent Lady of her stamp as a Fever is generally to those of the strongest Constitutions, but there is a sort of puny sickly Reputation, that is always ailing yet will outlive the robuster characters of a hundred Prudes.
Sir Benjamin. True Madam there are Valetudinarians in Reputation as well as constitution — who being conscious of their weak Part, avoid the least breath of air, and supply their want of Stamina by care and circumspection —
Mrs. Candour. Well but this may be all mistake — You know, Sir Benjamin very trifling circumstances often give rise to the most injurious Tales.
Crabtree. That they do I’ll be sworn Ma’am — did you ever hear how Miss Shepherd came to lose her Lover and her Character last summer at Tunbridge — Sir Benjamin you remember it —
Sir Benjamin. O to be sure the most whimsical circumstance —
Lady Sneerwell. How was it Pray —
Crabtree. Why one evening at Mrs. Ponto’s Assembly — the conversation happened to turn on the difficulty of breeding Nova–Scotia Sheep in this country — says a young Lady in company[, “]I have known instances of it[ — ]for Miss Letitia Shepherd, a first cousin of mine, had a Nova–Scotia Sheep that produced her Twins.[" — "]What!["] cries the old Dowager Lady Dundizzy (who you know is as deaf as a Post), ["]has Miss Letitia Shepherd had twins["] — This Mistake — as you may imagine, threw the whole company into a fit of Laughing — However ’twas the next morning everywhere reported and in a few Days believed by the whole Town, that Miss Letitia Shepherd had actually been brought to Bed of a fine Boy and Girl — and in less than a week there were People who could name the Father, and the Farm House where the Babies were put out to Nurse.
Lady Sneerwell. Strange indeed!
Crabtree. Matter of Fact, I assure you — O Lud! Mr. Surface pray is it true that your uncle Sir Oliver is coming home —
Surface. Not that I know of indeed Sir.
Crabtree. He has been in the East Indies a long time — you can scarcely remember him — I believe — sad comfort on his arrival to hear how your Brother has gone on!
Surface. Charles has been imprudent Sir to be sure[;] but I hope no Busy people have already prejudiced Sir Oliver against him — He may reform —
Sir Benjamin. To be sure He may — for my Part I never believed him to be so utterly void of Principle as People say — and tho’ he has lost all his Friends I am told nobody is better spoken of — by the Jews.
Crabtree. That’s true egad nephew — if the Old Jewry was a Ward I believe Charles would be an alderman — no man more popular there, ‘fore Gad I hear He pays as many annuities as the Irish Tontine and that whenever He’s sick they have Prayers for the recovery of his Health in the synagogue —
Sir Benjamin. Yet no man lives in greater Splendour:— they tell me when He entertains his Friends — He can sit down to dinner with a dozen of his own Securities, have a score Tradesmen waiting in the Anti–Chamber, and an officer behind every guest’s Chair.
Surface. This may be entertainment to you Gentlemen but you pay very little regard to the Feelings of a Brother.
Maria. Their malice is intolerable — Lady Sneerwell I must wish you a good morning — I’m not very well.
Mrs. Candour. O dear she chang’d colour very much!
Lady Sneerwell. Do Mrs. Candour follow her — she may want assistance.
Mrs. Candour. That I will with all my soul ma’am. — Poor dear Girl — who knows — what her situation may be!
[Exit Mrs. Candour.]
Lady Sneerwell. ’Twas nothing but that she could not bear to hear Charles reflected on notwithstanding their difference.
Sir Benjamin. The young Lady’s Penchant is obvious.
Crabtree. But Benjamin — you mustn’t give up the Pursuit for that — follow her and put her into good humour — repeat her some of your verses — come, I’ll assist you —
Sir Benjamin. Mr. Surface I did not mean to hurt you — but depend on’t your Brother is utterly undone —
Crabtree. O Lud! aye — undone — as ever man was — can’t raise a guinea.
Sir Benjamin. And everything sold — I’m told — that was movable —
Crabtree. I was at his house — not a thing left but some empty Bottles that were overlooked and the Family Pictures, which I believe are framed in the Wainscot.
Sir Benjamin. And I’m very sorry to hear also some bad stories against him.
Crabtree. O He has done many mean things — that’s certain!
Sir Benjamin. But however as He is your Brother —
Crabtree. We’ll tell you all another opportunity.
Lady Sneerwell. Ha! ha! ha! ’tis very hard for them to leave a subject they have not quite run down.
Surface. And I believe the Abuse was no more acceptable to your Ladyship than Maria.
Lady Sneerwell. I doubt her Affections are farther engaged than we imagin’d but the Family are to be here this Evening so you may as well dine where you are and we shall have an opportunity of observing farther — in the meantime, I’ll go and plot Mischief and you shall study Sentiments.
SCENE II. — Sir Peter’s House
Enter Sir Peter
Sir Peter. When an old Bachelor takes a young Wife — what is He to expect — ’Tis now six months since Lady Teazle made me the happiest of men — and I have been the most miserable Dog ever since that ever committed wedlock. We tift a little going to church — and came to a Quarrel before the Bells had done ringing — I was more than once nearly chok’d with gall during the Honeymoon — and had lost all comfort in Life before my Friends had done wishing me Joy — yet I chose with caution — a girl bred wholly in the country — who never knew luxury beyond one silk gown — nor dissipation above the annual Gala of a Race–Ball — Yet she now plays her Part in all the extravagant Fopperies of the Fashion and the Town, with as ready a Grace as if she had never seen a Bush nor a grass Plot out of Grosvenor–Square! I am sneered at by my old acquaintance — paragraphed — in the news Papers — She dissipates my Fortune, and contradicts all my Humours — yet the worst of it is I doubt I love her or I should never bear all this. However I’ll never be weak enough to own it.
Rowley. Sir Peter, your servant:— how is ‘t with you Sir —
Sir Peter. Very bad — Master Rowley — very bad[.] I meet with nothing but crosses and vexations —
Rowley. What can have happened to trouble you since yesterday?
Sir Peter. A good — question to a married man —
Rowley. Nay I’m sure your Lady Sir Peter can’t be the cause of your uneasiness.
Sir Peter. Why has anybody told you she was dead[?]
Rowley. Come, come, Sir Peter, you love her, notwithstanding your tempers do not exactly agree.
Sir Peter. But the Fault is entirely hers, Master Rowley — I am myself, the sweetest temper’d man alive, and hate a teasing temper; and so I tell her a hundred Times a day —
Sir Peter. Aye and what is very extraordinary in all our disputes she is always in the wrong! But Lady Sneerwell, and the Set she meets at her House, encourage the perverseness of her Disposition — then to complete my vexations — Maria — my Ward — whom I ought to have the Power of a Father over, is determined to turn Rebel too and absolutely refuses the man whom I have long resolved on for her husband — meaning I suppose, to bestow herself on his profligate Brother.
Rowley. You know Sir Peter I have always taken the Liberty to differ with you on the subject of these two young Gentlemen — I only wish you may not be deceived in your opinion of the elder. For Charles, my life on’t! He will retrieve his errors yet — their worthy Father, once my honour’d master, was at his years nearly as wild a spark.
Sir Peter. You are wrong, Master Rowley — on their Father’s Death you know I acted as a kind of Guardian to them both — till their uncle Sir Oliver’s Eastern Bounty gave them an early independence. Of course no person could have more opportunities of judging of their Hearts — and I was never mistaken in my life. Joseph is indeed a model for the young men of the Age — He is a man of Sentiment — and acts up to the Sentiments he professes — but for the other[,] take my word for’t [if] he had any grain of Virtue by descent — he has dissipated it with the rest of his inheritance. Ah! my old Friend, Sir Oliver will be deeply mortified when he finds how Part of his Bounty has been misapplied.
Rowley. I am sorry to find you so violent against the young man because this may be the most critical Period of his Fortune. I came hither with news that will surprise you.
Sir Peter. What! let me hear —
Rowley. Sir Oliver is arrived and at this moment in Town.
Sir Peter. How! — you astonish me — I thought you did not expect him this month! —
Rowley. I did not — but his Passage has been remarkably quick.
Sir Peter. Egad I shall rejoice to see my old Friend — ’Tis sixteen years since we met — We have had many a Day together — but does he still enjoin us not to inform his Nephews of his Arrival?
Rowley. Most strictly — He means, before He makes it known to make some trial of their Dispositions and we have already planned something for the purpose.
Sir Peter. Ah there needs no art to discover their merits — however he shall have his way — but pray does he know I am married!
Rowley. Yes and will soon wish you joy.
Sir Peter. You may tell him ’tis too late — ah Oliver will laugh at me — we used to rail at matrimony together — but He has been steady to his Text — well He must be at my house tho’ — I’ll instantly give orders for his Reception — but Master Rowley — don’t drop a word that Lady Teazle and I ever disagree.
Rowley. By no means.
Sir Peter. For I should never be able to stand Noll’s jokes; so I’d have him think that we are a very happy couple.
Rowley. I understand you — but then you must be very careful not to differ while He’s in the House with you.
Sir Peter. Egad — and so we must — that’s impossible. Ah! Master Rowley when an old Batchelor marries a young wife — He deserves — no the crime carries the Punishment along with it.
END OF THE FIRST ACT
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59