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Lady S. Oh fie, you are serious-'tis only a little harmless raillery. "Mar. I never can think that harmless which hurts the peace of youth, draws tears from beauty, and gives many a pang to the innocent.
"Lady S. Nay, you must allow that many people of sense and wit have this foible-Sir Benjamin Backbite, for instance.
"Mar. He may, but I confess I never can perceive wit where I see malice.
"Lady S. Fie, Maria, you have the most unpolished way of thinking! It is absolutely impossible to be witty without being a little ill-natured. The malice of a good thing is the barb that makes it stick. I protest now when I say an ill-natured thing, I have not the least malice against the person; and, indeed, it may be of one whom I never saw in my life; for I hate to abuse a friend-but I take it for granted, they all speak as illnaturedly of me.
"Mar. Then you are, very probably, conscious you deserve it-for my part, I shall only suppose myself ill-spoken of, when I am conscious I de. serve it.
"Ser. Mrs. Candour.
« Mar. Well, I'll leave you.
"Lady S. No, no, you have no reason to avoid her, she is good nature itself.
"Mar. Yes, with an artful affectation of candour, she does more injury than the worst backbiter of them all."
Enter MRS. CANDOUR.
“Mrs. Cand. So, Lady Sneerwell, how d'ye do? Maria, child, how dost? Well, who is't you are to marry at last? Sir Benjamin or Clerimont. The town talks of nothing else."
Through the remainder of this scene the only difference in the speeches of Mrs. Candour is, that they abound more than at present in ludicrous names and anecdotes, and occasionally straggle into that loose wordiness, which, knowing how much it weakens the sap of wit, the good taste of Sheridan was always sure to lop away. The same may be said of the greater part of that scene of scandal, which at present occurs in the second Act, and in which all that is now spoken by Lady Teazle, was originally put into the mouths of Sir Christopher Crab and others-the caustic remarks of Sir Peter Teazle being, as well as himself, an after creation.
It is chiefly, however, in Clerimont, the embryo of Charles Surface, that we perceive how imperfect may be the first lineaments, that Time and Taste contrive to mould gradually into beauty. The following is the scene that introduces him to the audience, and no one ought to be disheartened by the failure of a first attempt after reading it. The spiritless language-the awkward introduction of the sister into the plot-the antiquated expedient* of dropping the letter-all, in short, is of the most undramatic and most unpromising description, and as little like what it afterwards turned to as the block is to the statue, or the grub to the butterfly.
"Sir C. This Clerimont is, to be sure, the drollest mortal! he is one of your moral fellows, who does unto others as he would they should do unto him.
"Lady Sneer. Yet he is sometimes entertaining.
"Sir C. Oh hang him, no-he has too much good nature to say a witty thing himself, and is too ill-natured to praise wit in others.
"Sir B. So, Clerimont-we were just wishing for you to enliven us with your wit and agreeable vein.
"Cler. No, Sir Benjamin, I cannot join you.
"Sir B. Why, man, you look as grave as a young lover the first time he is jilted.
"Cier. I have some cause to be grave, Sir Benjamin. A word with you all. I have just received a letter from the country, in which I understand that my sister has suddenly left my uncle's house, and has not since been heard of.
Lady S. Indeed! and on what provocation?
"Cler. It seems they were urging her a little too hastily to marry some country squire that was not to her taste.
"Sir B. Positively I love her for her spirit.
"Lady S. And so do I, and would protect her, if I knew where she was. "Cler. Sir Benjamin, a word with you-(takes him apart.) I think, sir, we have lived for some years on what the world calls the footing of friends. "Sir B. To my great honour, sir.-Well, my dear friend?
"Cler. You know that you once paid your addresses to my sister. My uncle disliked you; but I have reason to think you were not indifferent to her.
This objection seems to have occurred to himself; for one of his memorandums is "Not to drop the letter, but take it from the maid."
"Sir B. I believe you are pretty right there; but what follows? "Cler. Then I think I have a right to expect an implicit answer from you, whether you are in any respect privy to her elopement ?
"Sir B. Why, you certainly have a right to ask the question, and I will answer you as sincerely-which is, that though I make no doubt but that she would have gone with me to the world's end, I am at present entirely ignorant of the whole affair. This I declare to you upon my honour-and, what is more, I assure you my devotions are at present paid to another lady-one of your acquaintance, too.
"Cler. (Aside.) Now, who can this other be whom he alludes to ?-I have sometimes thought I perceived a kind of mystery between him and Maria-but I rely on her promise, though, of late, her conduct to me has been strangely reserved.
"Lady S. Why, Clerimont, you seem quite thoughtful. Come with us; we are going to kill an hour at ombre-your mistress will join us.
"Cler. Madam, I attend you.
"Lady S. (Taking Sir B. aside) Sir Benjamin, I see Maria is now coming to join us do you detain her awhile, and I will contrive that Clerimont should see you, and then drop this letter.
[Exeunt all but Sir. B.
"Mar. I thought the company were here, and Clerimont-
"Mar. Dear Sir Benjamin, I thought you promised me to drop this subject. If I have really any power over you, you will oblige me
"Sir B. Power over me! What is there you could not command me in? Have you not wrought on me to proffer my love to Lady Sneerwell? Yet though you gain this from me, you will not give me the smallest token of gratitude.
"Enter CLERIMONT behind.
"Mar. How can I believe your love sincere, when you continue still to importune me?
"Sir B. I ask but for your friendship, your esteem.
"Mar. That you shall ever be entitled to-then I may depend upon your honour?
"Sir B. Eternally-dispose of my heart as you please.
"Mar. Depend upon it, I shall study nothing but its happiness. I need not repeat my caution as to Clerimont?
"Sir B. No, no, he suspects nothing as yet.
"Mar. For, within these few days, I almost believed that he suspects
"Sir B. Never fear, he does not love well enough to be quick sighted; for just now he taxed me with eloping with his sister.
"Mar. Well, we had now best join the company.
"Cler. So, now-who can ever have faith in woman? D-d deceitful wanton! why did she not fairly tell me that she was weary of my addresses? that, woman-like, her mind was changed, and another fool succeeded.
"Enter LADY SNEERWELL.
"Lady S. Clerimont, why do you leave us? Think of my losing this hand. (Cler. She has no heart)-five mate-(Cler. Deceitful wanton!) spadille.
"Cler. Oh yes, ma'am-'twas very hard.
"Lady S. But you seem disturbed; and where are Maria and Sir Benjamin? I vow I shall be jealous of Sir Benjamin.
"Cler. I dare swear they are together very happy,-but, Lady Sneerwell-you may perhaps often have perceived that I am discontented with Maria. I ask you to tell me sincerely-have you ever perceived it?
“Lady S. I wish you would excuse me.
"Cler. Nay, you have perceived it-I know you hate deceit.
I have said that the other sketch, in which Sir Peter and Lady Teazle are made the leading personages, was written subsequently to that of which I have just given specimens. Of this, however, I cannot produce any positive proof. There is no date on the manuscripts, nor any other certain clue, to assist in deciding the precedency of time between them. In addition to this, the two plans are entirely distinct,-Lady Sneerwell and her associates being as wholly excluded from the one, as Sir Peter and Lady Teazle are from the other; so that it is difficult to say, with certainty, which existed first, or at what time the happy thought occurred of blending all that was best in each into one.
The following are the Dramatis Persona of the second plan:
The first intention was, as appears from his introductory speech, to give Old Teazle the Christian name of Solomon. Sheridan was, indeed,
From this list of the personages we may conclude that the quarrels of Old Teazle and his wife, the attachment between Maria and one of the Plausibles, and the intrigue of Mrs. Teazle with the other, formed the sole materials of the piece, as then constructed.* There is reason too to believe, from the following memorandum, which occurs in various shapes through these manuscripts, that the device of the screen was not yet thought of, and that the discovery was to be effected in a very different manner
"Making love to aunt and niece-meeting wrong in the dark-some one coming-locks up the aunt, thinking it to be the niece."
I shall now give a scene or two from the Second Sketchwhich shows, perhaps, even more strikingly than the other, the volatilising and condensing process which his wit must have gone through, before it attained its present proof and flavour.
"ACT I.-SCENE I.
"OLD TEAZLE, alone.
"In the year 44 I married my first wife; the wedding was at the end of the year-aye, 'twas in December; yet, before Ann. Dom. 45, I repented. A month before we swore we preferred each other to the whole worldperhaps we spoke truth; but, when we came to promise to love each other till death, there I am sure we lied. Well, Fortune owed me a good tu n; in 48 she died. Ah, silly Solomon, in 52 I find thee married again! Here, too, is a catalogue of ills-Thomas, born February 12; Jane born Jan. 6; so they go on to the number of five. However, by death I stand credited but by one. Well, Margery, rest her soul! was a queer creature; when she
most fastidiously changeful in his names. The present Charles Surface was at first Clerimont, then Florival, then Captain Harry Plausible, then Harry Pliant or Pliable, then Young Harrier, and then Frank-while his elder brother was successively Plausible, Pliable, Young Pliant, Tom, and, lastly, Joseph Surface. Trip was originally called Spunge; the name of Snake was in the earlier sketch Spatter, and, even after the union of the two plots into one, all the business of the opening scene with Lady Sneerwell, at present transacted by Snake, was given to a character, afterwards wholly omitted, Miss Verjuice.
This was most probably the "two act Comedy," which he announced to Mr. Linley as preparing for representation in 1775.