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has a free tongue and a bold invention; but her colouring is too dark, and het outlines often extravagant. She wants that delicacy of tint and mellow
which distinguish your ladyship’s scandal.
Lady S. Ah! you are partial, Snake.
Snake. Not in the least- every body allows that Lady Sneerwell can do more with a word or a look tha
many can do with the most laboured detail, even when they happen to have a little truth on their side to support it.
Lady S. Yes, my dear Snake; and I am no hypocrite to deny the satisfaction I reap from the success of my efforts. [They rise.] 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 reputation.
Snake. Nothing can be more natural. But, 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 S. I conceive you mean with respect to my neighbour, Sir Peter Teazle, and his family ?
Snake. I do. 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 character: the former, an avowed admirer of your ladyship’s, and apparently your favorite: the latter attached to Maria, Sir Peler's ward, and confessedly beloved by her. Now, on the face of these circumstances, it is uiterly unaccountable to me, why you, the widow of a city knight, with a good jointure, should not close with the passion of a man of such character and expectalions 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 S. Then at once to unravel this mystery, I must inform you, that love has no share whatever in the intercourse between Mr. Surface and me.
Lady S. 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.
Snake. Yet still I am more puzzled why you should interest yourself in his success.
Lady S. Heavens! how dull you are! Cannot you surmise the weakness which I hitherto, through shame, have concealed even from you ? Must I confess, that Charles, that libertine, that extravagant, that bank. rupt in fortune and reputation, that he it is for whom I'm thus anxious and malicious, and to gain whom I would sacrifice every thing?
Snake. Now, indeed, your conduct appears consistent; but how came you and Mr. Surface so confidential?
Lady S. For our mutual interest. I have found him out a long time since. I know him to be artful, selfish, and malicious-in short, a sentimental knave; while, with Sir Peter, and indeed with all his acquaintance, he passes for a youthful miracle of prudence, good sense, and benevolence.
Snake. Yes: yet Sir Peter vows he has not his equal in England-and above all, he praises him as a man of sentiment.
Lady S. True-and with the assistance of his sentiment and hypocrisy, he has brought him entirely into his interest with regard to Maria ; 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.
Lady S. Shew him up. [Exit Scrvant.] He generally calls about this time. I don't wonder at people giving him to me for a lover.
Enter Joseph SURFACE.
Joseph S. My dear Lady Sneerwell, how do you do to-day? Mr. Snake, your most obedient.
Lady S. Snake has just been rallying me on our mutual attachment; but I have informed him of our real views. You know how useful he has been to us, and, believe me, the confidence is not ill-placed.
Joseph S. Madam, it is impossible for me to suspect å man of Mr. Snake's sensibility and discernment.
Lady S. Well, well, no coinpliments now; but tell me when you saw your mistress, Maria-or, what is more material to me, your brother.
Joseph S. I have not seen either since I left you; but I can inform you that they never meet. Some of your stories have taken a good effect on Maria.
Lady S. Ah! my dear Snake! the merit of this belongs to you: but do your brother's distresses increase ?
Joseph S. Every hour. Iam told he has had another execution in the house yesterday. In short, his dissipalion and extravagance exceed any thing I ever heard of.
Lady S. Poor Charles!
Joseph S. True, madam; notwithstanding his vices, one cannot help feeling for him. Poor Charles! I'm sure I wish it were in my power to be of any essential service to him; for the man who does not feel for the distress: s of a friend, even though merited by his own misconduct, deserves
Lady S. O lud! you are going to be moral, and forget that you are among friends.
Joseph Š. Egad, that's true!—I'll keep that sentiment till I see Sir Peter;-however, it is certainly a charily to rescue Maria from such a libertine, who, if he is to be reclaimed, can be so only by one of your Iadyship's superior accomplishments and understanding.
Snake. I believe, Lady Sneerwell, here's company coming: I'll go and copy the letter I mentioned to you.Mr. Surface, your most obedient.
Joseph S. Sir, your very devoted. [Exit Snake.]
Lady Sneerwell, I am very sorry you have put any farther confidence in that fellow.
Lady S. Why so ?
Joseph S. I have lately detected him in frequent conference with old Rowley, who was formerly my father's steward, and has never, you know, been a friend of mine.
Lady S. And do you think he would betray us?
Joseph S. Nothing more likely :- take my word for't, Lady Sneerwell, that fellow hasn't virtue enough to be faithful even to his own villany.-Ah ! Maria!
Enter MARIA. Lady S. Maria, my dear, how do you do?What's the maller?
Maria. Oh! there is that disagreeable lover of mine, Sir Benjamin Backbite, has just called at my guardian's, with his odious uncle, Crabtree; so I slipp'd out, and ran hither to avoid them.
Lady S. Is that all?
Joseph S. If my brother Charles had been of the parly, madam, perhaps you would not have been so much alarmed.
Lady S. Nay, now you are severe; for I dare swear the truth of the malter 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 'tis for what he has said: his conversation is a perpetual libel on all his acquaintance.
Joseph S. Ay, and the worst of it is, there is no advantage in not knowing him-for he'll abuse a stranger just as soon as his best friend; and his uncle Crabirce's as bad.
Lady S. Nay, but we should make allowance; Sir Benjamin is a wit and a poet.
Maria. For my part, I own, inadam, wit loses ils respect with me, when I see it in company with malice. --What do you think , Mr. Surface?
Joseph S. Certainly, madam ; to smile at the jest which planls a thorn in another's brcast is to become a principal in the mischief.
Lady S. Pshaw !- there's no possibility of being witly without a little ill-nature: the malice of a good thing is the barb that makes it stick.–What's your opinion, Mr. Surface?
Joseph S. To be sure, 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 contemptible. We have pride, envy, rivalship, and a thousand little motives to depreciate each other; but the male slanderer must have the cowardice of a woman before he can traduce one.
Enter SERVANT. Serv. Madam, Mrs. Candour is below, and if your ladyship's at leisure, will leave her carriage.
Lady S. Beg her to walk in.-[Exit Šervant.] Now, Maria, however, here is a character to your taste; for though Mrs. Candour is a little talkative, every body 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.
Joseph S. I 'faith that's true, Lady Sncerwell: whenever I hear the current running against the characters of my friends, I never think them in such danger as when Candour undertakes their defence. Lady S. Hush !-here she is!
Enter MRS. CANDOUR. Mrs. Can. My dear Lady Sneerwell, how have you been this century?- Mr. Surface, what news do you hear?-though indeed it is no matter, for I think one hears nothing else but scandal.
Joseph S. Just so, indeed, ma'am.