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THE WAY OF THE WORLD ̧
MIRABELL is in love with Millamant, an affected fine lady, who returns his affection. Half her fortune will be forfeited if she marries without the consent of her aunt and guardian, old Lady Wishfort, who has planned her marriage with her cousin, Sir Wilfull Witwoud, a coarse country lout, Lady Wishfort's nephew, who has just come up from the country, and is about to travel. His half-brother, Witwoud, a flippant London fop and fool, is another admirer of Millamant's.
Mirabell causes Waitwell, his valet (secretly married to Foible, Lady Wishfort's maid), to personate Sir Rowland, Mirabell's uncle, and offer marriage to Lady Wishfort, intending to threaten to expose her folly unless she withdraws her opposition to his suit. The false Sir Rowland, however, is discovered in time, and Lady Wishfort turns upon Foible for her complicity in the plot. Mirabell then offers, on condition of Lady Wishfort's consenting to his marriage with Millamant, to save the gravely compromised fortune of Lady Wishfort's daughter, Mrs. Fainall, whose husband, Fainall, has quarrelled with her. This he is able to do; Foible is forgiven, and all ends happily.
A Chocolate House.
MIRABELL, FAINALL, BETTY the Waitress, and
Witwoud. Afford me your compassion, my dears! pity me, Fainall! Mirabell, pity me!
Mirabell. I do from my soul.
Fainall. Why, what's the matter?
Witwoud. No letters for me, Betty?
Betty. Did not a messenger bring you one but now, sir?
Betty. No, sir.
Witwoud. That's hard, that's very hard.-A messenger! a mule, a beast of burden! he has brought me a letter from the fool my brother, as heavy as a panegyric in a funeral sermon, or a copy of commendatory verses from one poet to another: and what's worse, 'tis as sure a forerunner of the author, as an epistle dedicatory.
Mirabell. A fool, and your brother, Witwoud? Witwoud. Ay, ay, my half-brother. My half-brother he is, no nearer upon honour.
Mirabell. Then 'tis possible he may be but half a fool. Witwoud. Good, good, Mirabell, le drole! good, good; hang him, don't let 's talk of him. . . Mirabell?
Witwoud. My dear, I ask ten thousand pardons; -gad, I have forgot what I was going to say to you! Mirabell. I thank you heartily, heartily.
Witwoud. No, but prithee excuse me :-my memory is such a memory.
Mirabell. Have a care of such apologies, Witwoud; for I never knew a fool but he affected to complain, either of the spleen or his memory.
Fainall. What have you done with Petulant?
Witwoud. He's reckoning his money-my money it was. I have no luck to-day,
Fainall. You may allow him to win of you at play: for you are sure to be too hard for him at repartee; since you monopolise the wit that is between you, the fortune must be his of course.
Mirabell. I don't find that Petulant confesses the superiority of wit to be your talent, Witwoud.
Witwoud. Come, come, you are malicious now and would breed debates.-Petulant's my friend, and a very honest fellow, and a very pretty fellow, and has a smattering-faith and troth, a pretty deal of an odd sort of a small wit: nay, I'll do him justice. I'm his friend, I won't wrong him neither.—And if he had any judgment in the world, he would not be altogether contemptible. Come, come, don't detract from the merits of my friend. Fainall. You don't take your friend to be over-nicely bred?
Witwoud. No, no, hang him, the rogue has no
manners at all, that I must own:-no more breeding than a bum-bailiff, that I grant you :—'tis pity, faith ; the fellow has fire and life.
Mirabell. What, courage?
Witwoud. Hum, faith I don't know as to that, I can't say as to that-Yes, faith, in a controversy, he'll contradict anybody.
Mirabell. Though 'twere a man whom he feared, or a woman whom he loved.
Witwoud. Well, well, he does not always think before he speaks ;--we have all our failings: you are too hard upon him, you are, faith. Let me excuse him-I can defend most of his faults, except one or two: one he has, that's the truth on 't; if he were my brother, I could not acquit him :-that, indeed, I could wish were otherwise.
Mirabell. Ay marry, what's that, Witwoud?
Witwoud. O, pardon me !—expose the infirmities of my friend!—No, my dear, excuse me there.
Fainall. What, I warrant he 's insincere, or 'tis some such trifle.
Witwoud. No, no; what if he be? 'tis no matter for that, his wit will excuse that a wit should no more be sincere, than a woman constant ; one argues a decay of parts, as t' other of beauty.
Mirabell. May be you think him too positive?
Witwoud. No, no; his being positive is an incentive
to argument, and keeps up conversation.
Fainall. Too illiterate?
Witwoud. That! that 's his happiness :-his want of learning gives him the more opportunities to show his natural parts.
Mirabell. He wants words?
Witwoud. Ay: but I like him for that now; for his want of words gives me very often the pleasure to explain his meaning.
Fainall. He's impudent?
Witwoud. No, that 's not it.
Mirabell. What! he speaks unseasonable truths sometimes, because he has not wit enough to invent an evasion?
Witwoud. Truths! ha! ha ha! no, no; since you will have it,-I mean, he never speaks truth at all -that's all. He will lie like a chambermaid, or a woman of quality's porter. Now that's a fault.
MIRABELL, Mrs. FAINALL, Mrs. MILLAMANT, WITWOUD, and MINCING.
Mirabell. Here she comes, i' faith, full sail, with her fan spread and her streamers out, and a shoal of fools for tenders; ha, no, I cry her mercy!
Mrs. Fainall. I see but one poor empty sculler; and he tows her woman after him.