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writing “The Duenna ;" and his father-in-law, Mr. Linley, assisted in selecting and composing the music for it.
On the 21st of November, 1775, “The Duenna” was performed at Covent Garden with the greatest success. Sixtythree nights was the career of “The Beggars' Opera ;" but “The Duenna” was acted no less than seventy-five times during the season, the only intermissions being a few days at Christmas, and the Fridays in every week ;--the latter on account of Leoni, who, being a Jew, could not act on those nights.
The intrigue of this piece (which is mainly founded upon an incident borrowed from “The Country Wife” of Wycherly) is constructed and managed with considerable adroitness, having just material enough to be wound out into three acts, without being encumbered by too much intricacy, or weakened by too much extension. It does not appear, from the rough copy, that any material change was made in the plan of the work, as it proceeded. Carlos was originally meant to be a Jew, and is called “Cousin Moses” by Isaac, in the first sketch of the dialogue ; but, possibly, from the consideration that this would apply too personally to Leoni, who was to perform the character, its designation was altered. The scene in the second act, where Carlos is introduced by Isaac to the Duenna, stood, in its original state, as follows :
“ Isaac. Moses, sweet coz, I thrive, I prosper.
“ Isaac. Oh, ma'am: he's expressing his raptures at such charms as he never sa v before.
“ dioses. Ay; such as I never saw before indeed. (Asiile.)
"Duenna. You are very obliging, gentlemen; but, I dare say, sir, your friend is no stranger to the influence of beauty. I doubt not but he is a lover himself.
" Jiuses. Alas! madam, there is now but one woman living,
whom I have any love for, and truly, ma'am, you resemble her wonderfully.
“ Duenna. Well, sir, I wish she may give you her hand as speedily as I shall mine to your friend.
“ Moses. Me her hand !-O Lord, ma'am—she is the last woman in the world I could think of marrying.
“ Duenna. What then, sir, are you comparing me to some wanton-some courtesan?
* Isaac. Zounds! he durstn't.
“ Moses. Oh, dear madam, no-it was my mother I meant, 13 I hope to be saved. “ Isaac. Oh the blundering villain! (Aside.) Duenna. How, sir-am I so like your mother?
Isaac. Stay, dear madam-my friend meantthat you put him in mind of what his mother was when a girl — didn't you, Aloses ?
“ Moses. Oh yes, madam, my mother was formerly a great beauty, a great toast, I assure you ;-and when she married my father about thirty years ago, as you may perhaps remember, ma'am
“ Duenna. I, sir! I remember thirty years ago !
“ Isaac. Oh, to be sure not, ma'am—thirty years !-no, no it was thirty months he said, ma'am—wasn't it, Moses?
“Moses. Yes, yes, ma'am-thirty months ago, on her marriage with my father, she was, as I was saying, a great beauty ;-but catching cold, the year afterwards, in child-bed of your humble servant
“ Duenna. Of you, sir !—and married within these thirty Hionths'?
“ Isaac. Oh the devil ! he has made himself out but a year old !-Come, Moses, hold your tongue !—You must excuse him, ma'am—he means to be civil—but he is a poor simple fellow-ain't you, Moses?
“ Moses. 'Tis true, indeed, ma'am,” &c. &c. &c.
The greater part of the humour of Moses here was afterwards transferred to the character of Isaac, and it will be perceived that a few of the points are still retained by him.
The wit of the dialogue, except in one or two instances, is of that accessible kind which lies near the surface—which is
produced without effort, and may be enjoyed without wonder He had not yet searched his fancy for those curious fossils of thought, which make “ The School for Scandal” such a rich museum of wit. Of this precious kind, however, is the description of Isaac's neutrality in religion—"like the blank leaf between the Old and New Testament.” As an instance, too, of the occasional abuse of this research, which led him to mistake laboured conceits for fancies, may be mentioned the far-fetched comparison of serenaders to Egyptian embalmers, “ extracting the brain through the ears.”
In the speech of Lopez, the servant, with which the opera opens, there
are, in the original copy, some humorous points, which appear to have fallen under the pruning knife, but which are not unworthy of being gathered up here :
"A plague on these haughty damsels, say I :-when they play their airs on their whining gallants, they ought to consider that we are the chief sufferers, we have all their ill-humours at second-hand. Donna Louisa's cruelty to my master usually converts itself into blows, by the time it gets to me :-she can. frown me black and blue at any time, and I shall carry the marks of the last box on the ear she gave him to my grave. Nay, if she smiles on any one else, I am the sufferer for it :-if she says a civil word to a rival, I am a rogue and a scoundrel ; and, if she sends him a letter, my back is sure to pay the postage."
In the scene between Ferdinand and Jerome (act ii. scene 3) the following lively speech of the latter was left out :
“ Ferdin. but he has never sullied his honour, which, with his title, has outlived his means.
"Jerome. Have they? More shame for them ! What business have honour or titles to survive, when property is extinct ? Nobility is but as a helpmate to a good fortune, and, like a Japanese wife, should perish on the funeral pile of the estate !"
In the first act, too (scene 3), where Jerome abuses the
Duenna, there is an equally unaccountable omission of a sentence, in which he compares the old lady's face to " parchment, on which Time and Deformity have engrossed their titles.”
Though some of the poetry of this opera is not much above that ordinary kind to which music is so often doomed to be wedded-making up by her own sweetness for the dulness of her helpmate-by far the greater number of the songs are full of beauty, and some of them may rank among the best models of lyric writing. The verses
“Had I a heart for falsehood framed," notwithstanding the stiffness of this word “framed," and one or two other slight blemishes, are not unworthy of living in recollection with the matchless air to which they are adapted.
There is another song, less known from being connected with less popular music, which, for deep impassioned feeling and natural eloquence, has not, perhaps, its rival, through the whole range of lyric poetry. As these verses are generally omitted from “The Duenna," I feel myself abundantly authorized in citing them here, even if their beauty were not a sufficient excuse for recalling them, under any circumstances, to the recollection of the reader:
“Ah, cruel maid, how hast thou chang'd
The temper of my mind !
Becomes, like thee, unkind.
I once ambitious was ;
And gave my youth applause.
Yet vain their taunts on me;
To gain one smile from thee.
My weakness or my woe ;
'Tis thou hast made me so.
“But days, like this, with doubting curst,
I will not long endure-
And likewise know my cure.
“If, false, her vows she dare renounce,
That instant ends my pain ;
That cannot hate again.”
In comparing this poem with the original words of the air to which it is adapted (Parnell's pretty lines, “My days have been so wondrous free"), it will be felt, at once, how wide is the difference between the cold and graceful effusions of taste, and the fervid bursts of real genius-between the delicate product of the conservatory, and the rich child of the sunshine.
In the song beginning "Friendship is the bond of reason," the third verse was originally thus :
“And should I cheat the world and thee,
One smile from her I love to win,
A sacrifice and not a sin."
To the song
“Give Isaac the nymph," there were at first two more verses, which, merely to show how judicious was the omission of them, are here transcribed :
“To one thus accomplish'd I durst speak my mind,
Should I prate of her charms, and tell of my love;
Among literary piracies or impostures, there are few more audacious than the Dublin edition of “The Duenna"-in which, though the songs are given accurately, an entirely new dialogue is substituted for that of Sheridan, and his gold, as in