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Thus at our friends we laugh, who feel the dart;
ACT I. SCENE I.--LADY SNEERWELL'S Dressing-room. LADY SNEERWELL discovered at her toilet; SNAKE drinking choco
late. Lady Sneer. The paragraphs, you say, Mr. Snake, were all inserted ?
Snake. They were, madam ; and, as I copied them myself in: a feigned hand, there can be no suspicion whence they came.
Lady Sneer. Did you circulate the report of Lady Brittle's intrigue with Captain Boastall ?
Snake. That's in as fine a train as your ladyship could wish. In the common course of things, I think it must reach Mrs. Clackitt's ears within four-and-twenty hours; and then, you know, the business is as good as done.
Lady Sneer. Why, truly, Mrs. Clackitt has a very pretty talent, and a great deal of industry.
Snoke. True, madam, and has been tolerably, successful in her day. To my knowledge, she has been the cause of six matches being broken off, and three sons being disinherited; of four forced elopements, and as many close confinements; nine separate maintenances, and two divorces. Nay, I have more than once traced her causing a tête-à-tête in the “ Town and Country Magazine," when the parties, perhaps, had never seen each other's face before in the course of their lives.
Lady Sneer. She certainly has talents, but her manner is gross.
Snake. 'Tis very true. She generally designs well, has a free
tongue and a bold invention ; but her colouring is too dark, and her outlines often extravagant. She wants that delicacy of tint, and mellowness of sneer, which distinguish your ladyship's scandal. Lady Sneer. You are partial, Snake.
Snake. Not in the least ; everybody allows that Lady Sneerwell can do more with a word or 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 Sneer. Yes, my dear Snake; and 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 ņo 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 Sneer. 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, 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, the widow of a city knight, with a good 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 Sneer. Then, at once to unravel this mystery, I must inform you that love has no share whatever in the intercoure between Mr. Surface and me.
Snake. No! "Lady Sneer. His real attachment is to Maria, or her fortune; but, finding in his brother a favoured rival, he lias been obliged to mask his pretensions, and profit by my assistance.
Snake. Yet still I am more puzzted why you should interest yourself in his success.
Lady Sneer. Heavens! how dull you are! Cannot you surmise the weakness which I hitherto, through shame, have con
ccaled 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 ?
Snuke. Now, indeed, your conduct appears consistent: but how came you and Mr. Surface so confidential ?
Lady Sneer. 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 Sneer. True; and with the assistance of his sentiment and hypocrisy he has brought Sir Peter 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.
Enter SERVANT. Ser. Mr. Surfac?.
Lady Snecr. Show him up.—[Exit SERVANT.] He generally calls about this time. I don't wonder at people giving him to me for a lover.
Enter JOSEPH SURFACE. Jos. Surf. My dear Lady Sneerwell, how do you do to-day? Mr. Snake, your most obedient.
Lady Sneer. 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.
Jos. Surf. Madam, it is impossible for me to suspect a man of Mr. Snake's sensibility and discernment.
Laity Sreer. Well, well, no compliments now; but tell me when you saw your mistress, Maria-or, what is more material to me, your brother.
Jos. Surf. 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 Sneer. Ah, my dear Snake! the merit of this belongs
But do your brother's distresses increase ? Jos. Surf. Every hour. I am told he has had another execution in the house yesterday. In short, his dissipation and extravagance exceed anything I have ever heard of.
Lady Sneer. Poor Charles !
Jos. Surf. True, madam; notwithstanding his vices, one can't help feeling for him. Poor Charles ! I'm sure I wish i: were 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 Sneer. O Lud! you are going to be moral, and forget that you are among friends.
Jos. Surf. 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 reclaimed, can be so only by a person of your ladyship'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.
Jos. Surf. Sir, your very devoted.—[Exit SNAKE.] Lady Sneerwell, I am very sorry you have put any farther confidence in that fellow.
Lady Sneer. Why so ?
Jos. Surf. 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 Sneer. And do you think he would betray us?
Jos. Surf. 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 Sneer. Maria, 'my dear, how do you do? What's the matter ?
Mar. Oh ! there's that disagreeable lover of mine, Sir Benjamin Backbite, has just called at my guardian's, with his odious uncle, Crabtree ; so I slipped out, and ran hither to avoid them.
Lady Sneer. Is that all ? Jos. Surf. If my brother Charles had been of the party, madam, perhaps you would not have been so much alarmed.
Lady Sneer. 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 ?
Mar. Oh, he has done nothing—but 'tis for what he has said: his conversation is a perpetual libel on all his acquaintance.
Jos. Surf. 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's as bad.
Lady Sneer. Nay, but we should make allowance ; Sir Benjamin is a wit and a poet.
Mar. 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?
Jos. Surf. Certainly, madam; to smile at the jest which plants a thorn in another's breast is to become a principal in the mischief.
Lady Sneer. Psha ! 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?
Jos. Surf. To be sure, madam ; that conversation, where the spirit of raillery is suppressed, will ever appear tediousand insipid.
Mar. 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 motives to depreciate each other, but the male slanderer must have the cowardice of a woman before he can traduce one.
Re-enter SERVANT. Ser. Madam, Mrs. Candour is below, and, if your ladyship's at leisure, will leave her carriage.
Lady Sneer. Beg her to walk in.-[Exit SERVANT.] Now, Maria, here is a character to your taste; for, though Mrs. Candour is a little talkative, everybody allows her to be the bestnatured and best sort of woman.
Mar. Yes, with a very gross affectation of good nature and benevolence, she does more mischief than the direct malice of old Crabtree.
Jos. Surf. I'faith that's true, Lady Sneerwell : 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 Sneer. 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.
Jos. Surf. Just so, indeed, ma'am.
Mrs. Can. Oh, Maria! child, --what, is the whole affair off between you and Charles ? His extravagance, I presume-the town talks of nothing else.