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“ Lady S. Ha ! ha! well, for a stroke of luck, it was a very good one. I suppose you find no difficulty in spreading the report on the censorious Miss
"" Spat. None in the world,-she has always been so prudent and reserved, that everybody was sure there was some reason for it at the bottom..
“ Lady S. Yes, a tale of scandal is as fatal to the credit of a prude as a fever to those of the strongest constitutions; but there is a sort of sickly reputation that outlives hundreds of the robuster character of a prude.
“Spat. True, ma'am, there are valetudinarians in reputation as in constitutions; and both are cautious from their appreciation and consciousness of their weak side, and avoid the least breath of air.
“ Lady S. But, Spatter, I have something of greater confidence now to entrust you with. I think I have some claim to your gratitude.
Spat. Have I ever shown myself one moment unconscious of what I owe you
? Lady S. I do not charge you with it, but this is an affair of importance. You are acquainted with my situation, but not all my weaknesses. I was hurt, in the early part of my life, by the envenomed tongue of scandal, and ever since, I own, have no joy but in sullying the fame of others. In this I have found you an apt tool : you have often been the instrument of my revenge, but you must now assist me in a softer passion. A young widow with a little beauty and easy fortune is seldom driven to sue,—yet is that my case.
Of the many you have seen here, have you ever observed me, secretly, to favour one?
“Spat. Egad! I never was more posed : I'm sure you cannot mean that ridiculous old knight, Sir Christopher Crab?
Lady S. A wretch ! his assiduities are my torment. "Spat. Perhaps his nephew, the baronet, Sir Benjamin Backbite, is the happy man?
“ Lady S. No, though he has ill-nature and a good person on his side, he is not to my taste. What think you of Clerimont?t
* This is one of the many instances where the improving effect of revision may be traced. The passage at present stands thus :-“There are valetu. dinarians in reputation as well as constitution, who, being conscious of their weak part, avoid the least breath of air, and supply the want of stamina by care and circumspection.”
+ Afterwards called Florival.
“Spat. How! the professed lover of your ward, Maria ; between whom, too, there is a mutual affection.
“ Lady S. Yes, that insensible, that doater on an idiot, is
“ Spat. But how can you hope to succeed?
“ Lady S. By poisoning both with jealousy of the other, till the credulous fool, in a pique, shall be entangled in my snare. Spat. Have
you taken any measure for it? Lady S. I have. Maria has made me the confidante of Clerimont's love for her: In return, I pretended to entrust her with my affection for Sir Benjamin, who is her warm. admirer. By strong representation of my passion, I prevailed on her not to refuse to see Sir Benjamin, which she once promised Clerimont to do. Į entreated her to plead my cause, and even drew her in to answer Sir Benjamin's letters with the same intent. Of this I have made Clerimont suspicious; but. 'tis you must inflame him to the pitch I want.
“ Spat. But will not Maria, on the least unkindness of Clerimont, instantly come to an explanation ?
Lady S. This is what we must prevent by blinding"
The scene that follows, between Lady Sneerwell and Maria, gives some insight into the use that was to be made of this intricate groundwork ;* and it was, no doubt, the difficulty of managing such an involvement of his personages dramatically, that drove him, luckily for the world, to the construction of a simpler, and, at the same time, more comprehensive plan. He inight also, possibly, have been influenced by the consideration, that the chief movement of this plot must depend upon the jealousy of the lover,--a spring of interest which he had already brought sufficiently into play in "The Rivals."
* The following is his own arrangement of the Scenes of the Second
"Act II. Scene ist. All.—2nd. Lady S. and Mrs. C.-3rd. Lady S.
Em. and Mrs. C. listening.-4th. L. S. and Flor. shows him into the room,-bids him return the other way.-L. S. and Emma.Emma and Florival ;-fits, ---maid. --Emma fainting and sobbing :'Death, don't expose me !-enter maid,-will call out-all come on with cards and smelling-bottleas
“ Lady Sneerwell. Well, my love, have you seen Clerimont to-day?
“ Maria. I have not, nor does he come as often as he used. Indeed, madam, I fear what I have done to serve you has by some means come to his knowledge, and injured me in his opinion. I promised him faithfully never to see Sir Benjamin. What confidence can he ever have in me, if he once finds I have broken my word to him ?
“ Lady S. Nay, you are too grave. If he should suspect anything, it will always be in my power to undeceive him.
“ Mar. Well, you have involved me in deceit, and I must trust to you to extricate me.
“Lady S. Have you answered Sir Benjamin's last letter in the manner I wished ?
“ Mar. I have written exactly as you desired me; but I wish you would give me leave to tell the whole truth to Clerimont at once. There is a coldness in his manner of late, which I can no ways account for.
“ Lady S. (aside). I'm glad to find I have worked on him so far.–Fie, Maria ! have you so little regard for me ? would you put me to the shame of being known to love a man who disregards me? Had you entrusted me with such a secret, not a husband's power should have forced it from me. But, do as you please. Go, forget the affection I have shown you : forget that I have been as a mother to you, whom I found an orphan. Go, break through all' ties of gratitude, and expose me to the world's derision, to avoid one sullen hour from a moody lover.
“Mar. Indeed, madam, you wrong me; and you who know the apprehension of love should make allowance for its weakness. My love for Clerimont is so great
Lady S. Peace; it cannot exceed mine. “Mar. For Sir Benjamin, perhaps not, ma'am-and, I am sure, Clerimont has as sincere an affection for me.
Lady S. Would to heaven I could say the same ! “Mar. Of Sir Benjamin :- I wish so too, ma'am. But I am sure you would be extremely hurt, if, in gaining your wishes, you were to injure me in the opinion of Clerimont.
“ Lady S. Undoubtedly; I would not for the world-Simple fool! (aside.) But my wishes, my happiness depend on youfor, I doat so on the insensible, that it kills me to see him so attached to you. Give me but Clerimont, and
“Mar. Clerimont !
“ Lady S. Sir Benjamin, you know I mean. Is he not attached to you ? am I not slighted for you? Yet, do I bear any enmity to you, as my rival? I only request your friendly intercession, and you are so ungrateful, you would deny me that.
“ Mar. Nay, madam, have I not done everything you wished? For you, I have departed from truth, and contaminated my mind with falsehood—what could I do more to serve you?
“ Lady S. Well, forgive me, I was too warm ; I know you would not betray me. I expect Sir Benjamin and his uncle this morning—why, Maria, do you always leave our little parties?
"Mar. I own, madam, I have no pleasure in their conversation. I have myself no gratification in uttering detraction, and therefore none in hearing it.
“ Laity 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 ill-naturedly 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 deserve it.
“ Enter Servant. “ 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.
This objection seems to have occurred to himself; for one of his memo. randums is—“Not to drop the letter, but take it from the maid."