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THE “Critic” was obviously suggested by the Duke of Buckingham's “Rehearsal,” of which, indeed, it is a very palpable imitation. But in its adaptation to the stage, it is a great improvement on its clever prototype. Although many attempts have since been made in the same vein, it holds its place as the best “ dramatization” of the humors of the green-room and the coulisses. In his double capacity of Manager and Author, Sheridan had abundant opportunities for detecting many of those characteristic absurdities and unrehearsed stage-effects, which he has ingeniously introduced in this piece.
The character of Sir Fretful Plagiary is generally believed to have been intended for Cumberland, author of " The West Indian," and one or two more successful, and some dozen unsuccessful plays. The surmise is probably not unfounded. A day or two after the production of one of Sheridan's Comedies, it is said, a friend met the author, and told him he had seen Cumberland the theatre on its representation. Ah, well,” replied Sheridan, “ what did he say to it ?" He wasn't seen to smile from the beginning to the end of the Comedy," said the friend. “Come, now, that's very ungrateful of him," retorted Sheridan; “ for I went to see his tragedy the other evening, and laughed through the whole of it."
“ Mr. Puff's history of the art and mystery of puffing,” says a London theatrical critic, “ like Touchstone's several degrees of the lie, is humorous and legitimate satire. Sheridan, from his promiscuous and unrestrained intercourse with society, high and low, literary and illiterate, had a perfect knowledge of life in all its singular varieties, from the six-bottle bon vivant to the mere newspaper hack, who dives for a dinner. Our author took the hint of the auctioneers from Foote's farce of The Minor,' (Foote having the original before him in the celebrated Lang
Sir F. Steal!—to be sure they may; and, egad, serve your best thoughts as gypsies do stolen children-disfigure them to make 'em pass for their own.
Sneer. But your present work is a sacrifice to Melpomene, and he, you know, never
Sir F. That's no security. A dexterous plagiarist may do anything.- Why, sir, for aught I know, he might take out some of the best things in my tragedy, and put them into his own comedy.
Sneer. That might be done, I dare be sworn.
Sir F. And then, if such a person gives you the least hint or assistance, he is devilish apt to take the merit of the whole
Dan. If it succeeds.
Sir F. Aye—but with regard to this piece, I think I can hit that gentleman, for I can safely swear he never read it. Sneer. I'll tell
hurt him more-
Sir F. Plague on't now, Sneer, I shall take it ill. I believe you want to take away my character as an author !
Sneer. Then I am sure you ought to be very much obliged to me.
Sir F. Hey !-Sir!
Sir F. But come, now, there must be something that you think might be mended, hey?—Mr. Dangle, bas 110thing struck you?
Dan. Why, faith, it is but an ungracious thing, for the most part, to
Sir F. With most authors it is just so, indeed; they are in general strangely tenacious !-But, for my part, I am never so well pleased as when a judicious critic points out any defect to me ; for what is the purpose of showing a work to a friend, if you don't mean to profit by his opinion ?
Sneer. Very true. · Why, then, though I seriously admire the piece upon the whole, yet there is one small objection; which, if you'll give me leave, I'll mention.
Sir F. Sir, you can't oblige me more.
Sir F. Good God !--you surprise me !-wants incident!
Sneer. Yes; I own I think the incidents are too few.
Sir F. Good God !-Believe me, Mr. Sneer, there is no person for whose judgment I have a more implicit deference. But I protest to you, Mr. Sneer, I am only apprehensive that the incidents are too crowded. My dear Dangle, how does it strike you?
Dan. Really, I can't agree with my friend Sneer. I think the plot quite sufficient; and the four first acts by many degrees the best I ever read or saw in
life. If I might venture to suggest anything, it is that the interest rather falls off in the fifth.
Sir F. Rises, I believe you mean, sir-
Sir F. Yes, yes, you do, upon my soul-it certainly don't fall off, I assure you.—No, no, it don't fall off.
Dan. Now, Mrs. Dangle, didn't you say it struck you in the same light ?
Mrs. D. (R.) No, indeed, I did not-I did not see a fault in any part of the play from the beginning to the end.
Sir F. (Crossing to Mrs. Dangle.] Upon my soul, the women are the best judges after all !
Mrs. D. Or, if I made any objection, I am sure it was to nothing in the piece! but that I was afraid it was, on the whole, a little too long.
Sir F. Pray, madam, do you speak as to duration of time; or do you mean that the story is tediously spun out ?
Mrs. D. Oh, lud ! no. I speak only with reference to the usual length of acting plays.
Sir F. Then I am very happy-very happy, indeed because the play is a short play, a remarkably short play: I should not venture to differ with a lady on a point of taste; but, on these occasions, the watch, you know, is the critic.
Mrs. D. Then, I suppose, it must have been Mr. Dangle's drawling manner of reading it to me.
Sir F. [Crosses, L., and back to R. c.] Oh, if Mr. Dan
gle read it, that's quite another affair!
But I assure you, Mrs. Dangle, the first evening you can spare me three hours and an half, I'll undertake to read you
the whole, from beginning to end, with the Prologue and Epilogue, and allow time for the music between the acts.
Mrs. D. I hope to see it on the stage next. [Exit, R.
Dan. Well, Sir Fretful, I wish you may be able to get rid as easily of the newspaper criticisms as you do of
Sir F. [Crosses, c.] The newspapers !-Sir, they are the most villainous—licentious—abominable_infernalNot that I ever read them! no! I make it a rule never to look into a newspaper.
Dan. (L.) You are quite right-for it certainly must hurt an author of delicate feelings to see the liberties they take.
Sir F. No!-quite the contrary; their abuse is, in fact, the best panegyric–I like it, of all things. An author's reputation is only in danger from their support.
Sneer. (R.) Why, that's true—and that attack now on you the other day
Sir F. What? where ?
Dan. Aye, you mean in a paper of Thursday; it was completely ill-natured, to be sure.
Sir F. Oh, so much the better-Ha! ha! ha!-I wouldn't have it otherwise.
Dan. Certainly, it is only to be laughed at ; for
Sir F. You don't happen to recollect what the fellow said, do you?
Sneer. Pray, Dangle-Sir Fretful seems a little anxious!
Sir F. Oh, lud, no!—anxious—not I-not the least. I -But one may as well hear, you know.
Dan. Sneer, do you recollect !--[Aside.] Make out something
Sneer. I will. [To Dangle.] Yes, yes, I remember perfectly.
Sir F. Well, and pray, now—not that it signifies, what might the gentleman say?
Sneer. Why he roundly asserts that you have not the slightest invention or original genius whatever; though you are the greatest traducer of all other anthors living.
Sir F. Ha! ha! ha! Very good!