LADY SNEERWELL. 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 no pleasure equal to the reducing others to the level of my own injured 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.
SIR PETER. When an old bachelor marries a young wife, what is he to expect? ‘Tis now six months since Lady Teazle made me the happiest of men—and I have been the most miserable dog ever since! We tifted a little going to church, and fairly quarrelled before the bells had done ringing. I was more than once nearly choked with gall during the honeymoon, and had lost all comfort in life before my friends had done wishing me joy. Yet I chose with caution—a girl bred wholly in the country, who never knew luxury beyond one silk gown, nor dissipation above the annual gala of a race ball. Yet now she plays her part in all the extravagant fopperies of the fashion and the town, with as ready a grace as if she had never seen a bush or a grass-plot out of Grosvenor Square! I am sneered at by all my acquaintance, and paragraphed in the newspapers. She dissipates my fortune, and contradicts all my humours; yet, the worst of it is, I doubt I love her, or I should never bear all this. However, I'll never be weak enough to own it.
ROWLEY. You know, Sir Peter, I have always taken the liberty to differ with you on the subject of these two young gentlemen. I only wish you may not be deceived in your opinion of the elder. For Charles, my life on't! he will retrieve his errors yet. Their worthy father, once my honoured master, was, at his years, nearly as wild a spark; yet, when he died, he did not leave a more benevolent heart to lament his loss.
SIR PETER. You are wrong, Master Rowley. On their father's death, you know, I acted as a kind of guardian to them both, till their uncle Sir Oliver's liberality gave them an early independence: of course, no person could have more opportunities of judging of their hearts, and I was never mistaken in my life. Joseph is indeed a model for the young men of the age. He is a man of sentiment, and acts up to the sentiments he professes; but for the other, take my word for't, if he had any grain of virtue by descent, he has dissipated it with the rest of his inheritance. Ah! my old friend, Sir Oliver, will be deeply mortified when he finds how part of his bounty has been misapplied.
LADY TEAZLE. My extravagance! I'm sure I'm not more extravagant than a woman of fashion ought to be.
SIR PETER. No, no, madam, you shall throw away no more sums on such unmeaning luxury. 'Slife! to spend as much to furnish your dressingroom with flowers in winter as would suffice to turn the Pantheon into a greenhouse, and give a fête champêtre at Christmas.
LADY TEAZLE. And am I to blame, Sir Peter, because flowers are dear in cold weather? You should find fault with the climate, and not with me. For my part, I'm sure, I wish it was spring all the year round, and that roses grew under our feet!
MRS. CANDOUR. Now, I'll die, but you are so scandalous, I'll forswear your society.
LADY TEAZLE. What's the matter, Mrs. Candour?
MRS. CANDOUR. They'll not allow our friend Miss Vermillion to be handsome.
LADY SNEERWELL. O surely she is a pretty woman.
CRABTREE. I am very glad you think so, ma’am.
MRS. CANDOUR. She has a charming fresh colour.
LADY TEAZLE. Yes, when it is fresh put on.
MRS. CANDOUR. O fie! I'll swear her colour is natural: I have seen it come and go.
LADY TEAZLE. I dare swear you have, ma'am: it goes off at night, and comes again in the morning.
SIR BENJAMIN. True, ma'am, it not only comes and goes, but, what's more—egad, her maid can fetch and carry it!
MRS. CANDOUR. Ha! ha! ha! how I hate to hear you talk so! But surely now, her sister is, or was, very handsome.
SIR PETER. Madam, madam, I beg your pardon—there’s no stopping these good gentlemen's tongues. —But when I tell you, Mrs. Candour, that the lady they are abusing is a particular friend of mine, I hope you'll not take her part.
LADY SNEERWELL. Ha! ha! ha! Well said, Sir Peter! but you are a cruel creature, —too phlegmatic yourself for a jest, and too peevish to allow wit in others.
SIR PETER. Ah! madam, true wit is more nearly allied to good-nature than your ladyship is aware of.
LADY TEAZLE. True, Sir Peter: I believe they are so near akin that they can never be united.
SIR BENJAMIN. Or rather, madam, suppose them to be man and wife, because one seldom sees them together.
JOSEPH. A curious dilemma my politics have run me into! I wanted, at first, only to ingratiate myself with Lady Teazle, that she might not be my enemy with Maria; and I have, I don't know how, become her serious lover. Sincerely I begin to wish I had never made such a point of gaining so very good a character, for it has led me into so many cursed rogueries that I doubt I shall be exposed at last.
SIR PETER. Wild!—Ah! my old friend, I grieve for your disappointment there; he’s a lost young man, indeed. However, his brother will make you amends. Joseph is, indeed, what a youth should be. Everybody in the world speaks well of him.
SIR OLIVER. I am sorry to hear it; he has too good a character to be an honest fellow. Everybody speaks well of him!—Pshaw! then he has bowed as low to knaves and fools as to the honest dignity of genius and virtue.
SIR PETER. What, Sir Oliver! do you blame him for not making enemies?
SIR OLIVER. Yes, if he has merit enough to deserve them.
SIR PETER. Well, well—you’ll be convinced when you know him. ’Tis ediﬁcation to hear him converse; he professes the noblest sentiments.
SIR OLIVER. Oh, plague of his sentiments! If he salutes me with a scrap of morality in his mouth, I shall be sick directly. —But, however, don’t mistake me, Sir Peter; I don’t mean to defend Charles’s errors: but, before I form my judgment of either of them, I intend to make a trial of their hearts; and my friend Rowley and I have planned something for the purpose.
SIR OLIVER. Sir, I understand you have lately had great dealings with my nephew, Charles.
MOSES. Yes, Sir Oliver, I have done all I could for him; but he was ruined before he came to me for assistance.
SIR OLIVER. That was unlucky, truly; for you have had no opportunity of showing your talents.
MOSES. None at all; I hadn't the pleasure of knowing his distresses till he was some thousands worse than nothing.
SIR OLIVER. Unfortunate, indeed! –But I suppose you have done all in your power for him, honest Moses?
CHARLES. Not much, indeed; unless you have a mind to the family pictures. I have got a room full of ancestors above, and if you have a taste for paintings, egad', you shall have 'em a bargain.
SIR OLIVER. Hey! what the devil! sure, you wouldn't sell your forefathers, would you?
CHARLES. Every man of them to the best bidder.
SIR OLIVER. What! your great-uncles and aunts?
CHARLES. Ay, and my great-grandfathers and grandmothers too.
SIR OLIVER. Now I give him up. [Aside.] What the plague, have you no bowels for your own kindred? Odd's life, do you take me for Shylock in the play, that you would raise money of me on your own flesh and blood?
CHARLES. Nay, my little broker, don't be angry: what need you care if you have your money's worth?
SIR OLIVER. Well, I'll be the purchaser: I think I can dispose of the family canvas. Oh, I'll never forgive him this! never!
CHARLES. Bravo, Careless! —Well, here’s my great-uncle, Sir Richard Raveline, a marvelous good general in his day, I assure you. He served in all the Duke of Marlborough’s wars, and got that cut over his eye at the battle of Malplaquet. —What say you, Mr. Premium? —look at him—there’s a hero! not cut out of his feathers, as your modern clipped captains are, but enveloped in wig and regimentals, as a general should be. What do you bid?
MOSES. Mr. Premium would have you speak.
CHARLES. Why, then, he shall have him for ten pounds, and I’m sure that’s not dear for a staff officer.
SIR OLIVER. Heaven deliver me! his famous uncle Richard for ten pounds! [Aside.] —Well, sir, I take him at that.
MOSES. Well, sir, I think, as Sir Peter said, you have seen Mr. Charles in high glory; 'tis great pity he's so extravagant.
SIR OLIVER. True, but he would not sell my picture.
MOSES. And loves wine and women so much.
SIR OLIVER. But he would not sell my picture.
MOSES. And games so deep.
SIR OLIVER. But he would not sell my picture. —Oh, here's Rowley.
ROWLEY. So, Sir Oliver, I find you have made a purchase—
SIR OLIVER. Yes; yes, our young rake has parted with his ancestors like old tapestry.
ROWLEY. And here has he commissioned me to re-deliver you part of the purchase-money—I mean, though, in your necessitous character of old Stanley.
MOSES. Ah! there is the pity of all; he is so damned charitable.
ROWLEY. And I left a hosier and two tailors in the hall, who, I'm sure, won't be paid, and this hundred would satisfy them.
SIR OLIVER. Well, well, I'll pay his debts, and his benevolence too.
JOSEPH. Ah! my dear madam, there is the great mistake: 'tis this very conscious innocence that is of the greatest prejudice to you. What is it makes you negligent of forms, and careless of the world's opinion? why, the consciousness of your own innocence. What makes you thoughtless in your conduct, and apt to run into a thousand little imprudences? —why, the consciousness of your own innocence. What makes you impatient of Sir Peter's temper, and outrageous at his suspicions? —why, the consciousness of your innocence.
LADY TEAZLE. 'Tis very true!
JOSEPH. Now, my dear Lady Teazle, if you would but once make a trifling faux pas, you can't conceive how cautious you would grow, and how ready to humour and agree with your husband.
LADY TEAZLE. Do you think so?
JOSEPH. Oh! I am sure on't; and then you would find all scandal would cease at once, for, in short, your character at present is like a person in a plethora, absolutely dying from too much health.
No, sir, —she has recovered her senses, and your own arts have furnished her with the means. —Sir Peter, I do not expect you to credit me—but the tenderness you expressed for me, when I am sure you could not think I was a witness to it, has penetrated so to my heart, that had I left the place without the shame of this discovery, my future life should have spoken the sincerity of my gratitude. As for that smooth-tongued hypocrite, who would have seduced the wife of his too credulous friend, while he affected honourable addresses to his ward—I behold him now in a light so truly despicable, that I shall never again respect myself for having listened to him.
SIR OLIVER. I was, sir —so nearly that my present poverty, I fear, may do discredit to her wealthy children, else I should not have presumed to trouble you.
JOSEPH. Dear sir, there needs no apology:—he that is in distress, though a stranger, has a right to claim kindred with the wealthy. I am sure I wish I was of that class, and had it in my power to offer you even a small relief.
SIR OLIVER. If your uncle, Sir Oliver, were here, I should have a friend.
JOSEPH. I wish he was, Sir, with all my heart: you should not want an advocate with him, believe me, sir.
SIR OLIVER. I should not need one—my distresses would recommend me. But I imagined his bounty would enable you to become the agent of his charity.
JOSEPH. My dear sir, you were strangely misinformed. Sir Oliver is a worthy man, a very worthy man; but avarice, Mr. Stanley, is the vice of age. I will tell you, my good sir, in confidence, what he has done for me has been a mere nothing; though people, I know, have thought otherwise, and, for my part, I never chose to contradict the report.
SIR BENJAMIN. Aye, there; I told you Mr. Surface was the man.
MRS. CANDOUR. No, no, indeed; the assignation was with Charles.
LADY SNEERWELL. With Charles! You alarm me, Mrs. Candour!
MRS. CANDOUR. Yes, yes, he was the lover. Mr. Surface, to do him justice, was only the informer.
SIR BENJAMIN. Well, I’ll not dispute with you, Mrs. Candour; but, be it which it may, I hope that Sir Peter’s wound will not—
MRS. CANDOUR. Sir Peter’s wound! Oh, mercy! I didn’t hear a word of their ﬁghting.
LADY SNEERWELL. Nor I, a syllable.
SIR BENJAMIN. No! what, no mention of the duel?
MRS. CANDOUR. Not a word.
SIR BENJAMIN. O Lord, yes, yes: they fought before they left the room.
LADY SNEERWELL. Pray, let us hear.
MRS. CANDOUR. Aye, do oblige us with the duel.
SIR PETER. Though, when it is known that we are reconciled, people will laugh at me ten times more.
ROWLEY. Let them laugh, and retort their malice only by showing them you are happy in spite of it.
SIR PETER. I’faith, so I will! and, if I’m not mistaken, we may yet be the happiest couple in the country.
ROWLEY. Nay, Sir Peter, he who once lays aside suspicion—
SIR PETER. Hold, Master Rowley! if you have any regard for me, never let me hear you utter anything like a sentiment: I have had enough of them to serve me the rest of my life.
SIR OLIVER. Odd’s heart, no more can I; nor with gravity either. —Sir Peter, do you know the rogue bargained with me for all his ancestors; sold me judges and generals by the foot, and maiden aunts as cheap as broken china.
CHARLES. To be sure, Sir Oliver, I did make a little free with the family canvas, that’s the truth on’t. My ancestors may rise in judgment against me, there’s no denying it; but believe me sincere when I tell you—and upon my soul I would not say so if I was not—that if I do not appear mortiﬁed at the exposure of my follies, it is because I feel at this moment the warmest satisfaction in seeing you, my liberal benefactor.
LADY SNEERWELL. The torments of shame and disappointment on you all.–
LADY TEAZLE. Hold, Lady Sneerwell,—before you go, let me thank you for the trouble you and that gentleman have taken, in writing letters from me to Charles, and answering them yourself; and let me also request you to make my respects to the scandalous college, of which you are president, and inform them, that Lady Teazle, licentiate, begs leave to return the diploma they gave her, as she leaves off practice, and kills characters no longer.
LADY SNEERWELL. You too, madam—provoking—insolent—May your husband live these fifty years!