Charles Dickens.

The plays and poems of Charles Dickens, with a few miscellanies in prose (Volume 1) online

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Introductory Monograph, by the Editor, on

" Charles Dickens as a Dramatist, Actor and
Poet" - - - - 7


1. The Strange Gentleman, 1836 97

2. The Village Coquettes, 1836 - - - 173

3. Is She his Wife ? or Something Singular !

1837 275

4. The Lamplighter, a Farce, 1838 - - 321
The Lamplighter's Story (from The Pic

Nic Papers) 379


Of the five plays now collected in these volumes,
the first three were written by Charles Dickens for
the St. James's Theatre under Braham's manage-
ment and lesseeship. The Strange Gentleman, The
Village Coquettes, and Is She his Wife? or Some-
thing Singular ! appeared successively at that
theatre between Michaelmas of 1836 and Easter of
1837, with more or less of applause and success,
and were published separately in pamphlet form
soon after their performance.

1. The earliest of these three St. James's pieces
was The Strange Gentleman, first performed on
Thursday, September 29, 1836, The plot was
founded on one of the Sketches by Boz, " The Great
The strange Winglebury Duel," and it will not be an
Gentleman, uninteresting task to the reader to com-
pare the different treatment in the sketch and in


the play. The plot of the story is farther compli-
cated in the drama by the addition of two young
ladies and their lovers. Altogether, it contains a
greater number of whimsical mistakes and per-
plexities than even Goldsmith's She Stoops to
Conquer; the second title of which, had it not
been appropriated, would have suited The Strange
Gentleman exactly. It consists of u the mistakes of
a night," at an inn on the North road ; where the
various personages, arriving with separate objects,
are led into a series of misconceptions as to each
other's identity and purposes. The Strange
Gentleman himself, whose object is to escape the
direful consequences of a challenge from his rival,
and who is heard of by the other travellers as they
arrive, without being seen by them, is supposed
by each to be the person whom each expects to
meet. An elderly and wealthy spinster takes him
for the lordling on whom she is going to bestow
herself and her fortune by a trip to Gretna ; and a
runaway damsel imagines he is her lover with
whom she is about to take a similar flight. During
the imbroglio that ensues, the Strange Gentleman
never comes in contact with the persons who by
seeing him could discover the mistake ; and the


denoument is effected by the spinster seeing at last
that the Strange Gentleman is not Lord Peter, and
by the young lady seeing that he is not her lover.
Making allowance for the antecedent improbability
(which is quite within the bounds of conventional
stage licence) of so many persons casually meeting
at an inn under such peculiar circumstances, the
incidents which arise out of their rencontre are
ingeniously contrived, follow each other very easily,
and produce some exceedingly grotesque situations.
The dialogue is lively, rapid, and full of smart and
pointed allusions.

Harley, who appeared on this occasion for the
first time at the St. James's Theatre, was a capital
Strange Gentleman. His suspicions, perplexities,
and terrors, kept the audience in a constant roar
of laughter. He was well seconded by Gardner,
in the one-eyed Boots, — a prominent character in
the drama as well as in the original Sketch. Mrs.
Penson personated to the life the bustling landlady
of the St. James's Arms, displaying nearly all the
arch vivacity that made her so delightful a soubrette
a quarter of a century before. The two Miss
Smiths — nieces of the famous Kitty Stephens, after-
wards Countess of Essex — made a most successful


debut They spoke elegantly and intelligently,
and displayed much merit as singers. Their re-
ception was most flattering, and they soon became
general favourites. Ma.dame Sala, mother of the
since famous journalist, George Augustus Sala, also
made a favourable impression ; and Forester played
the young lover much better than such parts are
generally played. Altogether the piece was entirely
successful. It had an immediate run of fifty nights,
nor was it even then finally withdrawn, but was
reproduced at intervals on several occasions in the
course of the following year (1837), when it was
published in a pamphlet of forty-six pages by
Chapman and Hall, with a frontispiece by Phiz
(Hablot Browne),* the illustrator of Pickwick and
of Sunday under Three Heads.

2. On Tuesday, December 6, The Strange
Gentleman was replaced by the Comic Opera, in
Two. Acts, of The Village Coquettes. The music
of the songs was composed by John Hullah, then a

* An admirably executed facsimile reprint of The Strange
Gentleman (minus the frontispiece) has for some time been
in private circulation. It is so cleverly reproduced as to be
almost indistinguishable from the original edition, and has,
we believe, more than once, been fraudulently passed off as
such upon unwary collectors.


young man almost unknown to fame. Harley
again played one of the leading parts in a manner
which won for him Dickens's grateful and graceful
acknowledgments in a Dedication. Whether
considered with regard to its dramatic or musical
The village qualities, this opera is of a very uncom-
Coquettes. mon character, and has no resemblance
to the trumpery libretti in vogue at the time. It
is a light and elegant comedy, in which a great
deal of gaiety and humour are blended with scenes
of great interest, and many sweet and natural
touches of tenderness and feeling. The music is
admirably in accordance with the subject, — simple,
unaffected, and full of beautiful expressive, English
John melody. While Hullah has given this

Hullah's J < °

music. character to his airs, he has imparted to
them much of the grace of the Italian school, — of
the great masters of a former age ; and in the
richness of his accompaniments and the skill and
ingenuity of his concerted movements, he has
shown his command over the resources of modern
harmony. u Mr. Hullah/ 5 says a newspaper notice
of the time, " has received his education in the
Royal Academy of Music, and does infinite honour
to his Alma Mater. We are sure, however, that

12 [introduction.

some of the most remarkable features of his musical
character must be ascribed to self -tuition ; for his
style never could be so deeply imbued with the
spirit of Purcell and the great old English masters,
had not the bent of his own genius directed him to
a course of study very different from the fashionable
routine of the day."

The scene of The Village Coquettes is laid in an
piotof2%e English village, and the incidents are


Coquettes, supposed to have happened about a
century and a half ago. The piece opens with the
representation of a farmer's rick-yard, in which a
number of work-people are engaged in the conclud-
ing labours of the harvest, and welcoming the
harvest-home with a gay round and chorus. From
a dialogue which ensues between John Maddox,
farmer Benson's principal servant, and Martin
Stokes, a small farmer, full of self-importance and
bustle, with a wondrous skill in discovering when
there is u something wrong " in the concerns of
his neighbours, it appears that there is something
wrong in the attentions paid to farmer Benson's
daughter Lucy, and his niece Rose, by Squire
Norton, the Lord of the Manor, and his friend,
the Honourable Mr. Sparkins Flam. The Squire


and his friend enter from shooting. Mr. Norton
contrives to have a few moments' conversation with
Lucy ; from which it appears that, though her
heart remains full of affection for her rustic lover,
she is dazzled by the addresses of the Squire. The
Squire joins the farmer and his friends in drinking
a glass to the harvest-home, and the scene concludes
with an animated drinking-song, sung by him, with
a chorus. George Edmunds, the lover of Lucy,
then appears in the fields, musing on his unhappi-
ness. He is lingering in hopes to meet with Lucy,
when Rose makes her appearance. This damsel,
on her part, is expecting to meet her admirer, Mr.
Flam, and is anxious to get Edmunds away.
While he is earnestly inquiring about Lucy,
Maddox enters, and soon afterwards Flam. There
is an admirable scene of coquetry on the part of the
little flirt, impertinence on that of the coxcomb,
and sturdy spirit on that of the honest peasant.
Flam plays the bully, and attempts to strike
Maddox with the butt-end of his fowling-piece ;
but the blow is parried by Edmunds, who departs
with Maddox, after contemptuously upbraiding
Flam with his treachery and cowardice. Flam vows
revenge ;' and then succeeds in persuading his


simple mistress that the affair was all a joke. The
scene ends with a lively and clever duet between
them. The old farmer, at last, becomes acquainted
with the intimacy between the Squire and his
daughter, by means of the busy Mr. Stokes, who
no less eagerly gives the same information to young
Benson, the farmer's son. The Squire arrives at
the farm, and is boldly taxed by the young man
with his conduct, and threatened with the conse-
quences of pursuing it. The Squire, left alone,
stifles the compunctious visitings of his conscience,
and resolves to persist in his design. He is per-
suading Lucy to elope with him, when they are
surprised by old Benson, who gives vent to
indignant reproaches. The Squire endeavours at
first to conciliate him ; but, stung by the bitterness
of his language, tells him his lease is expired, and
orders him to quit the farm. The farmer's friends
and servants crowd upon the stage, and the first
act is terminated by a well- wrought and agitated

In the second act Mr. Flam is lounging over his
breakfast on the morning after the above events,
when a letter is put into his hands from a London
attorney, demanding immediate restitution of a sum


of money which he had unfairly won by cheating at
play. Dismayed at this communication, and the
threat of exposure by which it is accompanied, he
resolves on exerting himself to aid the accomplish-
ment of the Squire's designs on Lucy, in order to
obtain such a recompense as may relieve him from
his dilemma. His meditations are interrupted by
the entrance of the Squire in an altered mood,
stung with remorse for his conduct towards Lucy,
and his cruelty towards her father. While he
is expressing these feelings of contrition to
the astonished Flam, Lucy and Rose are an-
nounced as wishing to speak with him. Flam
retires ; and Lucy's eloquent appeal to Mr. Norton's
principles and generosity completes his conversion.
Flam, ignorant of this change, determines to carry
off Lucy during the harvest-home entertainment to
be given at the Hall that night ; and sits down to
apprise Norton of his design, and to write to his
London correspondent promising immediate pay-
ment of the money demanded of him. He writes
the note to Norton, but is prevented from writing
the other, and hastily encloses in an envelope the
letter he has received from London instead of that
which he' has just written to Norton, putting his


note to Norton in his pocket. Martin Stokes, who
has learned that Flam has been inquiring for a
trusty person to do a piece of secret service for
him, presents himself as that person, and is engaged,
by a promise of reward, to have a chaise and four
in waiting at ten o'clock. The conversation being
carried on in hints and innuendoes, Stokes naturally
enough supposes that Rose is to be the victim of
this intended abduction, and hastens away to para-
lyse her and her lover John Maddox by this
tremendous disclosure. After some scenes, in
the course of which everything is put to rights
between the Squire and the farmer's family, and the
lovers are reconciled to their repentant fair ones,
all parties are assembled in the ball-room at the
Hall, with a large concourse of country people.
While a merry country dance is going forward a
scream is heard from the garden, and all is con-
fusion. In a few moments Edmunds enters from
the window, bearing Lucy insensible in his arms ;
and Flam, with his clothes torn and his face dis-
figured, is led in by Maddox and Stokes. Suspicion
immediately falls on the Squire as the prompter of
the deed, which he indignantly disclaims. Flam,
finding himself given up, asserts that he acted


under the Squire's instructions, and appeals for the
truth of his charge to a letter in the Squire's own
pocket. Mr. Norton produces the letter of the
London attorney, from which he has just learned
the base character of his friend ; and Flam retires
in confusion and disgrace, leaving the Squire and
his guests in harmony and happiness. The festivities
are resumed; and the piece is rounded off by a
repetition of the jovial chorus with which it opened.
The drama is worthy of being judged by stricter
rules of criticism than are usually applied to
musical pieces. The plot is clear and well con-
ducted, and the incidents sufficiently probable, with
the exception of Flam's blunder in sending to
Norton the letter which leads to his exposure, and
the facility with which he is led to entrust his plot
to Martin Stokes. The first of these may be
excused by the conventional licence of the stage ;
but the second betokens a degree of greenness not
at all natural to a thorough-paced knave like Flam.
The characters are well varied and supported, the
dialogue is lively and vigorous, and the musical
part of it contains some poetry such as opera-
composers seldom meet with. Dickens has treated
the character of Lucy with much skill and delicacy,
i. 2

! I


She is weak enough to be led away by the vanity
of an inexperienced country girl ; yet she is so
candid and ingenuous, so full of tenderness for the
man whom she has wronged, so conscious and heart-
stricken in the midst of her folly, that she never
ceases to be amiable and interesting. Even when
at length she yields to the insidious addresses of
the Squire, and accepts what she believes to be an
offer of his hand, she is driven to it by hasty
resentment and wounded pride on hearing that
Edmunds has cast her off as unworthy. Miss
Rainforth was an excellent representative of this
interesting character. Her appearance was most
engaging, her acting full of intelligence and feeling,
and her singing graceful, expressive, and beauti-
fully chaste. Her fine song, " Love is not a
feeling to pass away," was a model of pure and
simple singing, without the introduction of a note
that did not appear to be the spontanteous effusion
of feeling. Her song, in the second act, " How
beautiful at eventide," is an impassioned composi-
tion, and enabled her to display not only the extent
of her vocal attainments, but the strength of her
expression. Miss Julia Smith gave full effect to
the light-hearted simplicity of Rose, and sang the


song, " Some folks who have grown old and sour,"
and the flirting duet with Flam, with a most
amusing playfulness, and great beauty of voice and
execution. Braham gave the part of the Squire
the easy good- humour that belongs to it. He sang
as if he had been appearing for the first time in a
new piece of his friend of the olden time, Storace ;
and felt, doubtless, how much of the spirit of that
time was in the music he was singing. His song,
or rather soliloquy, " The Child and the Old Man,"
displayed his matchless power of making music the
language of deep and passionate thought ; but even
this was hardly so remarkable as the ballad already
referred to, and to which he gave a charm which is
quite indescribable. Bennett, as Edmunds, acted
with great good sense and propriety, and sang
beautifully, especially in the ballad of " Autumn
Leaves," which speaks the very language of grief.
Barnett's Flam was a little too studied and formal,
though, on the whole, a clever and effective per-
formance. Parry, in the part of young Benson,
had not an important share in the business of the
drama. He contributed much, however, to the
effect of the concerted music, and sang a ballad,
" My Fair Home," with much sweetness. The

2 *


finest acting in the piece was that of Strickland
in Old Benson. It was a fine and powerful picture
of the feelings of a father outraged in the tenderest
point. Gardner in John Maddox, gave to the life
the blunt plainness of the English peasant ; and
though last, not least, Harley, in Martin Stokes,
kept the audience in an unceasing roar of laughter.
The getting-up of this Opera did the highest honour
to Braham's management. It was complete in
every part. The scenery and decorations were
singularly beautiful and splendid, and the whole
of the performers were accurately attired in the
costumes of the earlier part of the last century.
The orchestra did full justice to the airy and
elegant overture, and to the accompaniments
throughout, and the choruses and concerted pieces
were smoothly and correctly sung. A passage for
five voices especially, in the finale, entirely without
instruments, in the style of a glee, had so charm-
ing an effect that an encore burst at once from
every part of the house. On the whole, it is not
too much to say that no English musical piece
equal to The Village Coquettes had appeared
since The Duenna. Its success was assured and
triumphant. At its conclusion Mr. Hullah, being


loudly called for, appeared before the curtain
amidst thunders of applause, in which Braham, at
one of the wings, warmly joined. A cry was then
commenced of " Boz," which instantly resounded
from every part of the house, and was continued
until Charles Dickens also came forward, and was
received with equal cordiality.

The following letters of Dickens to Mr. John
Hullah, the composer of the music to The Village
Coquettes, appear in the recently-published collec-
tion of Dickens's Letters : —

FurnivaFs Inn,

Monday afternoon, 7 o'clock,

My dear Hullah,

Mr. Hogarth has just been here, with news
which I think you will be glad to hear. He was with
Braham yesterday, who was/ar more full of the opera than
he was; speaking highly of my works and "fame" (!),
and expressing an earnest desire to be the first to intro-
duce me to the public as a dramatic writer. He said
that he intended opening at Michaelmas ; and added
(unasked) that it was his intention to produce the opera
within one month of his first night. He wants a low-comedy
part introduced — without singing — thinking it will take
with the audience ; but he is desirous of explaining to me
what he means and who he intends to play it. I am to


see him on Sunday morning. Full particulars of the
interview shall be duly announced.
Perhaps I shall see you meanwhile.*

Petersham, Monday evening,
Dear Hullah, 1836.

Since I called on you this morning I have not
had time to look over the words of " The Child and the
Charles Old Man." It occurs to me, as I shall see you
to 1 John on Wednesday morning, that the best plan will
Huliah. De f or y OU to bring the music (if you possibly
can) without the words, and we can put them in then.f Of
course this observation applies only to that particular song.
Braham having sent to me about the farce, I called
on him this morning. Harley wrote, when he had
read the whole of the opera, saying : — " It 's a sure
card — nothing wrong there. Bet you ten pound it runs
fifty nights. Come ; don't be afraid. You '11 be the gainer
by it, and you mustn't mind betting; it's a capital
custom." X They tell the story with infinite relish. I saw
the fair manageress, who is fully of Harley's opinion ; so
is Braham. The only difference is, that they are far more
enthusiastic than Harley — far more enthusiastic than
ourselves even. That is a bold word, isn't it? It is a
true one, nevertheless.

* Letters of Charles Dickens, vol. iii. p. 2.

f Vide infra, p. 219, note.

% The phrases italicised are playful adoptions of two
favourite expressions of Martin Stokes, the character which
Harley played in The Village Coquettes. — Ed.


" Depend upon it, sir/' said Braham to Hogarth yester-
day, when he went there to say I should be in town to-day,
u depend upon it, sir, that there has been no such music
since the days of Sheil, and no such piece since The
Duenna. Everybody is delighted with it," he added, to
Charles nae to-day. M I played it to Stansbury, who
to 1 John * s k v n0 means an excitable person, and he was
Hullah. charmed/' This was said with great emphasis,
but I have forgotten the grand point. It was not, " I played
it to Stansbury," but " I sang it — all through ! ! ! "

I begged him, as the choruses are to be put into
rehearsal directly the company get together, to let us
have, through Mrs. Braham, the necessary passports to
the stage, which will be forwarded. He leaves town on
the 8^ of September. He will be absent a month, and
the first rehearsal will take place immediately on his
return ; previous to it (I mean the first rehearsal — not
the return) I am to read the piece. His only remaining
suggestion is, that Miss Rainforth will want another song
when the piece is in rehearsal — " a bravura — something in
the ' Soldier Tired ' way." We must have a confab about
this on Wednesday morning.

Harley called in FurnivaPs Inn, to express his high
delight and gratification ; but unfortunately we had left
town. I shall be at head-quarters by 12, Wednesday
(noon) .*

The following was written on the Sunday
following the first performance of the piece : —

* Letters of Charles Dickens, vol. iii. pp. 3-4.


FurnivaFs Inn, Sunday Evening,
My dear Hullah, [December 11, 1836.]

Have you seen The Examiner? It is rather
depreciatory of the opera ; but, like all inveterate critiques
against Braham, so well done that I cannot help laughing
Charles at it, for the life and soul of me. I have seen The
to Jokm Sunday Times, The Dispatch, and The Satirist,
Hullah. a n of which blow their critic trumpets against
unhappy me most lustily. Either I must have grievously
awakened the ire of all the " adapters " and their friends,
or the drama must be decidedly bad. I haven't made up
my mind yet which of the two is the fact.

I have not seen the John Bull or any of the Sunday
papers except The Spectator. If you have any of them,
bring 'em with you on Tuesday. I am afraid that for
" dirty Cummins' " allusion to Hogarth, I shall be reduced
to the necessity of being valorous the next time I meet
him. *

The Village Coquettes, although preceded by
The Strange Gentleman on the stage, was the first
written and the first published. It was written,
as we gather from the Preface, in 1835, and
published as a pamphlet, with the author's full
name on the title-page, by Bentley, a few days

* Letters of Charles Dickens, vol. iii. pp. 1-2. The reference
in the concluding sentence is to a foul-mouthed criticling
in the Weekly Dispatch, who had had recourse to "the
blackguard's loaded bludgeon of personalities." — Ed.


before Christmas 1836.* A copy sent to John
Forster was the means of first bringing Dickens
into personal communication with his future
biographer. Seven of the Songs were issued
separately with Hullah's music.

This piece, like its predecessor, had a fairly
long run, till it gave way in its turn to a third
attempt, a Comic Burletta, in one act, entitled
Is She his Wife ? or Something Singular ! the best,
perhaps, but hitherto the least known of the
three. This little farce was first performed at
is she the St. James's Theatre on Monday,
his wife? March 6, 1837. There are only six
characters — in fact, only five with any real business.
The leading character, Felix Tapkins, was again
played by Harley, and the other principal parts by
Forester and Halford,f Gardner, Miss Allison, and

* A so-called " facsimile reprint " of The Village Coquettes
has been issued by the original publishers, since Dickens's
death ; but its value is greatly impaired by gross inattention

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Online LibraryCharles DickensThe plays and poems of Charles Dickens, with a few miscellanies in prose (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 18)