Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

Sheridan's plays now printed as he wrote them and his mother's unpublished comedy, A journey to Bath online

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Online LibraryRichard Brinsley SheridanSheridan's plays now printed as he wrote them and his mother's unpublished comedy, A journey to Bath → online text (page 1 of 30)
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The authentic version of Sheridan's Plays is







Sheridan's Flags



S. cJourneg to IBath.



(Author of ' Sheridan: a Biography,' &c.).

Wif/i an Jntroducfioij



At the Sign of the Ph(enix, Long Aobb,





Prefatory Notes

The Kivals

St. Patrick's Day ; or, the Scheming Lieu-

The Duenna

The School for Scandal

The Critic

A Journey to Bath






aMONG the marvels of existence, nothing
is more surprising than the birth of
genius in unlooked-for places. Evolu-
tionists can trace the development of species from
stage to stage ; but almost imperceptible pro-
gression seems to be the law of Nature, while all
their science will not enable them to account for
the *' avatar " of Burns and Keats, or of many
another star that has suddenly bm-st out of darkness
into being. Neither can they explain with greater
ease how it came about that Richard Brinsley
Sheridan, a young man of four-and-twenty, without
more experience of the world than a couple of
seasons of Bath society could afford, should have
produced several plays which at once raised him
into the first rank of the world's lighter drama-
tists, and are now, after a century and a quarter,
as universally popular as on the occasion when
they were first applauded.


Pope has said, " What lasts a century can have
no flaw," and henceforth ' The Kivals,' ' '\ he School
for Scandal,' ' The Duenna,' and ' The Critic ' will
continue to hold a foremost place in the living
literature of England.

It is true Sheridan was descended from a family
that had been intellectually remarkable for many
generations ; but, though his grandfather had wit,
its playful flashes did not survive in his son, the
actor and author of an English dictionary, who,
though a man of exceptional parts, was, I appre-
hend, both tiresome and unamiable. Perhaps, how-
ever, it was from his mother that Sheridan inherited
the subtle attribute which sublimates talent into
genius, for the authoress who wrote ' Sidney
Bidulph,' a novel which Charles James Fox, Lord
North, and Richardson pronounced the best of the
day, as well as ' The Discovery,' a comedy con-
taining one of Garrick's favourite characters, must
have had something of the divine essence.

I do not now intend to enter upon an examina-
tion of the relative merits of Sheridan's plays,
or the causes of their enduring popularity. The
impression produced by each depends a good deal
upon the way in which it is acted. There are
characters in two of them which it requires great
delicacy and discernment to impersonate adequately.
For instance, in ' The Rivals ' there is always a
danger of the innocent rusticity of Bob Acres
becoming loutish vulgarity at the hands of a
second-rate comedian, while perhaps even greater
skill is required to prevent the fire-eating ten-


dencies of Sir Lucius 0' Trigger from dimming the
charm of his liigh-bred and chivalrous demeanour.

I have always imagined that there must be few
more difficult personages to represent than Joseph
Surface in ' The School for Scandal/ for the success
of the piece requires that the sympathy of the
audience should remain with Lady Teazle, and the
thought of her yielding to his wiles, were he a
mere vulgar hypocrite, would lower her too much
in their estimation. To maintain her, therefore,
upon the plane she is intended to occupy, the
presentment of her lover, both as regards his
apj^earance and behaviour, ought to be rendered
sufficiently attractive to account for the com-
plaisance with which slie seems to tolerate his

Again, I have sometimes seen the effect of Mrs.
Malaprop's charming eccentricities of diction marred
by the actress showing her consciousness of their
nature, and her expectation of the amusement they
are intended to excite, whereas the real artist
exhibits sublime ignorance of the mistakes she is
making, and seems to ask, through the medium
of that subtle telegraphy which is in perpetual
action between those on either side of the foot-
lights, "My good friends, what on earth are you
laughing at ? "

It might also prove interesting to speculate as
to whether the remoteness of the time and fashion
in which the scenes of these comedies are laid adds
to or detracts from their pleasing effects. In the
days when swords, powder, bag-wigs, and paniers-


were the fashion, the element of realism they con-
tained might, perhaps, have proved an agreeable
stimulus to the sympathies of the audience, while
undoubtedly those portions of the dialogue which
now appear somewhat stilted and artificial would
have been tacitly accepted as consonant to what
were then the current modes both of feeling and
•of expression. On the other hand, the shifting
pictures of the personages now presented to our
view in an unfamiliar garb, and the gay appoint-
ments which brightened the world a century and
a quarter ago, have a tendency to involve the
modern spectator in an atmosphere of illusion,
which helps him to forget for the moment his own
surroundings, and follow with more intense interest
the varying fortunes of these representatives of a
vanished age.

Owing to my residence abroad for so long a
period, it has not been my good fortune to witness
many representations either of ' The Rivals ' or of
' The School for Scandal,' nor have I seen ' The
Critic ' played more than once, and that was many
years ago ; but I remember having had the satis-
faction of admiring in a play, at Bologna, a remark-
able achievement of Sheridan himself, who rescued
Miss Linley, the beautiful '' Maid of Bath," from
the clutches of her persecutor by bringing a gondola
under the windows of her house in Bond Street. I
also assisted, in 1845, at a remarkable representa-
tion of ' The School for Scandal ' at some private
theatricals at our Embassy in Paris, when the part
of Lady Teazle was taken by the late Countess


Granville, who had known Sheridan personally,
that of Mrs. Candour being played by my mother,
and that of Charles Surface by my uncle, Charles
Sheridan. Lately, however, all the theatre-going
world of London has had an opportunity of seeing
both ' The Rivals ' and ' The School for Scandal '
admirably staged and acted at the Haymarket

As to the circumstances which have led to the
issue of the present edition of Sheridan's Plays,
Mr. Fraser Rae, who edits them, has given full
explanations in his prefatory remarks.

It has sometimes been objected that Sheridan
took too much pains in polishing his work, as
though the straining after perfection, which is an
instinct innate in the breast of every true artist,
were blameworthy. But, in his review of Moore's
^ Memoirs of Sheridan,' Jeffrey admirably \dndicated
my great-grandfather's methods. Jeffrey wrote :
^' He, who was for thirty years the most brilliant
talker — the greatest conversational wit of the
splendid circle in which he moved — could not
possibly have been a man to whom preparation
was generally necessary in order to shine ; and
cannot be suspected of having had a cold or slug-
gish fancy, which did not give its golden har-
vests till it was diligently laboured and manured.
Sheridan's conceptions, on the contrary, seem
always to have flowed from him with great
copiousness and rapidity. But he had taste as
well as genius — and ambition as well as facility.
He was not always satisfied with the first


suggestions of his mind ; but his labour was almost
always employed, not in making what was bad,
tolerable, but in making what was good, better and

In these circumstances, it seems highly desirable
that the public should be enabled to judge of
Sheridan's work exactly as it was when it first
left his hands.



IN the preface to my Biography of Sheridan
I described how much information I had
obtained from the library at Frampton Court,
where many of Sheridan's manuscripts are
very carefully preserved. Sheridan's grandfather
gave much time and care to arranging the manu-
scripts of ' The Rivals,' ' The Duenna,' ' The School
for Scandal,' and ' The Critic,' and he had them
bound in handsome volumes. With the exception
of ' The Rivals,' none of these plays was given to
the world in print by Sheridan himself. All the
other published copies were reproductions of those
used on the stage. Many changes had been made
in them for histrionic purposes.

The only important manuscript of which there is
no trace is that of ' The Rivals,' which was acquired
by Mr. Harris, the manager of Covent Garden
Theatre, the manuscript being probably destroyed
when that theatre was burnt to the ground. If it
had been preserved we should have known the
number and character of the alterations which were
made between the first representation of the piece
on the 17th January, 1775, and the second on the
28th. When the success of * The Rivals ' was
assured, Sheridan prepared a copy for publication.


This is now a scarce book. It is a valuable one,
however, because it contains Sheridan's own acting
version of his comedy. The version which is now
put on the stage differs from it.

The many reprints of Sheridan's plays are made
from the edition in two volumes published by
Murray in 1821. Tom Moore prefixed an intro-
duction in which he disclaimed responsibility for the
edition, and apologized for the delay in the appear-
ance of ' M emoirs ' which he had undertaken to
write. I am indebted to Mr. John Murray for
information gathered from the books of his firm to
the effect that his grandfather paid Tom Moore
and Mr. Wilkie for their labours with regard to
preparing Sheridan's plays for the press. I assume,
then, that Mr. Wilkie acted as editor.

The paramount duty of an editor is to exhibit
strict loyalty to his author, and either to put the
author's text before the public as its author would
have done, or else to take the responsibility for alter-
ations. Mr. Wilkie did not like some things in
Sheridan's published version of ' The Rivals,' and
he drew his pen through them without notice. The
result is that readers of that play have now before
them the truncated version which Mr. Wilkie
prepared for Mr. Murray, and which subsequent
editors have copied. Some of the alterations
are trivial, yet none should have been concealed.
In Sheridan's version of the dramatis personce
one of the men is styled " coachman," and the
first act is headed with "coachman crosses the
stage," while in that act Fag's conversation is


carried on with the '* coachman,'* but Thomas is
substituted by Mr. Wilkie for the '* coachman.'^
He asks Fag what sort of place Bath is. Fag says in
his reply, *' at present we are, like other great
assemblies, divided into parties — High-roomians-
and Low-roomians ; however, for my part, I have
resolved to stand neuter ; and so I told Bob Brush
at our last committee." Mr. Wilkie struck his pen
through the words just quoted. Among several
other passages which met the like fate is one
in the conversation between Mrs. Malaprop and
Sir Anthony Absolute. Sir Anthony having de-
nounced circulating libraries, Mrs. Malaprop
says: "Well, Sir Anthony, your wife, Lady
Absolute, was fond of books.'' Sir Anthony,
" Aye — and injury sufficient they were to her,
Madam — But were I to chuse another help-
mate, the extent of her erudition should consist in
her knowing her simple letters, without their mis-
chievous combinations ; — and the summit of her
science be — her ability to count as far as twenty.
The first, Mrs. Malaprop, would enable her to work
A. A. upon my linen ; — and the latter quite sufficient
to prevent her giving me a shirt No. 1 and a stock
No. 2." The careful reader, who compares Sheridan's
version, printed with absolute fidelity in this volume,
with that commonly current, will wonder why Mr.
Wilkie took so much trouble to so little purpose.
I must add that he did not spare Mrs. Malaprop
when she was writing to Sir Lucius 0' Trigger.
He cut out these words from her letter: — " As my
motive is interested, you may be assured my love


shall never be miscellaneous," and those which
preceded her signature "Yours, while mere-
tricious," Delia.

The fate of ' The Rivals ' was very doubtful at
the first performance. Had the comedy been
damned, then there was an end to Sheridan as a
playwright. But this piece having succeeded, his other
plays had an easier ordeal. I have thought that
the story of ' The Rivals ' and its fate on the stage
could not be told better than in the words of con-
temporary writers in newspapers, and the passages
in chronological order which follow give a vivid
account of what occurred. This critique (published
on the morning after the first performance) is
probably from the pen of William Woodfall : —

The Morning " In consideration of that plea [in the prologue, that the author
Chronicle,^ ^ is a novice], and in tenderness to a young bard, who betrays not,
*' as is sometimes the case, any unbecoming forwardness, but rather

discovers an ingenuous diffidence of his abilities,^ — in respect to
such a situation, we should rather wish to abate the edge of
public censure, than to animadvert with severity on the lapses
of an inexperienced writer, in the midst of whose very imper-
fections we may trace the man of genius, the gentleman, and the
scholar. His fable indeed is not happily chosen, nor skilfully
conducted ; nor are his characters faithfully copied from natvire ;
but many parts of the dialogue, the graver scenes especially, are
chaste and elegant ; and the defects of the other parts of the
drama do not appear to be the oflspring of dulness or ignorance.
A very little more acquaintance with the business of the stage
would have instructed the author to curtail some of the scenes,
which were last night insufferably tedious ; and some of that
stage art, much of which Gibber derived from his connexion with
the theatre, would have taught our juvenile poet to give more
effect to the part of Jack Absolute, who is, in some sort, a second
Atall, Double Galant. The romantic vein of Lydia Languish is


not so well imagined, or so ably sustained as Steele's Ljidy (we
forget her name*) in the Accomplished Fools; and the characters
of Falkland and Julia are even beyond the pitch of sentimental
comedy, and may be not improperly stiled metaphysical. We
would wish, however, to make a particular exception to the scene
between them in the beginning of the fifth act, in which we are
at a loss to determine whether the author or the actress (Mrs.
Bulkley) were most to be commended. What evil spirit could
influence the writer and the managers to assign the pai-t of
Sir Lucius 0' Trigger to Mr. Lee, or Mr. Lee himself to receive it ?
One would imagine they had intended, in Mr. Lee's person, to
realize the unjust satire of Sir Charles Hanbury Williams on the
whole Irish nation : —

• But nature, who denied them sense
Ban given them legs and imputience,
Which beatu all understanding.'

This representation of Sir Lucius, is indeed an affront to the
common sense of an audience, and is so far from giving the
manners of our brave and worthy neighbours, that it scarce
equals the picture of a respectable Hotentot ; gabbling in an
uncouth dialect, neither Welch, English, nor Irish. Shuter
[Sir Anthony Absolute] was pleasant, but, as usual, shamefully
imperfect. Woodward [Captain Absolute] has often appeared to
more advantage. Mr. Lewis [Faulkland] struggled with a very
(lifficult character, and acquitted himself creditably. Quick's
character [Acres] betrayed him into farce ; and Lee-Lewes [Fag],
and Dunstall [David], exhibited their accustomed pert valet and
country bumpkin. The ladies, Mrs. Bulkley especially [Julia],
did great justice to their parts, and we want woi-ds to express
the satisfaction the last-mentioned lady gave by her just elegant
manner of speaking one of the most excellent and poetical
Epilogues we ever remember to have heaid. The scenes and
dresses were many of them new, but we think we remember

* The lady's name is Bridget Tipkin. She is far less attractive than
Lydia Languish. Her most brilliant remark is, " It looks so ordinary, to
go out of a door to be married. Indeed, I ought to be taken out of a
window and run away with."



a better view of the North Parade at Bath in a play of
Dr. Kenrick's exhibited some years ago at Drury Lane Theatre."

The Public "The Rivals, as a Comedy, requires much castigation, and
18 T 17-'^ *^^ pruning hand of judgment, before it can ever pass on the
Town as even a tolerable Piece. In language it is defective to
an extreme, in Plot outr6 and one of the Characters is an absolute
exotic in the wilds of nature. The author seems to have con-
sidered puns, witticisms, similes and metaphors, as admirable
substitutes for polished diction ; hence they abound in every
sentence ; and hence it is that instead of the ' Metmorphosis ' of
Ovid, one of the characters is made to talk of Ovid's ' Meat-for-
Hopes,' a Lady is called the ' Pine Apple of beauty,' the Gentle-
man in return ' an Orange of perfection.' A Lover describes
the sudden change of disposition in his Mistress by saying, that
'she flies off in a tangent born down by the current of disdain';
and a second Tony Lumkin, to describe how fast he rode, compares
himself to a ' Oomet with a tail of dust at his heels.'

" These are shameful absurdities in language, which can suit
no character, how widely soever it may depart from common life
and common manners.

"Whilst thus censure l«( freely passed, not to say that there
are various sentiments in the Piece which demonstrate the
Author's no stranger to the finer feelings, would be shameful

" Time will not permit a thorough investigation of this
Comedy ; but if the ' Rivals ' rests its claim to ]3ublic favour,
solely on the basis of merit, the hisses of the auditors on the first
night of representation, gives reason to suspect a most fatal
disappointment. However, that it may be suffered to have the
usual nine nights run, is what, on the Author's account, we most
sincerely wish ; but this we can assure him, that if the dulness
of law writers have made him yawn, the dulness of the ' Rivals '
lulled several of the middle gallery spectators into a profound sleep.

"The Prologue was delivered by Mr. Lee in the olmracter of
a Serjeant-at-Law who received the author's brief to plefid liis
cause before the Jury of spectators.


"The Epilogue was spoken by Mrs. Bulkley.

"Many of the parts were improperly cast. Mr. Lee [Sir
Lucius O'Trigger] is a most execrable Irishman. Miss Barsanti
[Lydia Languish] is calculated only for a mimio ; she ha.s the
archness of look and manner, that shrug of the shoulders, which
must for ever unqualify her for genteel Comedy ; and when she
is represented as a girl of thii-ty thousand pounds foi-tune, we
curse the blind Goddess for bestowing her favours so absurdly ;
then she has the agreeable lisp of Thomas Hull, and cannot be
expected to articulate her words so as to be understood, unless
her tongue first undergoes a cutting."

After a sketch of the })iece, tlie critic says : " Tliis Comedy The Morningf
said to be written by Mr. Sheridan, Jun., seems to be the hasty '

■^- f f ■ ^x. .., Jan., 1775-

composition or a young man or more genius than present know-
ledge of the English drama ; hence those defects in the main
pillars, which are the only support of a dramatic composition.

" The fable is not the most natural or intelligible, nor have the
characters any great claim to novelty. — Sir Lucius O'Trigger
and Sir Anthonj/ Absolute, indifferent as they are, were most
barbarously handled by the inattention of the performers, neither
of the two being perfect in one sentence of their parts: Shameful !
that the fame of an author should be thus sported with by
persons, to whom he is under the necessity of intrusting it ; for
to their conduct we attribute a part of the bad i-eception which
attended the representation.

" The dialogue, in many scenes, was natural and pleasing ; in
one or two, far superior to that of the modern race of comic
writers ; — the situation between Capt. Absolute and Mrs. Malaproj)
was well conceived and wrought up. We think the writer has
here and there mistaken ribaldry for humour, at which the
audience seemed displeased. — All the performers, the two already
excepted, exerted themselves to the utmost. — A prologue by
Mr. Lee, in the character of a Serjeant-at-Law, and Mr. Quick,
as an Attorney, wlio brings the former a fee to plead for the
bard, tho' novel, was not much relished. The Epilogue, however,
made amends ; for it struck us as one of the most harmonious,
pretty pieces of the kind we have hetu-d for some time.

h 2


" There ■vveie tliiee new scenes uj^on the occasion, one of which,
ii perspective view througli the South Parade at Bath, to the-
late Mr. Allen's delightful Villa, was universally iidmired."


The Morning " The modesty of the author of The Rivals is as commendable'
as the effrontery of some dramatic authors is censurable. The

19 Jan , 1775.

Rivals is presented for the first time ; the toAvn see its deficiencies ;.
some displeasure is expressed in the Theatre at particular-
passages, and the next day the reprehensible parts are marked!
by the critics ; the Author willing to show his obedience to-
the Avill of the town, withdraws his comedy that he may prune,,
correct, and alter it, till he thinks it worthy the public favour.
.... The new comedy of the Rivals was, in the Green Room of
Covent Garden Theatre, but last Aveek, deemed the ne jjI'I's nltra
of Comedy."

The Morning " The Comedy of tlie Rii'als, at Covent Garden, is withdrawn
' ^. for the present, to undergo some severe prunings, trimmings,

1 *7 J £111 1 I 1 / / t' .

and patchings, before its second appearance : the Author, we are
informed, seeing the geneial disapprobation with which it was
received, was very desirous of withdrawing it entirely, but the
managers woidd not consent to it, determined to stand the event
of a second embarcation, let the consequences be what they may.""

The Morning " To the Printer, Sir, There is certainly some evil geniu«
Chronic e, ^^^gj-^jg ^i^g proceedings of Covent Garden Theatre. Our expecta-
20 Jan., 1775. ^ "^ . .,.,,, , ,

tions have been some time raised with the hope that they were

at last to produce us a truly good comedy ; the hour of proof
arrives, and we are presented with a piece got up with such
flagrant inattention, that half the performers appear to know
nothing of their parts, and the play itself is a full hour longer
in the representation than any piece on the stage. — This last
circumstance is an error of such a nature as shows either great
obstinacy in the Author, or excessive ignorance in the managers ;
but the casting Mr. Lee for the part of Sir Lucius 0' Trigger, is
a blunder of the first brogue, which Mr. Lee plainly shewed a!>


lie was not Irishman enough to have committed for himself. If
there had been no one in the theatre fit foi- the part, it should
have been taken out of the piece which is full exubeiant enough
to spare it. As I find the further representation of it is put off'
for the present, I suppose this will be the case ; foi' to attempt
to continue him in the character Avill inevitably damn the play.
There seemed to be a little malice fi-om one corner of the gallery,
which shewed itself too early to produce any effect ; but it was
absolutely impossible for the Author's warmest well wishers to
over-rule the disappiobation that was shewn to Lee's horrid
medley of discordant brogues. The character of Faulkland is
touched with a delicate and masterly hand, yet Lewis was perfect
-enough to be at home in it : it is just such a part as Mr. Garrick

Online LibraryRichard Brinsley SheridanSheridan's plays now printed as he wrote them and his mother's unpublished comedy, A journey to Bath → online text (page 1 of 30)