William Congreve.

The Double-Dealer, a comedy online

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Transcribed from the 1895 Methuen and Co. edition by David Price, email
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_Interdum tamen et vocem Comoedia tollit_. - HOR. _Ar. Po._

_Huic equidem consilio palmam do_: _hic me magnifice_
_effero_, _qui vim tantam in me et potestatem habeam_
_tantae astutiae_, _vera dicendo ut eos ambos fallam_.

SYR. in TERENT. _Heaut_.


Sir, - I heartily wish this play were as perfect as I intended it, that it
might be more worthy your acceptance, and that my dedication of it to you
might be more becoming that honour and esteem which I, with everybody who
is so fortunate as to know you, have for you. It had your countenance
when yet unknown; and now it is made public, it wants your protection.

I would not have anybody imagine that I think this play without its
faults, for I am conscious of several. I confess I designed (whatever
vanity or ambition occasioned that design) to have written a true and
regular comedy, but I found it an undertaking which put me in mind of
_Sudet multum_, _frustraque laboret ausus idem_. And now, to make amends
for the vanity of such a design, I do confess both the attempt and the
imperfect performance. Yet I must take the boldness to say I have not
miscarried in the whole, for the mechanical part of it is regular. That
I may say with as little vanity as a builder may say he has built a house
according to the model laid down before him, or a gardener that he has
set his flowers in a knot of such or such a figure. I designed the moral
first, and to that moral I invented the fable, and do not know that I
have borrowed one hint of it anywhere. I made the plot as strong as I
could because it was single, and I made it single because I would avoid
confusion, and was resolved to preserve the three unities of the drama.
Sir, this discourse is very impertinent to you, whose judgment much
better can discern the faults than I can excuse them; and whose good
nature, like that of a lover, will find out those hidden beauties (if
there are any such) which it would be great immodesty for me to discover.
I think I don't speak improperly when I call you a _lover_ of poetry; for
it is very well known she has been a very kind mistress to you: she has
not denied you the last favour, and she has been fruitful to you in a
most beautiful issue. If I break off abruptly here, I hope everybody
will understand that it is to avoid a commendation which, as it is your
due, would be most easy for me to pay, and too troublesome for you to

I have since the acting of this play harkened after the objections which
have been made to it, for I was conscious where a true critic might have
put me upon my defence. I was prepared for the attack, and am pretty
confident I could have vindicated some parts and excused others; and
where there were any plain miscarriages, I would most ingenuously have
confessed 'em. But I have not heard anything said sufficient to provoke
an answer. That which looks most like an objection does not relate in
particular to this play, but to all or most that ever have been written,
and that is soliloquy. Therefore I will answer it, not only for my own
sake, but to save others the trouble, to whom it may hereafter be

I grant that for a man to talk to himself appears absurd and unnatural,
and indeed it is so in most cases; but the circumstances which may attend
the occasion make great alteration. It oftentimes happens to a man to
have designs which require him to himself, and in their nature cannot
admit of a confidant. Such for certain is all villainy, and other less
mischievous intentions may be very improper to be communicated to a
second person. In such a case, therefore, the audience must observe
whether the person upon the stage takes any notice of them at all or no.
For if he supposes any one to be by when he talks to himself, it is
monstrous and ridiculous to the last degree. Nay, not only in this case,
but in any part of a play, if there is expressed any knowledge of an
audience, it is insufferable. But otherwise, when a man in soliloquy
reasons with himself, and _pro's_ and _con's_, and weighs all his
designs, we ought not to imagine that this man either talks to us or to
himself; he is only thinking, and thinking such matter as were
inexcusable folly in him to speak. But because we are concealed
spectators of the plot in agitation, and the poet finds it necessary to
let us know the whole mystery of his contrivance, he is willing to inform
us of this person's thoughts; and to that end is forced to make use of
the expedient of speech, no other better way being yet invented for the
communication of thought.

Another very wrong objection has been made by some who have not taken
leisure to distinguish the characters. The hero of the play, as they are
pleased to call him (meaning Mellefont), is a gull, and made a fool, and
cheated. Is every man a gull and a fool that is deceived? At that rate
I'm afraid the two classes of men will be reduced to one, and the knaves
themselves be at a loss to justify their title. But if an open-hearted
honest man, who has an entire confidence in one whom he takes to be his
friend, and whom he has obliged to be so, and who, to confirm him in his
opinion, in all appearance and upon several trials has been so: if this
man be deceived by the treachery of the other, must he of necessity
commence fool immediately, only because the other has proved a villain?
Ay, but there was caution given to Mellefont in the first act by his
friend Careless. Of what nature was that caution? Only to give the
audience some light into the character of Maskwell before his appearance,
and not to convince Mellefont of his treachery; for that was more than
Careless was then able to do: he never knew Maskwell guilty of any
villainy; he was only a sort of man which he did not like. As for his
suspecting his familiarity with my Lady Touchwood, let 'em examine the
answer that Mellefont makes him, and compare it with the conduct of
Maskwell's character through the play.

I would beg 'em again to look into the character of Maskwell before they
accuse Mellefont of weakness for being deceived by him. For upon summing
up the enquiry into this objection, it may be found they have mistaken
cunning in one character for folly in another.

But there is one thing at which I am more concerned than all the false
criticisms that are made upon me, and that is, some of the ladies are
offended. I am heartily sorry for it, for I declare I would rather
disoblige all the critics in the world than one of the fair sex. They
are concerned that I have represented some women vicious and affected.
How can I help it? It is the business of a comic poet to paint the vices
and follies of humankind; and there are but two sexes, male and female,
_men_ and _women_, which have a title to humanity, and if I leave one
half of them out, the work will be imperfect. I should be very glad of
an opportunity to make my compliment to those ladies who are offended;
but they can no more expect it in a comedy than to be tickled by a
surgeon when he's letting 'em blood. They who are virtuous or discreet
should not be offended, for such characters as these distinguish _them_,
and make their beauties more shining and observed; and they who are of
the other kind may nevertheless pass for such, by seeming not to be
displeased or touched with the satire of this _comedy_. Thus have they
also wrongfully accused me of doing them a prejudice, when I have in
reality done them a service.

You will pardon me, sir, for the freedom I take of making answers to
other people in an epistle which ought wholly to be sacred to you; but
since I intend the play to be so too, I hope I may take the more liberty
of justifying it where it is in the right.

I must now, sir, declare to the world how kind you have been to my
endeavours; for in regard of what was well meant, you have excused what
was ill performed. I beg you would continue the same method in your
acceptance of this dedication. I know no other way of making a return to
that humanity you shewed, in protecting an infant, but by enrolling it in
your service, now that it is of age and come into the world. Therefore
be pleased to accept of this as an acknowledgment of the favour you have
shewn me, and an earnest of the real service and gratitude of,

Sir, your most obliged, humble servant,



Well then, the promised hour is come at last;
The present age of wit obscures the past.
Strong were our sires; and as they fought they writ,
Conqu'ring with force of arms and dint of wit.
Theirs was the giant race, before the flood;
And thus, when Charles returned, our empire stood.
Like Janus he the stubborn soil manured,
With rules of husbandry the rankness cured,
Tamed us to manners, when the stage was rude,
And boist'rous English wit with art indued.
Our age was cultivated thus at length;
But what we gained in skill we lost in strength.
Our builders were with want of genius curst;
The second temple was not like the first:
Till you, the best Vitruvius, come at length,
Our beauties equal, but excel our strength.
Firm Doric pillars found your solid base,
The fair Corinthian crowns the higher space;
Thus all below is strength, and all above is grace.
In easy dialogue is Fletcher's praise:
He moved the mind, but had no power to raise.
Great Johnson did by strength of judgment please
Yet doubling Fletcher's force, he wants ease.
In diff'ring talents both adorned their age;
One for the study, t'other for the stage.
But both to Congreve justly shall submit,
One matched in judgment, both o'er-matched in wit.
In him all beauties of this age we see,
Etherege his courtship, Southern's purity,
The satire, wit, and strength of manly Wycherly.
All this in blooming youth you have achieved,
Nor are your foiled contemporaries grieved;
So much the sweetness of your manners move,
We cannot envy you, because we love.
Fabius might joy in Scipio, when he saw
A beardless consul made against the law,
And join his suffrage to the votes of Rome;
Though he with Hannibal was overcome.
Thus old Romano bowed to Raphael's fame,
And scholar to the youth he taught became.

O that your brows my laurel had sustained,
Well had I been deposed if you had reigned!
The father had descended for the son,
For only you are lineal to the throne.
Thus when the state one Edward did depose,
A greater Edward in his room arose.
But now, not I, but poetry is cursed;
For Tom the Second reigns like Tom the First.
But let 'em not mistake my patron's part,
Nor call his charity their own desert.
Yet this I prophesy: Thou shalt be seen
(Though with some short parenthesis between)
High on the throne of wit; and seated there,
Not mine (that's little) but thy laurel wear.
Thy first attempt an early promise made;
That early promise this has more than paid.
So bold, yet so judiciously you dare,
That your least praise is to be regular.
Time, place, and action may with pains be wrought,
But genius must be born, and never can be taught.
This is your portion, this your native store,
Heav'n, that but once was prodigal before,
To Shakespeare gave as much; she could not give him more.

Maintain your post: that's all the fame you need;
For 'tis impossible you should proceed.
Already I am worn with cares and age,
And just abandoning th' ungrateful stage:
Unprofitably kept at heav'n's expense,
I live a rent-charge on his providence.
But you, whom every muse and grace adorn,
Whom I foresee to better fortune born,
Be kind to my remains; and oh, defend,
Against your judgment, your departed friend!
Let not th' insulting foe my fame pursue;
But shade those laurels which descend to you:
And take for tribute what these lines express:
You merit more; nor could my love do less.



Moors have this way (as story tells) to know
Whether their brats are truly got or no;
Into the sea the new-born babe is thrown,
There, as instinct directs, to swim or drown.
A barbarous device, to try if spouse
Has kept religiously her nuptial vows.

Such are the trials poets make of plays,
Only they trust to more inconstant seas;
So does our author, this his child commit
To the tempestuous mercy of the pit,
To know if it be truly born of wit.

Critics avaunt, for you are fish of prey,
And feed, like sharks, upon an infant play.
Be ev'ry monster of the deep away;
Let's have a fair trial and a clear sea.

Let nature work, and do not damn too soon,
For life will struggle long e'er it sink down:
And will at least rise thrice before it drown.
Let us consider, had it been our fate,
Thus hardly to be proved legitimate:
I will not say, we'd all in danger been,
Were each to suffer for his mother's sin:
But by my troth I cannot avoid thinking,
How nearly some good men might have 'scaped sinking.
But, heav'n be praised, this custom is confined
Alone to th' offspring of the muses kind:
Our Christian cuckolds are more bent to pity;
I know not one Moor-husband in the city.
I' th' good man's arms the chopping bastard thrives,
For he thinks all his own that is his wives'.

Whatever fate is for this play designed,
The poet's sure he shall some comfort find:
For if his muse has played him false, the worst
That can befall him, is, to be divorced:
You husbands judge, if that be to be cursed.



MASKWELL, a villain; pretended friend to Mellefont, gallant to Lady
Touchwood, and in love with Cynthia, - _Mr. Betterton_.

LORD TOUCHWOOD, uncle to Mellefont, - _Mr. Kynaston_.

MELLEFONT, promised to, and in love with Cynthia, - _Mr. Williams_.

CARELESS, his friend, - _Mr. Verbruggen_.

LORD FROTH, a solemn coxcomb, - _Mr. Bowman_.

BRISK, a pert coxcomb, - _Mr. Powell_.

SIR PAUL PLYANT, an uxorious, foolish old knight; brother to Lady
Touchwood, and father to Cynthia, - _Mr. Dogget_.


LADY TOUCHWOOD, in love with Mellefont, - _Mrs. Barry_.

CYNTHIA, daughter to Sir Paul by a former wife, promised to
Mellefont, - _Mrs. Bracegirdle_.

LADY FROTH, a great coquette; pretender to poetry, wit, and
learning, - _Mrs. Mountfort_.

LADY PLYANT, insolent to her husband, and easy to any pretender, - _Mrs.


THE SCENE: A gallery in the Lord Touchwood's house, with chambers



_A gallery in the Lord Touchwood's home_, _with chambers adjoining_.

_Enter_ CARELESS, _crossing the stage_, _with his hat_, _gloves_, _and
sword in his hands_; _as just risen from table_: MELLEFONT _following

MEL. Ned, Ned, whither so fast? What, turned flincher! Why, you wo'
not leave us?

CARE. Where are the women? I'm weary of guzzling, and begin to think
them the better company.

MEL. Then thy reason staggers, and thou'rt almost drunk.

CARE. No, faith, but your fools grow noisy; and if a man must endure the
noise of words without sense, I think the women have more musical voices,
and become nonsense better.

MEL. Why, they are at the end of the gallery; retired to their tea and
scandal, according to their ancient custom, after dinner. But I made a
pretence to follow you, because I had something to say to you in private,
and I am not like to have many opportunities this evening.

CARE. And here's this coxcomb most critically come to interrupt you.


[_To them_] BRISK.

BRISK. Boys, boys, lads, where are you? What, do you give ground?
Mortgage for a bottle, ha? Careless, this is your trick; you're always
spoiling company by leaving it.

CARE. And thou art always spoiling company by coming in o't.

BRISK. Pooh, ha, ha, ha, I know you envy me. Spite, proud spite, by the
gods! and burning envy. I'll be judged by Mellefont here, who gives and
takes raillery better than you or I. Pshaw, man, when I say you spoil
company by leaving it, I mean you leave nobody for the company to laugh
at. I think there I was with you. Ha, Mellefont?

MEL. O' my word, Brisk, that was a home thrust; you have silenced him.

BRISK. Oh, my dear Mellefont, let me perish if thou art not the soul of
conversation, the very essence of wit and spirit of wine. The deuce take
me if there were three good things said, or one understood, since thy
amputation from the body of our society. He, I think that's pretty and
metaphorical enough; i'gad I could not have said it out of thy company.
Careless, ha?

CARE. Hum, ay, what is't?

BRISK. _O mon coeur_! What is't! Nay, gad, I'll punish you for want of
apprehension. The deuce take me if I tell you.

MEL. No, no, hang him, he has no taste. But, dear Brisk, excuse me, I
have a little business.

CARE. Prithee get thee gone; thou seest we are serious.

MEL. We'll come immediately, if you'll but go in and keep up good humour
and sense in the company. Prithee do, they'll fall asleep else.

BRISK. I'gad, so they will. Well, I will, I will; gad, you shall
command me from the Zenith to the Nadir. But the deuce take me if I say
a good thing till you come. But prithee, dear rogue, make haste, prithee
make haste, I shall burst else. And yonder your uncle, my Lord
Touchwood, swears he'll disinherit you, and Sir Paul Plyant threatens to
disclaim you for a son-in-law, and my Lord Froth won't dance at your
wedding to-morrow; nor, the deuce take me, I won't write your
Epithalamium - and see what a condition you're like to be brought to.

MEL. Well, I'll speak but three words, and follow you.

BRISK. Enough, enough. Careless, bring your apprehension along with



CARE. Pert coxcomb.

MEL. Faith, 'tis a good-natured coxcomb, and has very entertaining
follies. You must be more humane to him; at this juncture it will do me
service. I'll tell you, I would have mirth continued this day at any
rate; though patience purchase folly, and attention be paid with noise,
there are times when sense may be unseasonable as well as truth. Prithee
do thou wear none to-day, but allow Brisk to have wit, that thou may'st
seem a fool.

CARE. Why, how now, why this extravagant proposition?

MEL. Oh, I would have no room for serious design, for I am jealous of a
plot. I would have noise and impertinence keep my Lady Touchwood's head
from working: for hell is not more busy than her brain, nor contains more
devils than that imaginations.

CARE. I thought your fear of her had been over. Is not to-morrow
appointed for your marriage with Cynthia, and her father, Sir Paul
Plyant, come to settle the writings this day on purpose?

MEL. True; but you shall judge whether I have not reason to be alarmed.
None besides you and Maskwell are acquainted with the secret of my Aunt
Touchwood's violent passion for me. Since my first refusal of her
addresses she has endeavoured to do me all ill offices with my uncle, yet
has managed 'em with that subtilty, that to him they have borne the face
of kindness; while her malice, like a dark lanthorn, only shone upon me
where it was directed. Still, it gave me less perplexity to prevent the
success of her displeasure than to avoid the importunities of her love,
and of two evils I thought myself favoured in her aversion. But whether
urged by her despair and the short prospect of time she saw to accomplish
her designs; whether the hopes of revenge, or of her love, terminated in
the view of this my marriage with Cynthia, I know not, but this morning
she surprised me in my bed.

CARE. Was there ever such a fury! 'Tis well nature has not put it into
her sex's power to ravish. Well, bless us, proceed. What followed?

MEL. What at first amazed me - for I looked to have seen her in all the
transports of a slighted and revengeful woman - but when I expected
thunder from her voice, and lightning in her eyes, I saw her melted into
tears and hushed into a sigh. It was long before either of us spoke:
passion had tied her tongue, and amazement mine. In short, the
consequence was thus, she omitted nothing that the most violent love
could urge, or tender words express; which when she saw had no effect,
but still I pleaded honour and nearness of blood to my uncle, then came
the storm I feared at first, for, starting from my bed-side like a fury,
she flew to my sword, and with much ado I prevented her doing me or
herself a mischief. Having disarmed her, in a gust of passion she left
me, and in a resolution, confirmed by a thousand curses, not to close her
eyes till they had seen my ruin.

CARE. Exquisite woman! But what the devil, does she think thou hast no
more sense than to get an heir upon her body to disinherit thyself? for
as I take it this settlement upon you is, with a proviso, that your uncle
have no children.

MEL. It is so. Well, the service you are to do me will be a pleasure to
yourself: I must get you to engage my Lady Plyant all this evening, that
my pious aunt may not work her to her interest. And if you chance to
secure her to yourself, you may incline her to mine. She's handsome, and
knows it; is very silly, and thinks she has sense, and has an old fond

CARE. I confess, a very fair foundation for a lover to build upon.

MEL. For my Lord Froth, he and his wife will be sufficiently taken up
with admiring one another and Brisk's gallantry, as they call it. I'll
observe my uncle myself, and Jack Maskwell has promised me to watch my
aunt narrowly, and give me notice upon any suspicion. As for Sir Paul,
my wise father-in-law that is to be, my dear Cynthia has such a share in
his fatherly fondness, he would scarce make her a moment uneasy to have
her happy hereafter.

CARE. So you have manned your works; but I wish you may not have the
weakest guard where the enemy is strongest.

MEL. Maskwell, you mean; prithee why should you suspect him?

CARE. Faith I cannot help it; you know I never liked him: I am a little
superstitious in physiognomy.

MEL. He has obligations of gratitude to bind him to me: his dependence
upon my uncle is through my means.

CARE. Upon your aunt, you mean.

MEL. My aunt!

CARE. I'm mistaken if there be not a familiarity between them you do not
suspect, notwithstanding her passion for you.

MEL. Pooh, pooh! nothing in the world but his design to do me service;
and he endeavours to be well in her esteem, that he may be able to effect

CARE. Well, I shall be glad to be mistaken; but your aunt's aversion in
her revenge cannot be any way so effectually shown as in bringing forth a
child to disinherit you. She is handsome and cunning and naturally
wanton. Maskwell is flesh and blood at best, and opportunities between
them are frequent. His affection to you, you have confessed, is grounded
upon his interest, that you have transplanted; and should it take root in
my lady, I don't see what you can expect from the fruit.

MEL. I confess the consequence is visible, were your suspicions just.
But see, the company is broke up, let's meet 'em.



LORD TOUCH. Out upon't, nephew. Leave your father-in-law and me to
maintain our ground against young people!

MEL. I beg your lordship's pardon. We were just returning.

SIR PAUL. Were you, son? Gadsbud, much better as it is. Good, strange!
I swear I'm almost tipsy; t'other bottle would have been too powerful for
me, - as sure as can be it would. We wanted your company, but Mr.
Brisk - where is he? I swear and vow he's a most facetious person, and
the best company. And, my Lord Froth, your lordship is so merry a man,
he, he, he.

LORD FROTH. Oh, foy, Sir Paul, what do you mean? Merry! Oh, barbarous!
I'd as lieve you called me fool.

SIR PAUL. Nay, I protest and vow now, 'tis true; when Mr. Brisk jokes,
your lordship's laugh does so become you, he, he, he.

LORD FROTH. Ridiculous! Sir Paul, you're strangely mistaken, I find
champagne is powerful. I assure you, Sir Paul, I laugh at nobody's jest
but my own, or a lady's, I assure you, Sir Paul.

BRISK. How? how, my lord? what, affront my wit! Let me perish, do I
never say anything worthy to be laughed at?

LORD FROTH. Oh, foy, don't misapprehend me; I don't say so, for I often
smile at your conceptions. But there is nothing more unbecoming a man of
quality than to laugh; 'tis such a vulgar expression of the passion;

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