Act III.

A dressing room at Lady Smatter’s.
Enter Lady Smatter, followed by Beaufort.
Beaufort. Madam, you distract me! ’Tis impossible her intentions should be unknown to you,— tell me, I beseech you, whither she is gone? what are her designs? & why she deigned not to acquaint me with her resolution?
Lady Smatter. Why will you, Beaufort, eternally forget that it is the duty of every wise man, as Swift has admirably said, to keep his passions to himself?
Beaufort. She must have been driven to this step,— it could never have occurred to her without provocation. Relieve me then, madam, from a suspense insupportable, & tell me, at least, to what asylum she has flown?
Lady Smatter. Beaufort, you make me blush for you!— Who would suppose that a scholar, a man of cultivated talents, could behave so childishly? Do you remember what Pope has said upon this subject?
Beaufort. This is past endurance!— no, madam, no!— at such a time as this, his very name is disgustful to me.
Lady Smatter. How!— did I hear right?— the name of Pope disgustful?—
Beaufort. Yes, madam,— Pope, Swift, Shakespeare himself, & every other name you can mention but that of Cecilia Stanley, is hateful to my ear, & detestable to my remembrance.
Lady Smatter. I am thunderstruck!— this is downright blasphemy.
Beaufort. Good heaven, madam, is this a time to talk of books & authors?— however, if your Ladyship is cruelly determined to give me no satisfaction, I must endeavour to procure intelligence elsewhere.
Lady Smatter. I protest to you she went away without speaking to me; she sent for a chair, & did not even let the servants hear whither she ordered it.
Beaufort. Perhaps, then, she left a letter for you?— O, I am sure she did! Her delicacy, her just sense of propriety would never suffer her to quit your Ladyship’s house with an abruptness so unaccountable.
Lady Smatter. Well, well, whether she writ or not is nothing to the purpose; she has acted a very prudent part in going away, &, once again I repeat, you must give her up.
Beaufort. No, madam, never!— never while life is lent me will I give up the tie that renders it most dear to me.
Lady Smatter. Well, sir, I have only this to say,— one must be given up, she or me,— the decision is in your own hands.
Beaufort. Deign then, madam, to hear my final answer, & to hear it, if possible, with lenity. That your favour, upon every account, is valuable to me, there can be no occasion to assert, & I have endeavoured to prove my sense of the goodness you have so long shown me, by all the gratitude I have been able to manifest: you have a claim undoubted to my utmost respect, & humblest deference; but there is yet another claim upon me,— a sacred, an irresistible claim,— honour! And this were I to forego, not all your Ladyship’s most unbounded liberality & munificence would prove adequate reparation for so dreadful, so atrocious a sacrifice!
Enter Servant.
Servant. Mr. Censor, my lady.
Lady Smatter. Beg him to walk up stairs. I will put this affair into his hands. [Aside.] He is a sour, morose, ill-tempered wretch, & will give Beaufort no quarter.
Enter Censor.
Mr. Censor, I am very glad to see you.
Censor. I thank your Ladyship. Where is Miss Stanley?
Lady Smatter. Why, not at home. O Mr. Censor, we have the saddest thing to tell you!— we are all in the greatest affliction,— poor Miss Stanley has met with the cruellest misfortune you can conceive.
Censor. I have heard the whole affair.
Lady Smatter. I am vastly glad you came, for I want to have a little rational consultation with you. Alas, Mr. Censor, what an unexpected stroke! You can’t imagine how unhappy it makes me.
Censor. Possibly not; for my imagination is no reveler,— it seldom deviates from the bounds of probability.
Lady Smatter. Surely you don’t doubt me?
Censor. No, madam, not in the least!
Lady Smatter. I am happy to hear you say so.
Censor. [Aside.] You have but little reason if you understood me. [To Lady Smatter.] When does your Ladyship expect Miss Stanley’s return?
Lady Smatter. Why, really, I can’t exactly say, for she left the house in a sort of a hurry. I would fain have dissuaded her, but all my rhetoric was ineffectual,— Shakespeare himself would have pleaded in vain! To say the truth, her temper is none of the most flexible; however, poor thing, great allowance ought to be made for her unhappy situation, for, as the poet has it, misfortune renders every body unamiable.
Censor. What poet?
Lady Smatter. Bless me, don’t you know? Well, I shall now grow proud indeed if I can boast of making a quotation that is new to the learned Mr. Censor. My present author, sir, is Swift.
Censor. Swift?— you have, then, some private edition of his works?
Lady Smatter. Well, well, I won’t be positive as to Swift,— perhaps it was Pope. ’Tis impracticable for any body that reads so much as I do to be always exact as to an author. Why, now, how many volumes do you think I can run through in one year’s reading?
Censor. More than would require seven years to digest.
Lady Smatter. Pho, pho, but I study besides, & when I am preparing a criticism, I sometimes give a whole day to poring over only one line. However, let us, for the present, quit these abstruse points, &, as Parnell says, “e’en talk a little like folks of this world.”
Censor. Parnell?— you have, then, made a discovery with which you should oblige the public, for that line passes for Prior’s.
Lady Smatter. Prior?— O, very true, so it is. Bless me, into what errors does extensive reading lead us! But to business,— this poor girl must, some way or other, be provided for, & my opinion is she had best return to her friends in the country. London is a dangerous place for girls who have no fortune. Suppose you go to her, & reason with her upon the subject?
Beaufort. You do know her direction, then?
Lady Smatter. No matter; I will not have you go to her, whoever does. Would you believe it, Mr. Censor, this unthinking young man would actually marry the girl without a penny? However, it behoves me to prevent him, if only for example’s sake. That, indeed, is the chief motive which governs me, for such is my fatal pre-eminence, as Addison calls it, that, should I give way, my name will be quoted for a licence to indiscreet marriages for ages yet to come.
Censor. I hope, madam, the gratitude of the world will be adequate to the obligations it owes you.
Lady Smatter. Well, Mr. Censor, I will commit the affair to your management. This paper will tell you where Miss Stanley is to be met with, & pray tell the poor thing she may always depend upon my protection, & that I feel for her most extremely; but, above all things, let her know she must think no more of Beaufort, for why should the poor girl be fed with false hopes? It would be barbarous to trifle with her expectations. I declare I should hate myself were I capable of such cruelty. Tell her so, Mr. Censor, & tell her
Beaufort. Oh madam, forbear!— Heavens, what a message for Miss Stanley! Dishonour not yourself by sending it. Is she not the same Miss Stanley who was so lately respected, caressed, & admired? Whose esteem you sought? Whose favour you solicited?— whose alliance you coveted?— Can a few moments have obliterated all remembrance of her merit? Shall we be treacherous because she is unfortunate? Must we lose our integrity because she has lost her fortune? Oh madam, reflect, while it is yet time, that the judgement of the world at large is always impartial, & let us not, by withholding protection from her, draw universal contempt & reproach upon ourselves!
Lady Smatter. Beaufort, you offend me extremely. Do you suppose I have laboured so long at the fine arts, & studied so deeply the intricacies of literature, to be taught, at last, the right rule of conduct by my nephew? O Mr. Censor, how well has Shakespeare said rash & inconsiderate is youth!— but I must wave a further discussion of this point at present, as I have some notes to prepare for our Esprit Party of tonight. But remember, Beaufort, that if you make any attempt to see or write to Miss Stanley, I will disown & disinherit you. Mr. Censor, you will enforce this doctrine, & pray tell him, it was a maxim with Pope,— or Swift, I am not sure which,— that resolution, in a cultivated mind, is unchangeable.
Beaufort. By heaven, Censor, with all your apathy & misanthropy, I had believed you incapable of listening to such inhumanity without concern.
Censor. Know you not, Beaufort, that though we can all see the surface of a river, its depth is only to be fathomed by experiment? Had my concern been shallow, it might have babbled without impediment, but, as it was strong & violent, I restrained it, lest a torrent of indignation should have overflowed your future hopes, & laid waste my future influence.
Beaufort. Show me, I beseech you, the paper, that I may hasten to the lovely, injured writer, & endeavour by my fidelity & sympathy to make her forget my connections.
Censor. Not so fast, Beaufort. When a man has to deal with a lover, he must think a little of himself, for he may be sure the inamorato will think only of his mistress.
Beaufort. Surely you do not mean to refuse me her direction?
Censor. Indeed I do, unless you can instruct me how to sustain the assault that will follow my surrendering it.
Beaufort. Why will you trifle with me thus? What, to you, is the resentment of Lady Smatter?
Censor. How gloriously inconsistent is the conduct of a professed lover! While to his mistress he is all tame submission & abject servility, to the rest of the world he is commanding, selfish & obstinate; every thing is to give way to him, no convenience is to be consulted, no objections are to be attended to in opposition to his wishes. It seems as if he thought it the sole business of the rest of mankind to study his single interest,— in order, perhaps, to recompense him for pretending to his mistress that he has no will but hers.
Beaufort. Show me the address,— then rail at your leisure.
Censor. You think nothing, then, of the disgrace I must incur with this literary phenomenon if I disregard her injunctions? Will she not exclude me forever from the purlieus of Parnassus?— Stun me with the names of authors she has never read?—& pester me with flimsy sentences which she has the assurance to call quotations?—
Beaufort. Well, well, well!—
Censor. Will she not tell me that Pope brands a breach of trust as dishonourable?— that Shakespeare stigmatises the meanness of treachery?— And recollect having read in Swift that fortitude is one of the cardinal virtues?—
Beaufort. Stuff & folly!— does it matter what she says?— the paper!— the direction!—
Censor. Heavens, that a woman whose utmost natural capacity will hardly enable her to understand the History of Tom Thumb, & whose comprehensive faculties would be absolutely baffled by the Lives of the Seven Champions of Christendom, should dare blaspheme the names of our noblest poets with words that convey no ideas, & sentences of which the sound listens in vain for the sense!— O, she is insufferable!
Beaufort. How unseasonable a discussion! Yet you seem to be more irritated at her folly about books, than at her want of feeling to the sweetest of her sex.
Censor. True; but the reason is obvious,— Folly torments because it gives present disturbance,— as to want of feeling —’tis a thing of course. The moment I heard that Miss Stanley had lost her fortune, I was certain of all that would follow.
Beaufort. Can you, then, see such treachery without rage or emotion?
Censor. No, not without emotion, for base actions always excite contempt,— but rage must be stimulated by surprise: no man is much moved by events that merely answer his expectations.
Beaufort. Censor, will you give me the direction? I have neither time nor patience for further uninteresting discussions. If you are determined to refuse it, say so; I have other resources, & I have a spirit resolute to essay them all.
Censor. It is no news to me, Beaufort, that a man may find more ways than one to ruin himself; yet, whatever pleasure may attend putting them in practice, I believe it seldom happens when he is irreparably undone, that he piques himself upon his success.
Beaufort. I will trouble you no longer,— your servant.
Censor. Hold, Beaufort! Forget, for a few moments, the lover, & listen to me, not with passion but understanding. Miss Stanley, you find, has now no dependence but upon you;— you have none but upon Lady Smatter,— what follows?
Beaufort. Distraction, I believe,— I have nothing else before me!
Censor. If, instantly & wildly, you oppose her in the first heat of her determination, you will have served a ten years’ apprenticeship to her caprices, without any other payment than the pleasure of having endured them. She will regard your disobedience as rebellion to her judgement, & resent it with acrimony.
Beaufort. Oh misery of dependence!— the heaviest toil, the hardest labour, fatigue the most intense,— what are they compared to the corroding servility of discontented dependence?
Censor. Nothing, I grant, is so painful to endure, but nothing is so difficult to shake off; & therefore, as you are now situated, there is but one thing in the world can excuse your seeking Miss Stanley.
Beaufort. Whatever it may be, I shall agree to it with transport. Name it.
Censor. Insanity.
Beaufort. Censor, at such a time as this, raillery is unpardonable.
Censor. Attend to me, then, in sober sadness. You must give up all thoughts of quitting this house, till the ferocity of your learned aunt is abated.
Beaufort. Impossible!
Censor. Nay, prithee, Beaufort, act not as a lunatic while you disclaim insanity. I will go to Miss Stanley myself, & bring you an account of her situation.
Beaufort. Would you have me, then, submit to this tyrant?
Censor. Would I have a farmer, after sowing a field, not wait to reap the harvest?
Beaufort. I will endeavour, then, to yield to your counsel; but remember, Censor, my yielding is not merely reluctant,— it must also be transitory; for if I do not speedily find the good effects of my self-denial, I will boldly & firmly give up forever all hopes of precarious advantage, for the certain, the greater, the nobler blessing of claiming my lovely Cecilia,— though at the hazard of ruin & destruction!
Censor. And do you, Beaufort, remember in turn, that had I believed you capable of a different conduct, I had never ranked you as my friend.
Beaufort. Oh Censor, how soothing to my anxiety is your hard-earned, but most flattering approbation! Hasten, then, to the sweet sufferer,— tell her my heart bleeds at her unmerited distresses,— tell her that, with her fugitive self, peace & happiness both flew this mansion,— tell her that when we meet
Censor. All these messages may be given!— but not till then, believe me! Do you suppose I can find no better topic for conversation, than making soft speeches by proxy?
Beaufort. Tell her, at least, how much
Censor. My good friend, I am not ignorant that lovers, fops, fine ladies & chambermaids have all charters for talking nonsense; it is, therefore, a part of their business, & they deem it indispensable; but I never yet heard of any order of men so unfortunate as to be under a necessity of listening to them.
Beaufort. Dear, injured Cecilia! Why cannot I be myself the bearer of the faith I have plighted thee?— prostrate myself at thy feet, mitigate thy sorrows, & share, or redress thy wrongs! Even while I submit to captivity, I disdain the chains that bind me,— but alas, I rattle them in vain! O happy those who to their own industry owe their subsistence, & to their own fatigue & hardships their succeeding rest, & rewarding affluence! Now, indeed, do I feel the weight of bondage, since it teaches me to envy even the toiling husbandman, & laborious mechanic.
The scene changes...